Paul Hanna grew up in West Newton, a small town fed by the Youghiogheny River some twenty-five miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The Hanna family was large and close. Patriotic. The Hanna’s contribution to the war effort was unselfish; four sons served simultaneously. Moe the oldest flew with the Army Air Corps as a navigator in North Africa; he eventually fulfilled his mission quota and returned home early in the war. Pete became a career naval officer, getting his start as a cadet at Carnegie Tech. Paul was drafted into the Army, as was younger brother David who saw extensive combat in both Germany and France. The youngest brother Donald would serve in the Army during the Korean War. In answer to their parents’ prayers, all of the Hanna brothers returned home to West Newton—one by one and unharmed.
Paul speaks matter-of-factly about of his military service, as do a surprising number of WW II veterans. He calls himself one of the “unattached and unassigned” members of the Army. It was as if the Army needed him (he was drafted in 1943), but then couldn’t decide how. After induction he was sent to a half dozen different training bases to learn how to do a half dozen different jobs. As much a lowly corporal as anyone, he was even briefly put in charge of more seasoned, senior, but segregated “colored” troops during one of his stays in the Deep South. Back then, rank and race had its privileges.
Eventually the Army found a useful assignment for Paul and it shipped him across the Pacific to be part of a diversionary force that would attack Japan’s backside. He was to land on the main island and fight long and hard enough until US forces could make their main assault.
Like many GIs hurriedly sent to the Pacific in preparation for the invasion, Paul witnessed one of the largest military assemblages of manpower and machines the world has ever seen. At the island of Ulithi, he says, “There were so many ships you couldn’t count them. Thousands of them.”
After the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered, Paul finally made a landing onto Japanese soil in October 1945. He went ashore at Kure, about twenty miles from Hiroshima. There was nothing there. The city was just like you see it in pictures he says. The Army also told him that it was safe, as long as he didn’t stay too long in the city or pick up anything as a souvenir. Paul wasn’t about to. Not there or in Nagasaki, which he also visited.
After only a few months in Japan, Paul was sent home. Without much fanfare, he was quietly discharged in February 1946. After arriving by train at Pennsylvania Station, Paul promptly got into his father’s waiting car and that was it. The war was over. Going to war was a necessary thing to do, but after it ended it was time to get on with their lives, Paul contends in that same matter-of-fact tone.
Like many of his fellow veterans, Paul used the GI Bill after the war. He obtained a college degree in 1949 from Carnegie Tech—known today as Carnegie Mellon University—and went on to have a very successful thirty-three year career as an engineer.
There Was Just Nothing There
Paul Hanna is among the very few Americans to have personally witnessed the atomic aftermath at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Like many WW II veterans, Paul has little doubt that the bombing was justified. For him, it was necessary . . . or else. Had the invasion of Japan proceeded as planned, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people on both sides would have died. In the late fall of 1945, Corporal Hanna was in the breach of this impending attack on Japan, prepared to follow orders.
Listen to Paul Hanna’s complete interview.
Paul G. Hanna of O’Hara Township, age 90, died Mon., November 14, 2011. Survived by son, Robert A. of Mountain View, CA and sister Mary Hassick of West Newton, PA; also survived by sisters-in-law, Mary Hanna, Ester Hanna and Bernice Smouse; brother-in-law, Michael Daube and numerous nieces and nephews. Preceded in death by loving wife Ann M. of 53 years and son, Thomas M. Paul was a veteran of World War II and served with the 167th Field Artillery Battalion, 41st Infantry Division in the Philippines and Japan. He graduated with high honors from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering. He retired in 1983 as a Project Manager with 33 years of service with Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Paul was a lifelong resident of O’Hara Township. He served on the Board of Directors for the Community Swimming Club. He also served on several parent committees for the Fox Chapel School District and the Park Committee for O’Hara Township. On retirement, he volunteered at St. Margaret Hospital and had over 5000 hours over a 20 year period. He was also a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Coordinator for over 25 years, assisting thousands of low income and elderly people with their tax returns. He participated in studies with UPMC on balance and memory disorders in the elderly. Visitation at Thomas M. Smith Funeral Home & Crematory Ltd., 930 Center Avenue, Blawnox Thursday 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Funeral Mass St. Pio Parish, St. Edward Church, Friday 10:30 a.m. Burial In West Newton Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Pio Parish or to your favorite charity.
Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from November 16 to November 17, 2011