World War I Oral History Interview
Arthur Wilbur Hanson was a young farmer from New York Mills, a small farming community in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, typical of the young men from rural and farming communities who became Doughboys. Born on April 21, 1892, early in August 1917 he was with his brother in Saint Paul, Minnesota and saw a Marine Corps recruiting poster, “Join the Marines and See the World.” To a young man from small town America, that sounded pretty good. Arthur joined the Marines on August 6, 1917, and two days later he found himself with 68 other Marine recruits on a train to Paris Island, South Carolina. There, because of wartime shortages, he remembered that they “drilled for a whole month in pajamas.” After nearly six months at Paris Island, because he was over six feet tall, he was hand-picked for a “crack battalion” assigned to Quantico, Virginia. He thought “that would be great, until they drilled the hell out of us.” Finally, he was dispatched to France as a Marine replacement. During the twenty-two day voyage across the North Atlantic, along with practically every other Marine on board his troopship, he caught the mumps and was quarantined upon his arrival in Brest, France.
Finally healthy, on May 17, 1918 he was assigned to the 80th Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Division of the American Expeditionary Force in France. The mud in France was so bad that the Marines in his Company cut off their overcoats at the knees. In a subsequent inspection, they were all fined $21.00 (a month’s pay!) for damaging government property!
On June 1, 1918 Private Hanson climbed aboard a convoy of French trucks and was driven to the village of Lucy-le-Bocage, where the Marines were assigned to first stop and then drive a large number of obstinate Germans from a tangled little piece of forest known as “Belleau Wood”. Beginning on June 5th, he fought with his battalion in Belleau Wood, a struggle that would go down in Marine Corps history. There, he remembered German prisoners calling the Marines “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs.” On June 7th, along with a Sergeant, he stalked a German Light Machine Gun sniping Marines from a tree. One of the Germans seemed like he was only sixteen years old, “just a kid” but by this point the Marines weren’t taking many prisoners, young or old. Advancing on June 8th his 80th Company supported the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines in an unsuccessful attack that was repulsed with heavy casualties. Hanson was among the seriously wounded, shot by a machine gun through the lower left leg. His mess kit stopped a second bullet, saving his life. Eventually picked up by stretcher bearers, he found himself in a long stretch of culvert, entirely filled with wounded Marines. Placed into the back of an ambulance heading to the rear, the Marine in the stretcher above continuously dripped blood onto him, eventually stopping only when he bled to death on the long ride.
Private Hanson was assigned to a succession of hospitals, where he spent the remainder of 1918. He started off flat on his back for the first month, with his leg in traction. Eventually, he graduated to crutches. Hanson later didn’t have much to say about the hospitals, except for Red Cross Hospital #2 in Rouen, where “They fed us well.” By late November 1918 he was back with the Marines as a convalescent, assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Norfolk, Virginia where he would end his Marine career, discharged because of disability resulting from his wound on February 17, 1919. Hanson liked the Marines, and would have stayed, “Except for his leg.” He would carry the scar for the remainder of his life, and the wound would “always bother him.”
He returned home to discover that because he had failed to register for the draft since he was already in the Marine Corps, he was listed in his hometown as a draft dodger! That straightened out, he married Stella L. Gutekunst on March 3, 1919. After his wife passed away, Hanson eventually moved to Casper to live with his daughter, where he earned the distinction of being the oldest living Marine in both Wyoming and the United States. He died on July 27, 1993 in Casper, at the distinguished age of 101 years, alert to the end!