- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

OTTAWA, Ill. (AP) - World War II veteran George Hanselman doesn’t relish the spotlight.

On a recent day, even before he sat down for an interview about his service, he said he was no hero.

“I just did my job. I did what I was called to do,” said Hanselman, an Ottawa resident.

In October 1944, near the end of the war, Hanselman was drafted into the Army. Three weeks shy of 24, he had a wife and three children. At the time, they lived in Eldorado, a small town in Southern Illinois.

He went to Fort McClellan in Alabama for training.

“We were trained how to kill,” Hanselman recalled. “We were trained with all kinds of ammunition, machine guns, mortar, rifles and grenades. And we learned how to walk 20 miles.”

Hanselman, now 95, had hunted with shotguns before, but he said that was different from the kind of weaponry he used in training.

Finishing his training in mid-February 1945, he went to Maryland, then to Boston. There, he got on a large troop ship, which contained upwards of 8,000 soldiers.

“It was a pretty fast ship. They said it could outrun a sub, but I don’t know if it could.”

While other troopships had escorts, this one didn’t. But it safely crossed the Atlantic. They arrived in England.

Then the troops crossed the English Channel and stayed in tent camps in France. From there, they traveled by boxcar to the Belgian border, where there was an infantry replacement depot.

Then they boarded boxcars again and traveled deep inside French territory to an airport, where they stayed six days.

“We didn’t know where we were going,” Hanselman said.

At 5 a.m. March 24, they woke up and had a breakfast of steak and eggs.

“I heard we were going on a mission - Operation Varsity,” Hanselman said.

At 8 a.m., he and others boarded gliders, planes that carried troops to the front.

It was a rough ride, taking two and a half hours to get to the Rhine River, which is in Germany. The troops heard anti-aircraft fire, which, Hanselman said, sounded worse than the Fourth of July.

“We were a floating duck up there. We were not up very high. They knew we were coming,” he said.

Despite the fire, they safely landed on a farm - an orchard on one side of the glider, a three-story farmhouse on the other.

Twenty-five German soldiers emerged from the farmhouse, surrendering.

Hanselman and others walked down the road, seeing “soldiers laying all around who didn’t make it.”

He saw another glider that was burning, apparently hit by anti-aircraft fire. The soldiers inside had perished.

Hanselman was part of a team that placed mines on bridges “in case we couldn’t hold the line and they pushed us back.”

Operation Varsity was an Allied victory. It was considered the largest airborne operation in history in a single day in one place.

Victory in Europe Day - May 8 - was a month and a half later.

Hanselman got a Bronze Star.

“There were guys who earned it more than I did,” he said. “They had done more than me. I guess I got it, because we did our jobs under fire.”

After V-E Day, Hanselman and his fellow soldiers took part in occupation duties. Then they had a new mission - the invasion of Japan.

“If we had invaded Japan, it would have been a bloody deal. In the middle of the Atlantic, we got word that the bomb had been dropped in Japan,” he said.

That was Aug. 6. An atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Another was dropped three days later on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered.

On Dec. 20, 1945, Hanselman was discharged from the Army. He had already moved his family to Ottawa during a break.

After the war, he worked at a glass factory for 52 years. His first wife, Dora Tyler, died in 2003. They had three children, Donna Downey, Norma Day (deceased) and George Hanselman, a Cold War veteran.

Hanselman still marvels at what he experienced during World War II.

“It’s amazing what I saw in that short length of time,” he said. “I saw what war was all about. I don’t believe you should go to war until you have to.”

Hanselman married Marge Weihman in 2007. They live in South Ottawa.

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Source: The (Ottawa) Times, https://bit.ly/1Qmuys5

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Information from: The Daily Times, https://www.mywebtimes.com

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