WWII veteran now battling national debt

Elkins resident Donald Hansen is on a mission. This journey, though, is unlike any other he has undertaken in his long and colorful life.

Hansen, a U.S. Army veteran, fought and was injured in the Battle of the Bulge in Tillet, Belgium, in 1945. Although his latest fight isn’t necessarily for life and limb, it is no less serious an undertaking than his time overseas.

For the better part of a year, Hansen has been studying the U.S. national debt and the general state in which American citizens find themselves today.

“This is the second time that I feel I have been called to action,” Hansen said, sitting in his kitchen with his wife, Joyce. “We are at war internally. The interest on the national debt continues to climb and have a significant impact when it comes to finances in this country.”

The first time Hansen was called to action was in 1943. The Bratenahl, Ohio, native initially tried to enter the Army Air Corps or the Marines. Because he was so close to being drafted, he was instead assigned to a specialized training program. He spent time at Stanford University and Santa Clara University in California, ultimately being assigned to a small airport for training.

If he had completed the training, he would have been commissioned as an officer – the first of three times that happened – but he instead was put in the infantry.

Hansen was assigned to the 71st Infantry Division at Ft. Benning, Ga., where he shipped out to New Jersey to catch a transport overseas. Two days after arriving in the Garden State, the “buck” sergeant boarded the Queen Elizabeth, which was steaming its way to Glasgow, Scotland. From there, Hansen went on to France, after D-Day, where he was promoted to staff sergeant of the Company 3 platoon, first squad.

On Jan. 6, 1945, he and his brethren entered action at the Battle of the Bulge. Hansen was ordered by his commanding officer to head further into Tillet to see if he and his squad could draw enemy fire.

“We did – (we went) maybe 50 feet when shells came in, and I hit the ground,” Hansen wrote in a 2006 biography. “In several minutes the captain came walking by me, and I got up and followed. … We followed the ever-deepening swale and gully. At the foxhole it was about 8-feet deep and maybe slightly deeper by the time it reached the houses. At some point between the foxhole and a woodpile, I was knocked to my knees. I knew I had been hit in the back and wounded, and later believed I was down(ed) from the force of the bursting shell.”

From there, Hansen was sent to a field hospital for treatment. Altogether, he was out of commission for a month and a half before returning to his platoon – as a first sergeant. He had been recommended for that post prior to being wounded.

Shortly thereafter, Hansen went back to the U.S. on leave before going to the Far East for his next assignment.

“I was over there two or three weeks, then the Japanese gave up,” Hansen said. “After that, I got out of the service.”

“I did receive the Purple Heart for being wounded in Tillet,” he added. “I don’t think I got it, though, until I was out of the service.”

Stateside, Hansen married his sweetheart Joyce, and graduated from John Carroll University in Cleveland. He majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics.

In 1961, Hansen started work for the Sherwin-Williams Co., eventually becoming a manager. Along the way, Hansen and his wife had four children – David, Andrea S. Hansen-Ford, Christopher and Linda.

In 1977, he left the Sherwin-Williams Co. and moved the family to Elkins, where he worked for the Randolph County Sanitation Department, ultimately retiring in 2000.

Since then, Hansen has discovered his second call to action – educating people about the U.S. national debt.

He is hoping he can draw on some of his experiences in the Army to help him wage this all-important battle. Much like his time on the battlefield, it’s all about strategy.

“Do you even know what a trillion dollars looks like?” Hansen said. “People just don’t understand. Obama has done nothing but add to it (the national debt). We are racking up billions in interest on the debt and paying nothing down.”

Currently, the debt stands at $16,957,340,185,479, according to The average debt per citizen is $53,532.

Hansen says it all has to stop, and the way to start on this monumental task is by educating the American public.

“We all need to become a champion, and we all need called to arms to fight this battle,” he said. “Education, learning more about this and voting are the only ways we have to fight back. This is extremely important for our future – all of us. This problem is not going to go away unless we do something about it now.”