CPT John M. Hanson was a potential VHPA member who died after his tour in Vietnam on 09/21/2005 at the age of 59.2 from Cancer
Stillwater, OK
Flight Class 68-36
Date of Birth 07/16/1946
Served in the U.S. Army
Served in Vietnam with A/377 ARTY 101 ABN in 69-70
Call sign in Vietnam GUNNER 78
This information was provided by Larry Wolf, Erik Hanson (son), Marshall Hawkins

More detail on this person: John Hanson War Service Remarks, By Marshall Hawkins, September 26, 2005

I am here today to tell you some facts you may not know. John Hanson is a hero, not only to his family and friends but to his nation.

How do I know? I played ball with John in High School. He was a year older than I and went off to college and I didn't see him again until a couple of years later in Officer Candidate School. Although we were at different stages of training, we helped each other with that very difficult course. I was commissioned and assigned to an Artillery outfit there at Ft. Sill. Sure enough, 3 or 4 months later, 2LT John M. Hanson reported to the same unit. I don't recall exactly how long he stayed there before he reported for flight school but it was quite a while before I followed him to flight school. I didn't see him again until several years later when he shows up at the Reserve unit I was in, looking for a job flying helicopters. I hired him on the spot. I flew quite often with John and during these times became much closer than we had ever been.

John never spoke much about his service, particularly to those who would have been overly concerned or those that just wouldn't understand. Even with those of us sharing common experiences, he would rather talk about other aviators and how gutsy they were than to talk about his own experiences.

Army aviators, as a group, were the craziest bunch of guys in the whole armed services during the Vietnam period. Most of these guys, fresh out of high school, went through nine months of flight school, one month leave and then straight to Vietnam. Suddenly they are put in charge of high dollar machines and people and tasked with the huge responsibility of providing support to people on the ground whose very lives depended upon this support.

Even without the War, it would have been tough staying alive. Not only was there the technical problems of flying the machine in hot, thin air, balancing fuel and ammunition weight loads to make sure you could get to the AO and still have enough ammo to do the job but you also had mountains and triple canopy jungle to contend with.

Charley didn't hang out much in easy-to-reach places. They liked the mountains with the cover provided by the jungle where they could see and hear you but you couldn't do the same.

The weather was a nightmare also. It would change up in those mountains real quickly. What would start off to be a clear, sunny day would suddenly become a severe thunderstorm with updrafts and downdrafts of biblical proportions or fog banks from the ground all the way to heaven and no place to land, even if you wanted to.

Oh did I mention, people were also shooting at you?

Yep, these boys became men overnight. John was probably a 21 year old First Lieutenant when he went over and came home a 22 year old Captain. And not just your normal 22 year old. His experiences made him mature far beyond his years.

But back to Army aviators in general.

It took a special breed of soldier to fly helicopters in a combat zone. Some took on an air of invincibility, figuring that there was no way of hiding from the "bullet with your name on it" so why worry. Others of us, John included, recognizing that there were a lot of bullets out there addressed "To Whom It May Concern" and went about our business of getting the job done without the Snoopy scarf or the handle-barred mustache.

But get the job done, we did. Some call it "Mission Accomplishment", some call it "Professionalism" but in all my long years in the service I have never met a more professional group of young men than those Vietnam era Army Aviators. They got the job done.

But this sense of "Mission Accomplishment" didn't come without a price.

Some facts:

Out of the 8,744,000 that served in uniform during the Vietnam War, 3,403,100 served in SE Asia. Of those, 2,594,000 actually served in country. Another source estimates that 40,000 pilots and probably a like number of crewmembers served in Vietnam which represents only 3% of the total people serving there. Yet, of the 58,148 who died during the war, 4,906 (or 8.44%) were Army Aviators and crewmembers. A far greater ratio than most other branches or services.

The Infantry, by far the largest group represented on the Wall (18,465 or 32%) had considerably more people in the field than Army Aviation and without diminishing their sacrifices, I believe Army Aviation can legitimately take its place up there with the Infantry in Those Who Gave All.

Vietnam was a Helicopter War. The Infantry would experience long periods of inactivity followed by anywhere from 3 minutes to a week of stark terror but in every instance, there was a helicopter in the air anytime a bullet was fired in anger. We took them in, we provided protective fires and we got them out. That was our job.

John was a professional. He did his job. But one thing about the Vietnam era pilot and I suspect guided John is his closing days, is that he dealt with his mortality a long time ago. He wasn't afraid of death. He only wanted to postpone it for as long as he could. From the day he boarded that airplane at Danang and it rose above small arms range, John figured that he had dodged another bullet and every day from that day forward was a gift from God. He knew that the "bullet with his name on it" would catch up with him eventually but when it did, he would go down with as much dignity as he could muster and he could look back with no regrets.

John is a hero. I don't know what kind of awards and decorations he received from his tour in Vietnam, whether or not he was properly recognized for his service at the time but I do know what he did there, just by virtue of his job description, and can tell you that he served his country in a manner that most others can not even imagine. He is a hero in any sense of the word.

This information was last updated 05/18/2016

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