By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN As Jerome Hanson felt the searing pain of shrapnel in his shoulder, he was thankful the injury wasn’t more severe.
His troop had been hit from the air, but in their foxholes, they had avoided much of the blast’s power.
The second time it happened, however, Jerome wasn’t as fortunate.
“We were advancing, and we hadn’t dug in yet,” said Jerome, who now lives in Delano. “There was an air blast right above me, and I broke both eardrums.”
“He was in the hospital for three months in London, England,” said Jerome’s wife, Doris.
Jerome’s bravery and dedication during World War II was recently recognized with the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal. The award, created by Napoleon in 1802, is the highest honor France can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France.
“The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom,” Ambassador of France Pierre Vimont wrote in a letter to Hanson.
Jerome’s dedication to preserving peace began in 1942, at the age of 21.
“I volunteered,” Jerome said. “I knew I’d be drafted otherwise, and this way, I thought I could choose where I went.”
War doesn’t always offer the luxury of choice, however, and after signing up for the Air Force, Jerome was instead placed in the 301st Infantry Regiment of the 94th Division.
“He was in General Patton’s army,” Doris said.
Jerome trained in Kansas and Tennessee before being sent into combat.
“There were 20,000 of us on one ship, the Queen Elizabeth, going overseas,” he said. “There was a continuous chow line to get everyone fed.”
After landing in a foreign nation, Jerome faced endless days of fear and discomfort.
“We fought all the way through France, into Germany, and to Czechoslovakia before the war ended,” Jerome said.
Holidays came and went, and Jerome and his fellow soldiers kept on serving.
“Christmas Day was just like any other day for us over there,” he said.
Wintertime brought tough weather conditions, and Jerome’s hands and feet were exposed to extreme cold.
“They were going to amputate my feet, but I wouldn’t let them,” he said. “They said gangrene could set in and it would be fatal.”
Jerome took a chance, and he survived with all his limbs intact.
“I feel fortunate that I came out of that in one piece,” he said.
Jerome’s wounds weren’t without lasting impact, though. Even now, more than 60 years later, his hands and feet are still extremely sensitive to the cold, and he suffers from painful foot problems.
Jerome’s damaged eardrums are also a constant reminder of warfare. He has endured surgeries for his ears and it’s difficult for him to hear.
“Considering everything, he came through it pretty well,” Doris said.
The Hansons aren’t ones to dwell on hardship, and instead, they display grateful attitudes that focus on the happy parts of life.
“After I was in the hospital, I got put in the military government,” Jerome said. “I had a desk job, and at noon, three or four German girls would serve us a meal.”
Jerome said he also enjoyed the beautiful countryside, and the opportunity to make friends with other soldiers.
He did miss home, though, and especially looked forward to seeing his classmate Doris, who graduated with him from Mound High School in 1940.
“She wrote to me all the time while I was in the war,” Jerome said.
Doris said she still has every single letter she received from Jerome.
“There must be about 200,” she said.
They started dating when Jerome returned in 1945, and were married about a year later.
The Hansons recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary, and they’re thankful for the many great memories they’ve shared.
“We had a lot of good times,” Doris said.
They raised two daughters, Sharon Harding of Watertown and Susan Thompson of Chanhassen, and now they also have four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
For many years, the family owned and operated a farm near Maple Plain, and Doris spent 39 years working at First National Bank in Minneapolis.
Every so often, they reconnect with Jerome’s past at Army reunions throughout the US.
“We still hear from about 10-12 of his old Army friends,” Doris said.
Jerome is also a member of the Wayzata area VFW and the Maple Plain American Legion.