World War II veteran Ralph Hansen of Seward, had a strong motivation to serve after growing up in Callaway, and served from 1945-47 in what was originally the Army Air Force, but eventually became the United States Air Force. He voluntarily entered the service just a few days after his 18th birthday.
Hansen wanted to help with the war so he enlisted and after strenuous testing, ended up in the Army Air Force. There were multiple tests he had to take to see where he would be a good fit and as a result of those tests, he ended up going the Army route.
“I didn’t have any choice on it; they placed me and that was where they placed me,” he said. “We took the various tests and then based on the tests, that’s where I wound up.”
After a few days, Hansen got his test results back and then took a physical. After the physical, he was told he qualified for combat and that he had to choose something that involved combat. He was asked if he wanted to be a flight engineer — the person who is responsible for monitoring the engine and control systems of aircraft while in flight — and he decided that that would be fine and was sent to school for that.
“I was assigned to what they call a mobile training unit after going through five different technical schools,” he said.
Hansen said the tests were really easy for him, so his instructors decided to keep and train him as an instructor too. As a training instructor, Hansen traveled around to bases all across the country to train ground crews and flight crews about the A-26 aircraft since they were being converted to that from the B-25. He worked with the B-25 crews and taught them about how the A-26 was much faster and could carry a lot more, and worked on various bases for several months.
Hansen said one of his most memorable experiences in the service was when he and his crew would practice dive-bombing. He said it was always a guarantee to make your stomach drop because of how intense it was.
“We would get up to 10,000 feet or so and point the aircraft toward the ground and advance the throttles and get up to 425 miles an hour,” he said. “You couldn’t go any faster than that or your wings would vibrate. Then we pull out of the dive. When you did that your stomach stays down below, that was fun.”
As an instructor, Hansen completed a variety of tasks, including teaching things like hydraulic systems. Other days he would fly with the flight crews and they would practice different things like low-level bombing.
Hansen’s motivation for enlisting in the military was the attack on Pearl Harbor. He said he clearly remembers the day that it happened and said that it motivated his entire class at Callaway High School to enlist.
“There’s 14 boys in my class, and it motivated all of us,” he said. “The normal discussion was which branch of service are you going into and how soon you’re going to go. All 14 of us went to the service and we’re the only class that has that distinction where every boy served in the military.”
Hansen’s time in the service ended the day before Christmas in 1947. He hitchhiked from Chanute, Illinois, to Chicago, and got on a train that was headed toward Gothenburg, Nebraska. He said that the train originally wasn’t going to stop in Gothenburg, but the conductor was nice enough to slow the entire train down just enough for him to get off.
“Around Cozad, a conductor came by and he was shaking me and said ‘Hey soldier, wake up, grab your bag and follow me,’” he said. “Pretty soon the train starts slowing down and he took me back by the door and then all of a sudden [the conductor] says ‘jump’ so I jumped out and I was in Gothenburg.”
Hansen had thought about continuing his time in the service, but in the summer of ‘47, there was no money for gasoline because of a budget crash in Congress. He said that there were 63 airplanes in his squadron and all but three of them were grounded.
“We didn’t have any airplanes to fly, although there was a whole row of them out there,” he said. “They gave us the excuse that there’s no gas and we don’t have any money to buy gas so there wasn’t anything to do. That’s all you’ve trained for.”
Hansen said they were kept occupied with busy work and that it was pretty boring at times. He decided that he didn’t want to do that forever. He thought he should return to school and get his bachelor’s degree in agriculture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also went on to get his master’s degree at Wyoming, and the GI Bill paid for all of his schooling.
Even today, Hansen said that there are things that bring him back to the time and place of being in the military. He encourages people thinking about joining the military to go into the Air Force because of the memories it brings back for him.
“Sometimes when I see an airplane go over, like at the Husker football games when they have a flyover, I think about that,” he said. “I was able to fly over the World Series in St. Louis in 1946; yeah, I know what those guys are doing.”