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82nd Airborne approach to unconventional warfare

Most vivid recollections of the Bulge

G.I. signs his life insurance over to an orphan


Hannan gives some background about his life in prewar Italy. He explains the attitude of the German youth and of an elderly German lady. She revealed to Hannan that she did not like the Hitler Youth and made the comment that "I feel that we parents in Germany will never have peace until we shoot our own sons!" He was shocked by this statement. When he was in Budapest, Hungary he was warned by a woman to leave Germany and not stop until he reached Paris, France. He was stopped by German civilians in Munich, Germany. While in Munich, he was asked by Germans if his paper stating that Germany made a deal with the Russians was true. They said that in the previous issue last night it condemned communism and everything anti-German. Hannan responded that he did not know but that they should believe it. These two incidents were his introduction to what became World War II.From these and other experiences, he was convinced that the United States was going to have to handle Germany and most of Europe.Hannan volunteered for the Army and requested to become a Chaplain for a combat unit. They ignored the combat request, and sent him to a Florida Army Air Corps base to help handle the thousands of new recruits that were coming in on base.


The young men [Annotator’s Note: at the Florida Army Air Corps base] were very eager once they learned some of the facts. Hannan was content with them as a first unit and first experience in the Army. He was not happy in his original outfit. He was finally sent to England. Hannan was able to write letters up the chain requesting that he be put in a combat unit. He was sent into the Airborne without orders. They knew he wanted to go into combat. He was told he was going to Rheims. Hannan was eventually transferred to the 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Regiment [Annotator’s Note: 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment] stationed in Rheims, France.Once he arrived he was immediately put to work by taking care of the wounded. It was a beehive of activity. Hannan reported to the headquarters. He was told to be ready the next morning. They wrote an order that said he belonged to the 82nd Airborne. He was taken into combat by a truck driven by an officer of the 82nd; it was snowing and cold. Hannan was instructed to grab as much cold weather clothing as possible. The next day the truck was waiting with a driver. He hopped in the front seat and they set out to find the 82nd Airborne. The driver knew the field they were in. They got to an open field and the driver told him that the 82nd was on the other side of the open field in the woods. Hannan went across the field; just as he crossed the field he heard a German voice yell ‘Halt’. Hannan yelled back, "I am sorry, if you let me speak slowly I can speak German enough." The voice came back, "Move forward." As Hannan got close to the woods another voice in German yelled, "To whom are you to report to?" Hannan told him the 82nd Airborne. The guy said, "OK come in."The second voice was from an American officer who spoke German. The officer asked Hannan who he was. He told him he was a Catholic priest. A Polish soldier wanted to shoot him because they never had a Catholic Priest attached to the Regiment. They thought he was faking it. It just so happened that Hannan was wearing a uniform that had been captured by the Germans when they took over St. Vith. Many of the Germans who captured the uniform spoke English. The sergeant was absolutely convinced Hannan was an imposter. He was sent to the 82nd Airborne headquarters. The first man he ran into did not know the best place for him to go. The Germans were all around. They had a small chance of holding them off if they were hidden. The man told Hannan to walk down to the line to find the headquarters. There were a lot of wounded men at the headquarters. The officer in charge went to Tulane Medical School. There were German, as well as American wounded. They told Hannan to not bother with reporting to the Colonel, he was told to immediately get to the wounded. He was asked politely to stay out of the way. Eventually Hannan did meet the Colonel but he never formally signed into any outfit.


Hannan wanted to get up to the front line [Annotator’s Note: during the Battle of the Bulge]. They told him as he started forward, that the guys up front would be delighted to meet him. He was told to crawl up to the front of the line. No one was going to appreciate the visit if Hannan strolled up to the line and gave away their position to the Germans; that is why he had to crawl.Hannan crawled up to the front. The only greeting he got was, "For god sakes get your buttocks lower." There wa an assistant to the Chaplain on the line. He was from California. He had a great sense of humor. His name was Jacques. He was devoted to the 82nd Airborne, especially to the jumpers. He had fought in every battle that they had up until that point. Jacques helped out Hannan a lot. He was an absolute gem when he dealt with the men. Jacques had jump experience as well; he was also the communication man so he carried a radio. The radio was incredibly heavy. The Airborne had no regulations as to what the appropriate load was for someone to jump. Their rationale was that they could jump with whatever they wanted to.505th [Annotator’s Note: 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment] paratroopers were shot down by the US Navy on their way into Sicily. Jacques was with that group and he landed alright in Sicily. The first wave of paratroopers made it that night, except that they were spread around. There was a heavy breeze that night. The Germans and the Italians thought that we had far greater numbers than we had. The second reinforcement wave was told, for safeties sake, to approach Sicily over our own Navy. The Navy did not get the word. A gunner with an itchy trigger finger most likely started shooting. In his own defense, a flight of German bombers had flown over two hours before. The officers were really upset by the friendly fire. Jacques escaped because he had so much equipment that it caused him to fall faster. Jacques had knocked out four or five panels on his parachute. Jacques hit the ground hard, but since he was in excellent shape it did not hurt him. Jacques became Hannan's assistant.Jacques could find humor in any situation. The 82nd ran up against Herman Goering's division. They decided the best thing to do was to fake how strong they were. They opened up with everything they had. Jacques was shooting at them as well; he was shooting next to a fellow who had no idea where he was shooting. Jacques asked him what he was shooting at. They could not find anything to shoot at but they figured if there was shooting going on they were going to shoot too. The Germans believed that the Americans were more numerous than they thought. The Germans ended up surrendering all types of armor to the smaller American outfit.Hannan never formally met his commanding officer. Since there was fighting going on it was hard to do things by the books. From then on Hannan was accepted as the chaplain. He does not recall when he first met the commanding officer. He also realized that the guys were never overcome by any of the situations they faced. Seemingly impossible odds did not faze them. He could not have been dropped in a better situation.


Hannan and Jacques developed good camaraderie. One of the great challenges that he faced was treating both the American and the German wounded. The guys began to notice that he would treat a German soldier identically to how he would treat an American soldier. One of the soldiers came over and pointed that out to him. Hannan informed him that he was a Catholic priest and that he treated everyone the same. The soldier shook his head and felt that it was not right, but if that was his orders then it was alright.After the fighting during the day, the officers would go to the line and drag wounded back, no matter if they were German or American. He took care of a wounded German soldier who was about 15 or 16 years old whose forearms were frozen up to his elbows. He was trying to find the soldiers book to identify if he was Catholic or Protestant. The German was hitting Hannan with his frozen arms. He and another soldier picked up the German and placed him near a stove. In four hours the German was completely revived. He was put in an ambulance and taken back. Hannan's experience with the German man taught him to take care of the situation regardless of who he was helping.They had Jeep's that were converted into ambulances; they constructed a thing that would hold a wounded soldier. The Jeep would be loaded up with the wounded soldiers. By not having any regard for normal ambulatory procedures, they were able to take care of all of the wounded. The Airborne taught Hannan to take care of the situation whether it seemed impossible or not.When the Germans broke through the line, the word came down to the Airborne to repel the Germans.  There were only two available Airborne divisions. Gavin [Annotator’s Note: Major General James "Jumpin' Jim" Gavin] was the commander of both divisions [Annotator’s Note: temporarily of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions]. Gavin was tasked with the monumental task of coordinating both divisions to meet the German threat. It was practically an impossible job. Gavin always stayed upbeat. He was adored by his men for the simple reason that he had a tremendous amount of courage and he always carried a rifle himself.They ran into terrific fire from the Germans at one spot. The Germans had railroad guns and they were sending one ton shells towards the American lines. In the damage there was a poor guy who lost both legs, the rest of his body was between some saplings. Hannan went over to get the guy loose from the saplings. He noticed that on his right there was a G.I. running forward. Hannan beckoned the G.I. to come over so he could help him get the casualty loose from the saplings. The G.I. did not pay any attention. Hannan looked at him and said, "For God's Sakes please come over and help." The G.I. was Gavin, he was running forward to find out where the railroad guns were. That was the kind of guy Gavin was. Gavin never asked anything of his men that he would not do himself. Gavin had a rule that everyone on his staff had to test new equipment before it was given to the G.I.s. The division was called the most outstanding division in Europe. Hannan developed a great respect for the Airborne and General Gavin. Gavin got the men together to let them know they were being issued new weapons and they were going to go after the Germans, even though they were short on men. He got the men fired up and they ended up successfully attacking the Germans with the new weapons. It was Gavin's leadership that made the difference. Hannan and the men always praised his leadership.


Everyone in the outfit had great respect for Gavin [Annotator’s Note: Major General James "Jumpin' Jim" Gavin, commanding officer of the 82nd Airborne Division]. Hannan could not have fallen in with a better unit. They underwent some terrible things. The weather got steadily worse until it was 0 degrees. They had no transportation except for their legs. They were expected to go forward with just their legs at the command of their officers. They had lost so many people that a number of units di not have officers. The senior sergeants took over. In the counterattack to the Siegfried line, which was the ultimate goal, as the men lined up for the attack there were few officers. Hannan thought he had a duty to walk with the men in the counterattack in order to give them a sense of support. The Germans ended up defeating themselves. When the men saw the Siegfried Line they saw numerous pillboxes. A rumor went around that the Germans had heaters in the pillboxes. As soon as the men found that out they went crazy and the attack worked beautifully. It was not the only encounter they had like that.In the first attack [Annnotator’s Note: Hannan is referring to D-Day Normandy] the planes were not at the right height, one poor guy, a paratrooper, landed on the top of a church in a village they were supposed to take. The paratrooper landed and got stuck on the church. Instead of taking him prisoner the Germans shot the guy. That really fired up the guys. Experiences like that helped the Americans develop a hateful attitude towards the Germans that served them well. The Germans did at one point have an overwhelming amount of tanks. The captain told them not to waste their ammunition, but rather to dig a deep foxhole and use their knives. Paratroopers carried great big knives. The knife was in a case along their leg. As the German tanks would come through with their infantry, the paratroopers would knife the soldiers so the tankers did not hear shots. After awhile the tank commanders would be looking around wondering where their support was. This account of how they fought was very peculiar. It was an irregular way to fight and Hannan has not seen it documented anywhere. Their reliance on each other and their ability to believe their officers when they asked them to do odd things was a key to their survival. When the Germans found out where they were, they drew up an attack. The paratroopers were in terrible position. Their colonel got in contact with the USS Texas. He told them where the German tanks were and they opened up on them. The tanks were wiped out, it was another saving grace. Rommel [Annotator’s Note: German General Erwin Rommel] was not at the front at that time. D-Day was his wife's birthday and he had gone to Paris to get her a gift.


One of Hannan's most vivid memories from his action during the Battle of the Bulge was the care that their medics gave. The medics knew exactly what was wrong with the men. One time, a colonel who was a medic came over to Hannan and asked him to console a man who the colonel was positive was going to die in the next twenty minutes. The colonel was also Catholic. The medic told Hannan that the soldier who was hit did not realize he was shot with a high velocity round; the bullet, because of its new speed, caused great damage. The high velocity bullet knocks out the nervous system. Hannan gave him a blessing but did not think the man was going to die but sure enough after twenty minutes the man passed. The medics were able to judge the effect that different enemy equipment on the men.Hannan went to treat a man who was hit with shrapnel. The medic could not figure out how the man was still alive as the piece of shrapnel went through the man’s heart. Hannan anointed him; the man was from Ohio. The man survived. After he was alive for a while Hannan went to check on him. The soldier said he was doing alright but he had a bad headache. There were peculiar things that they never figured out. Human nature has certain mysteries that no one knows anything about. These men were willing to gamble on their lives. An extraordinary amount of those wounded men survived.In Sicily there was an Italian American who was captured. He was captured by the Italians and put to death because they thought he was a spy. The Italians planted seven hand grenades near him and pulled the pins. The paratroopers finally came up to where he was and saw he was still alive. The guy survived but he was killed on a Navy ship on the way back to the United States. They had not fastened him in the bunk and when the ship hit a storm he was thrown from his bunk and bled to death because his wounds opened up. The medics gave the men every possible opportunity that was available to them. Hannan noticed the touch of God everywhere.The soldiers were very open about their feelings about God. One fight they were in, there were four guys who had gotten hit. They took refuge in a wagon that they had taken from the French. They were underneath the wagon. Hannan thought that they had been hit by enemy fire. He crawled underneath to anoint them and the first guy that he started to anoint reared up and asked, "What are you doing?" He had a rosary around his neck so Hannan figured he was Catholic. The man was in fact Jewish. Hannan asked him why he was wearing a rosary and the man told him that his friend had been wearing it. The soldiers would do that with no shame at all despite religious differences.After battles, Hannan would send brief letters to the parents of those who had been killed. He got a letter from a Jewish mother who said she appreciated the letter she received from him. She said “We are not Catholics”. Hannan sent her a rosary as well but she did not know what to do with it Finally she said, “I wish to thank you for the prayers you said for my son.” Hannan received amazing thank you letters. Interfaith acceptance was commonplace. Sometimes it was very hard.


Twins could stay and fight in the same unit. In many of the units in our military they did not permit two brothers in the same unit. The paratroopers allowed that. Two brothers were on a machine gun during the Battle of the Bulge, one guy ended up being killed. Later on in the same fight, the brother who was wounded was taken off to the hospital. After he recovered he came back and Hannan went to greet him. As he saw Hannan, he broke down into tears and said, "You would not be coming to see me unless my brother was killed." They knew what they were thinking. Hannan wrote a letter to his folks. His mother wrote a beautiful letter back thanking him. Things like that were really rewarding for a chaplain. The job of a chaplain was not one tracked. They got a lot of reward from being able to help.Hannan was overwhelmed by one case. A soldier went to Paris on his furlough. The soldier went to a Catholic orphanage. The soldier was not a Catholic. G.I.'s had a ten thousand dollar life insurance policy. The soldier went to the orphanage in order to give his life insurance to one of the orphans. Hannan asked him about his parents, the soldier informed him his parents were wealthy. Hannan went to the Sister and asked if there were any orphans that had difficult family situations. The Sister guided him and the soldier to an orphan who did not have a particularly good situation and the soldier signed his life insurance away to the kid. Sure enough the next time they went out, that man was killed. Hannan wondered what the feelings of that child were when the kid realized where the ten thousand dollars came from. A lot of these instances went unrecorded.Hannan was a lucky charm as well. In the latter part of the Bulge campaign, they were in pretty bad shape. In order to do what he could, he would go to the perimeters to say hi to the guys and cheer them up. Three times, in three successive days, when he went back to the medics, the medics had been hit by shrapnel. They requested that Hannan stay with them because every time he left, they got hit.Hannan always got along well with the guys. He was always impressed with their devotion to their job. Being in combat is always a thrilling event if one really works at it. Hannan's remembrance of combat is good because he got a lot of inspiration from it. He got a lot of appreciation from the men.Hannan was able to visit a lot of Europe through the seminary. He loved to visit the cathedral at Cologne. When they took that area, he decided that it was in his best interests to make sure that the cathedral was protected. As soon as possible, he made his way over to the cathedral so he could go inside and it was almost the end of him. The Germans had crossfire down the street that the cathedral was on. The cathedral is right on the river. Hannan tried to sneak into the cathedral by the front door. The machine gunners opened up on him and he was able to jump in a pile of rubble and conceal himself. He was amazed and dispirited by the fact that they had little buildings made by mortar that had strong doors on them which were meant to house and protect the art from the church.They had been issued gammon grenades; they were not meant to kill, but to blow something up. Hannan wanted to find the archbishop but he was across the Rhine River. Anyone caught crossing the Rhine was shot. Hannan happened to know the guys guarding the bridge. He was able to get across where he found the archbishop in a convent. Hannan went in and told him that he was worried that the structures built to house the art were inadequate. The archbishop took him seriously. He told the archbishop that he was very much interested in the cathedral and its well being. He asked the archbishop if he could be the caretaker of the cathedral. Hannan offered the protective services of a few paratroopers. He guaranteed the archbishop that no one was going to be allowed in or out of the cathedral. The archbishop wrote up a contract that gave Hannan the right to be the caretaker of the cathedral. He went back to the cathedral and he grabbed a few men and set up a security detail. He told the men that if anyone stole something they could return it to his tent and no one was going to say a word. The soldiers filled the bag in his tent with stuff they had stolen from the cathedral. A Sister who was a superior came by Hannan's tent. She told him that word had gotten around that he was the man now entrusted with taking care of the cathedral. There were Sisters who belonged to the convent and she argued that the Sisters had to be in the cathedral. Hannan told the Sister that he could do nothing for them because he had no way to get them back across the Rhine. She ended up making another plea but he could not do it. He motioned for another Sister she was with to come over. The little Sister reached into her garb and produced a bottle of schnapps. She asked if Hannan would do it for the schnapps. He could not do it. He was able to keep the cathedral in good shape.


After the war was over, a very peculiar thing happened. The Army decided they would ask a certain amount of people to give a reaction of what they were doing. The idea behind it was that these reactions could turn into ideas on how to do their specific job better. Hannan was told they were having a terrible time with the families who were hearing reports from the soldiers and vice-versa. Some of the soldiers were having a terrible time finding out that their spouses or girlfriends back home were not being faithful.Hannan suggested near the 40th anniversary of the war that it was time for the United States to make a statement towards the German people regarding how we felt about them. It would be a good thing for America to say that the Germans, forty years after the war, fulfilled their contract to us. All of the generals agreed with him. They asked Hannan if there was any way for him to have a meeting with the President. Before he could contact the President, President Reagan ended up calling him. President Reagan knew what was afloat. Someone had told the American Veteran's Association. They sent a very strong message to President Reagan saying they did not approve of that. The man who tried to blow up Hitler was a Catholic; he had been executed and put in an unmarked grave. Hannan told President Reagan that someone should put something in there about this guy who had tried to get rid of Hitler and paid for it with his life. President Reagan told Hannan he would try to talk about him. The veterans did not approve that as well and no statement was made. At the next meeting the generals said, "Hell man, you don't belong to the state department or anything, there is no reason that you (Hannan) cannot go over there and be our statesman." Hannan got in touch with the cardinal who was the head of the cathedral in Cologne. Hannan suggested the idea to him and he was told that he could go over whenever he wanted to and write the sermon. Hannan told him it was going to be a sermon thanking the Germans for what they have done. January the 8th is the feast of the Three Wise Kings. Hannan went over to give the sermon for the January 8th holiday. Hannan said that he had great memories of Germany right after the war. He recalled seeing German women gathering stones for the rebuilding process. He told them they had always been our friend and good ally. He asked them to be our good friends if there were any problems with the communists. They had all types of pres there and it turned out to be a big emotional event. Hannan wrote back to his general friends and they were happy with it. Two years later, the cardinal was thinking it over; they had not made any response. He was made an honorary member of the cathedral. To this day, he still has his own honorary seat in the cathedral.Hannan was invited back for a ceremony. He was thanked for his kind words about the Germans. One time he was there they wanted him to make a television documentary. By that time, he had his own TV operation. They enabled Hannan to go onto the roof of the cathedral to film for the TV documentary. They decided at one point to renew the cathedral. They found out things from Roman times; they found out that the Romans had built a steam system into the cathedral. They had a system for hot and cold water. They ended up finding out a lot about the construction system. The Romans wanted the cathedral to stand forever. Hannan believes that it has not been researched enough how important the city of Cologne is to the Germans. The Romans put the church in Cologne on the river so that people would see it.Hannan did the interview without looking at his notes. He is trying to write a book and he is going to have a long section in his book on the war.

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