Widow traces husband’s World War II path

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 21, 2003

For over 50 years, Maxine Hanson of Albert Lea heard her husband, Harlan H. Hanson, tell stories based on his World War II combat service with the 104th &uot;Timberwolf&uot; Division. He also belonged to the unit’s organization of veterans, the National Timberwolf Association. As a result, they attended reunions in various parts of the nation through the years.

Harlan, who worked at Queen Products for 44 years, may have had thoughts about visiting the places in The Netherlands (Holland), Belgium and Germany where his infantry unit fought in 1944-45. However, he died on July 4, 1997, and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery.

&uot;We went to the reunions every year. When he passed away I just kept on going,&uot; Maxine said.

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&uot;In May 2002, I went to Colorado Springs with Mrs. Kermit (Darlene) Juveland,&uot; she added.

Maxine explained that Kermit Juveland of Albert Lea and Charles Larson of Clarks Grove were also World War II members of the 104th Infantry Division.

A memorial to the Timberwolves of the 104th Division was dedicated during the visit to Colorado Springs and nearby Fort Carson as a part of the 2002 reunion.

This year Maxine decided to be a part of the &uot;Return to Europe&uot; trip sponsored by the National Timberwolf Association. Making the trip with her was a daughter, Judy Johnson of Greeley, Colo.

Maxine’s trip started with a trip to Colorado to join with her daughter. Then they traveled to New York to be a part of the group going to Europe. Before their departure from New York, visits were made to the World Trade Center site and the Statue of Liberty.

This group of 28 included several 104th veterans, wives, widows, and sons and daughters. They went by air from New York to Amsterdam on May 1.

After touring Amsterdam, Breda and western Holland, the itinerary for this tour had these comments for May 4 and 5:

&uot;During these two days we relive and commemorate with our Dutch friends the Timberwolves’ baptism of fire at Zundert, and then the advance through Hoeven and Oudenbosch to Zevenbergen and the Maas (River). On Monday (May 5) we celebrate National Liberation Day in Holland with our Dutch friends.

Harlan Hanson’s trip to Europe started about six decades ago. He was inducted into the U.S. Army during November 1942 at Fort Snelling, then sent to Camp Adair, Ore. (located between Corvallis and Albany).

The 104th Infantry Division had been activated about a month earlier. Hanson was assigned to Cannon Company, 413th Infantry Regiment.

After basic training in Oregon, maneuvers in Arizona, and more training at Camp Carson, Colo. (now known as Fort Carson), the 104th was sent to the European Theater of Operations. Their first assignment was to be under British command in Holland and Belgium. After a few months the division came under U.S. command.

The Timberwolves participated in the Battle of the Bulge (Germany’s last desperate attempt to win World War II) during December 1944 and January 1945. Other 104th battles involved the German cities of Aachen and Cologne, crossing the Rhine River at the Remagen Bridgehead, taking the cities of Paderborn and Halle, fighting in the Ruhr Pocket and the Harz Mountains, and contacting the Soviet (Russian) Army in central Germany near the end of the war. A history of this division on the Internet states the 104th had 195 days of continuous combat during World War II.

Hanson and other veterans of this division could wear three battle stars on their uniforms. They were for campaigns in Northern France, Rhineland and Central Europe. Hanson was awarded the Bronze Star.

The 413th Regiment won the Distinguished Unit (Presidential) Citation. Hanson also earned the Combat Infantry Badge, one of the World War II mementos preserved by his wife.

A good part of the trip in early May for Maxine and her daughter was based on the route of the Timberwolves across northern Europe. For example, the tour group visited the American military cemeteries in Margraten and Henri-Chapelle where members of the division are buried.

A private wreath-laying ceremony was held to honor the American soldiers who never returned home.

The huge cathedral in Cologne was badly damaged during World War II. Now it has been rebuilt and serves as a highlight for people visiting this city on the Rhine River.

One of the places which was a special stop for the group was a chocolate factory in a German town which was captured by the 413th in 1945. This firm still makes what Maxine says is &uot;good chocolate.&uot;

During April 1945, troops of the 413th Regiment liberated the &uot;living dead&uot; at the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp near Nordhausen, Germany. The tour group visited the place Maxine’s husband said was &uot;an awful mess.&uot;

Maxine commented about one man with the tour group, a Timberwolf veteran, who had lost a leg during the division’s combat in Europe. He reportedly told the tour participants jokingly that he &uot;went back to get his missing leg.&uot; In reality, he married his military nurse and they have seven children.

The tour included several places where the Iron Curtain once divided Germany into west and east zones. After stops in Halle, Wittenberg and Potsdam, the tour ended with sightseeing in Berlin. Maxine and her daughter left Berlin’s Tegel Airport on May 15 and arrived in the U.S. the same day.

T/Sgt. Harlan Hanson’s division left Europe during June 1945. After furloughs, the combat veterans reported to Camp San Luis Obispo, Calif., to prepare for the pending invasion of the Japanese home islands. With the defeat of Japan in August 1945 and the final end of World War II, the plans for the division were changed. Hanson was discharged from military service during October 1945 and returned to Albert Lea. The 104th &uot;Timberwolf&uot; Division was deactivated two months later.

&uot;I still have his uniform upstairs,&uot; Maxine said. She added that her husband’s mementos from World War II include a Nazi flag with swastika emblem he brought back from Europe.

Her own mementos from last month’s trip to Europe include photos and even clippings from several German newspapers which featured articles about the group of Americans who were following the route of the Timberwolf troops.

&uot;There was good security during our trip. We had no problems,&uot; Maxine explained. &uot;It was quite an experience.&uot;