History books tell us that the United States officially entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. But the U.S. was involved well before that through the Lend-Lease Act, which gave President Franklin Roosevelt authority to send equipment and food to support our allies without violating the position of neutrality. Some of that equipment included amphibious ships called Landing Ship/Tanks designed for both sea and land.
Donna Hanson, a former Lexis-Nexis employee who originally moved to the Dayton area in 1985, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Her father, Donald Richard Hanson, was a Navy signalman, but Hanson knew very few details about his career until after he passed away in 2005.
“I wrote to ask for his records and when I received them, I found out he was on the first LST,” Hanson said. “These were the landing craft that carried the infantry to Omaha Beach.”
After their father passed, Hanson and her brother went through his things and found a briefcase from his war days. Inside was a Cribbage board and an old Brownie camera, along with 63 photographs of his shipmates and an address book.
“That briefcase contained the story of his life,” Hanson said. “I started doing more research and found out he was among the first crew on the first ship.”
Hanson’s background as an aerospace contractor and licensed pilot brought her to Dayton for a job at the University of Dayton. Besides a stint at Lexis-Nexis, she also worked at Kroger before she retired in 2007. Over that time, she became a subject matter expert in aviation. But though she wrote much fact- based copy over the years, she never thought about writing fiction.
Until she learned about her dad’s story.
“I joined a writer’s group about four years ago,” Hanson said. “I had to learn to give myself permission to embellish stories while writing fiction. And how to write from the heart.”
She felt her father’s story was begging to be told, but she didn’t have all the details about the crew and their daily life. After discovering few printed materials exist about the LST, she decided to author a fictional story, based on the facts she had, to honor her dad and his shipmates.
“One of the first things I did was go to the LST 325 Museum in Evansville, Indiana,” Hanson said. “They have the last operating World War II era LST.”
Hanson has been sailing since 1975 and while on a transatlantic journey said she felt what her father must have felt on watch early in the morning on a moonless night with the sky full of stars. But for him, it wasn’t as peaceful.
“They had to constantly worry about submarines,” Hanson said. “Thinking about the LST and her crew is very humbling.”
Hanson began writing the story of the LST crew with only muster rolls and diaries. But with those she could pinpoint, with some accuracy, the path of the ship and how many soldiers were onboard. She sketched out an outline and the story started coming to life.
“All these guys were kids,” Hanson said. “70% were under 20 years old – even the officers. And they were all scared and nervous.”
Hanson said that she wanted to avoid making her book another “Band of Brothers” story and instead pull enough from real life to make it a true human story about what life was like for the men on this type of ship.
“I just wanted to tell the story of the men and bring honor to what they did,” Hanson said.
It took Hanson more than two years to research and write her first book “Heroes All.” She opted to self-publish and created her own website. The book became available for purchase in mid-April. Vice Admiral Andrew L. Lewis, USN retired, told Hanson she “nailed it.”
Hanson is working on her second book now, her mother’s story about the Dust Bowl days in Kansas and Missouri. The book is set in the tiny town of Orrick, Missouri where her mother was born.
The LST 325 will be making a trip along the Ohio River this September and Hanson is hoping to be on board, though this is not confirmed. The craft will be arriving in Cincinnati the morning of September 27 and will be open for public tours for several weeks afterwards. She will also be speaking at the LST Association’s Reunion on Oct. 19th with Lewis.
“My book is a tribute to a small group of America’s Greatest Generation,” Hanson said. “It’s written to honor these sometimes forgotten and unsung heroes.”
For more about Hanson and her books, log on to combinedmindscreative.com
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