The Great Depression and then off to war
“Uncle Sam needs every man he can get.”
Confronted with a bleak job market during the Great Depression, knowing it was just a matter of time before his draft notice arrived, Paul Hannold left school during his senior year at Youngsville High School and, with his brother, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942.
“I was born at the wrong time (1924),” he said. “In ’29 the Depression hit. We had nothing. Everyone was poor. We were all poor. We never noticed it.”
Tough times continued for the Hannold family, and families like them all across the country, into the 1930s.
Little did they know that, while the challenges would be different, life in the ’40s wouldn’t be any easier.
“I was a senior in high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly when I’d be going in. In June of that year (1942), I turned 18.”
He had a pretty good idea what would come next.
“In school, the kids were all talking about the war, us seniors especially,” Hannold said. “I knew I was going to get my draft notice. I told my brother I didn’t want to be a foot soldier (so I) went to Erie to see what I could get.”
Initially, he had trouble getting into the service and avoiding the infantry.
“I went up there and I tried the Navy,” he explained. “I had glasses back then. The Navy, Air Force wouldn’t take anyone with glasses.” When he asked a recruiter what options he had, he was told field artillery and coast artillery.
He chose field artillery.
Thinking he would have some leave before reporting for training, he was surprised when he was shipped out that night, October 24, 1942.
“The furthest I had ever been from Warren County was Jamestown,” he said. “(When I) got to Fort Meade, Maryland, I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?'”
On his way to Fort Meade, the train stopped in Warren for half an hour, long enough for him, along with his brother, to tell his parents good-bye.
He hadn’t told his parents he was going to enlist.
“My brother and I did that and never told our parents,” he explained. “I knew mom would just break right down and might die. Dad… he was getting older, too. There was five of us boys, three of us was in. I was the baby of the family.”
But it was clear that he had given his decision much thought.
“I told them ‘the way this world is going, went through the Depression, Hitler declared War, the Japanese declared war on us, (I) don’t have much to look forward to. Uncle Sam needs every man he can get.'”
Fort Meade was a temporary, but painful spot, as his brother was assigned to a different unit after just one or two days together in the service. But soon Hannold’s name was called and he was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C. for artillery training.
After three months training at Fort Bragg, the Army “split us up and shipped us out to different artillery bases. That meant Hannold went back to Fort Meade. Assigned to the 76th Division, “we were together training. Everyday we went to the firing range or did something. We were busy for just about a month and a half.”
Hannold was sent for ski training maneuvers for a potential assignment in Norway or Finland.
Where he would wind up was about as far from Norway or Finland as physically possible.
He was transferred west, first to Fort Ord, California, and then to Fort Lawton, outside of Seattle, Washington.
“(They) drove us down to the docks. It was an old Liberty Ship. There was a crew there waiting to get on it before we got there,” Hannold said of the ship he boarded that would take him further west. He concluded that meant Pearl Harbor. “That’s the only place you could go,” he said. “They never told us anything. After we got on board the ship and out to sea, I talked to some of the guys and was told we were headed to Pearl.”
“We got there and it was just pouring down rain. The Hawaiian girls met us… put leis (around) our neck… dancing for us. I wasn’t in a mood for dancing.”
It was in Hawaii that Hannold learned the unit in which he would ultimately serve the 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion.
Hannold said that was “a long way from skiing” and that he felt “trained for everything but the thing I had to do.”
The 708th was comprised of an HQ company and four tank companies titled A, B, C and D. Hannold joined B Company. Each company had 38 tanks and Hannold trained on the tanks, capable of traveling on land and in water, for a month and a half in Hawaii.
The tank “was nothing to look at in the water,” Hannold explained. “Our propulsion was from the track, cups on the tracks.
“That was rough training,” he said. “They wanted to train us in big surfs coming in. When those surfs come in, the tank driver had to be a good driver. We got onto it good.” That’s good because the Army brass told them to expect to be landing on islands throughout the Pacific in high tides.
He explained he was a “scarf gunner.” He said they were “on the back end of the tank (and we) got down in this place to stand.” From the chest up, he was exposed, responsible for firing a .30-caliber machine gun. “We had disc mics so we could talk inside the tank. (We) had racks of barrels and racks of ammo. (We) would put on asbestos gloves and grab the old barrel (to replace it with a new one). I could to that (change barrels) in about a minute. That’s the way we worked.”
The Landing Ship Tank class transported the tanks. Hannold said “each company could load on one ship. (We) could line right up on each side and fill the ship right up so when we went to sea we were loaded pretty good.”
The 708th’s first invasion was in the Marshall Islands, over 2,000 miles from Pearl Harbor, on the atolls of Tinian, Kwajalein and Eniwetok in early 1944. Hannold said he joined up with the unit after that invasion while the tanks were being retrofitted in Hawaii.
With the first invasion complete, and the tanks retrofitted, the 708th would serve throughout the Pacific, including at Okinawa.
The food the military provided to the men for that invasion left something to be desired.
“When I first got K-rations on our first invasion,” Hannold recalled. “I opened them up and they were packaged in 1916. They were packaged for the first World War.” He said the meals contained, coated in wax, items such as “four little hard biscuits,” cigarettes, grain, crackers, cheese chocolate bars and instant coffee.
The men “could carry enough for four days supply,” he said.
“We shot a lot of bullets,” he said, “Mainly at night time. They’d (Japanese) try to sneak in. We’d try to do anything to keep them out. (We) had some wire (and) would take it and run it around twigs and things to all our tanks (and) hang hand grenades on it. (We) would have the pin almost pulled. I said one time ‘I just hope these hand grenades work.’ We had flare guns, too. We’d see the enemy, that gave us perfect shooting with a machine gun. Every fifth shot was a tracer.”
“The Japanese were tricky at night. (We) never slept in the daytime and didn’t get sleep at night either.”
But he didn’t give excessive thought to the results of all the shooting.
“Someone said ‘how many Japanese did you kill?’ I said I never counted them. I didn’t want to kill people, but it was either them or me.”
Hannold’s war would end on Okinawa.
“That was fierce fighting,” he said bluntly. “(It) wasn’t at first. (The Japanese) stopped us just on the coral before we hit the sand.” The infantry were then sent in front of the tanks and “dug out five land mines in front of our tank.”
He said there were “a lot of tanks going in at once. We went in and got up on land… the lead tank with the captain up there crossed there (and) went in between the roads. They (the Japanese) had a 500 pound aerial bomb” prepared as a mine.
The tank hit the mine.
“It went up in the air, flipped six or seven times,” Hannold said. “It just exploded. That was our first loss on Okinawa. You see things you don’t want to see but then went on. (We) finished up what we had to do.”
But amid the horror, Hannold and his colleagues did stumble across a special treat.
After being pulled back off the line for rest, the tank driver “found a good spot… (and) hit the left track. I was on the opposite side. When he spun that around, I saw these things come rolling out of the ground, covered with watery mud in the real rich soil. I wondered ‘what in the world that is?’ Another guy in another tank, he jumped out of a tank.
“They were sweet potatoes. We’d peel them and eat them raw.”
The war in the Pacific would end while Hannold and the rest of the 708th was on Okinawa. Hannold said his unit made it to Naha, Okinawa before the Japanese surrender.
“In my tank, (the news) come over the tank radio that they dropped (atomic) bombs. Not until the second one did they finally surrender. That’s where I was. I had had enough of war.”
“We were right in the thick of it when he dropped those,” Hannold said. “We had… (been) told we were going to invade the Japanese mainland.”
If they had, he said “I wouldn’t be here.”
The 708th was transported to Guam but an issue with the ship left the men there until they could be transported to the Philippines. The men then sailed on an aircraft tender from Leyte back to the states.
The 708th made it to San Francisco on January 13, 1946, according to his discharge papers.
Hannold was discharged as a Technician Fifth Grade (T-5) on January 20, 1946 at Camp Atterbury, Indiana
Hannold had two brothers, Elwood and Dave, who served during the war, as well. Elwood was wounded in Italy and eventually lost a leg and Dave’s jeep was hit by a German 88 mm shell.
“All of us came home,” he said. “I never got a wound on me.”
He doesn’t think them all coming home alive was coincidental.
“I had a religious mother,” he said emotionally. “She prayed and prayed and prayed for us. I know that’s why we all come home.”
He not only come home to his family but also to his girlfriend, Dot Reed.
Six months later, in June, they were married and have been married for 68 years.
“We have had a wonderful marriage,” Hannold, who turned 90 two weeks ago, said.
The couple have two sons, Mark and Gary.
Paul worked with the Pennsylvania Railroad with his brother Dave, spent time in construction and worked at the National Forge. In an interesting connection to the Forge, the Forge produced periscope tubes some of which would be used on a submarine that his son, Mark, served on.
And, in spite of the horrors he experienced, he was clearly proud to have served.
“I don’t regret it,” he said frankly. “Back then I don’t think anyone that went into the service regretted going in. We loved our country and would fight and die for it. (But I) never want to go through it again. I wouldn’t want to put my children through it.”