Reflections on the Life of Kermit Peter
In the beginning . . .
Kermit Peter (Pete) Hansen was born on April 7, 1919 , in
the small town of Melvin, Iowa . His grandfather, Peter Hansen,
and his grandmother, Wilhelmina Bruer Hansen, came to this
country from Denmark and Germany , respectively. Pete's mother
Agusta Jurgens Hansen and father, Ernest Hansen were both born
and raised in Iowa .
Pete was the youngest of three children: his sister, Luverne
Hansen Katz, the oldest of the three is 93 years young and
his brother, Ingwer was seven years older than Pete. Pete was
ten months old when his mother died and as a result went to
live and was raised by his father's sister, Laura Hansen Stelck
and her husband Henry Stelck. Ernest gave money to his sister
to help pay for Pete's care. Pete's father remarried and Luverne
and Ingwer lived with him and their stepmother until such
time as they were old enough to live on their own. Even though
Pete never lived with his father, brother, or sister, he always
had a relationship with them.
Pete lived on a farm located eight miles north of Hartley
, Iowa , with his aunt and uncle. Even though times were hard,
they always had food. The farm consisted of 160 acres and
could feed a family of four. They raised chickens, cattle,
sheep, and pigs, so there was always milk, eggs, and meat
for them to eat. They churned their own butter. Once a week
they would go to the town and sell some products from the
farm, the proceeds from which they would buy flour, sugar,
and other staples that the family needed to live.
Living on the farm was hard work. Pete had his chores. He
would milk the cows, feed and water the cattle, pigs, and sheep,
and take care of the horses. But he also had his own pony that
he rode eight miles to school when the weather was good. Sometimes
the weather was so severe that he could not get there.
School was a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher teaching
all the grades. Pete attended first and second grades there.
Either the teacher or the principal, by means of a paddle
or perhaps a yank on the ear, meted out discipline. School
was sometimes dismissed during the school year so that the
children could go home to work on their farms.
Pete went to Sunday school every week and when he got older,
went to the Trinity Evangelical Church every Sunday. He always
got dressed up for church, wearing either jeans or double-knee
(for strength) corduroy pants, shirt, and tie. In addition
to religious services, the church was the center for social
activities as well. As part of their social life on the farm,
there were dances and gatherings of neighbors and Pete recalls
wonderful dinners of fried young spring chicken and sweet corn.
Hartley was a small town with only one movie theater called
the Capitol Theater. Pete was given 15 cents to go to the
movies - 10 cents admission and 5 cents for a treat. If Pete
was being punished for some reason, his movie privilege was
taken away or he was sent to his room without dinner. He also
knew what the switch on the wall was for. When Pete was eight
years old, he stole a French dollar from his uncle and bought
some rabbits. Being that a French dollar was unusual currency,
he was quickly found out. When confronted, Pete was not truthful
- he was in trouble. Auntie called the police. Nothing happened
as a result, but Pete had a good lesson in honesty.
Pete moved with his aunt and uncle from the farm to Hartley
where he completed grades three through nine. A good education
was not a priority in these schools. The idea was to get through
school and then go back to work the farm. Every summer right
after school was over he was sent to the farm to work. Pete
resented this because he had friends at school he would have
liked to share in his summer activities. At the farm he had
no friends his own age, only adults. Pete did go fishing while
at the farm, however, with his cousin Frances who was fifteen
years older than he. The reason Pete was sent back to the
farm in the summer was not only to work, but also because
he had stolen the French dollar.
After the ninth grade, Pete moved back to the farm where he
graduated from high school in 1936. He got his first suit-of-clothes
for this occasion in Sioux City . In addition, he got suspenders,
belt, shirt, and shoes with plates on them, which were negotiated
into the price of the suit.
After graduation he worked on the farm for two years and saved
$300 for tuition to the University of Iowa . Uncle Henry did
not want Pete to go to college; he wanted him to stay and
work on the farm. Pete didn't know whether he would ever have
an interest in the farm. He enrolled at the university and
attended from 1938 through 1940 leaving with just five credits
short of completing two years. He worked on the farm for the
next two years; Uncle Henry had given Pete a partnership in
Pete wanted to join the Air Force. He did not like war, but
he wanted the opportunity to widen his horizons, to get off
the farm, meet new people, and to see the world. He wanted
to be a pilot. He needed two full years of college to be accepted,
so he obtained his five missing credits by taking a correspondence
The war years . . .
Pete joined the United States Army Air Corp. in January 1942,
soon after airplanes from the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor
, Hawaii . The United States of America was at war.
As a cadet Pete trained at Minter Field in Bakersfield , California
, from January to February. He was then sent to King City ,
California , from February to April for pilot training, but
was sent to Santa Ana , California , for reclassification
to bombardier school because of depth perception problems.
From Santa Ana , Pete went to Roswell , New Mexico for bombardier
training. He trained for three months from June to September
5, 1942 . Pete graduated as a Second Lieutenant and was sent
to basic training in Tucson , Arizona , for the month of September.
At this time the flight crew, consisting of pilot, Don Hurd;
co-pilot, Arnie Good; bombardier, Pete Hansen; navigator,
Jack Reiter, engineer, John Farnum; Don Emaus, Scott Farrington,
and Art Johnson, gunners; and radio operator, Harry Crampton; was
The crew went from Tucson to El Paso , Texas , for bombing
and gunnery practice; to Topeka , Kansas for navigational
training, including flying into thunderheads for instrument
flying; and to Salina , Kansas , for more practice. At this
time, the crew received their B-24D bomber, which they flew
to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida, and then to combat
overseas. Pete was 23 years of age.
At Morrison, Pete's crew received their secret orders to be
opened after they arrived in Puerto Rico . The bombsite was
also classified secret and two men accompanied Pete when it
was installed into the airplane.
The pilot received $10,000 in cash from the U.S. Government
from which to pay the nine crewmen their $6 per day per diem.
While in Puerto Rico , they bought rum and other liquor to
take with them overseas.
From Puerto Rico they flew to Georgetown , British Guyana,
(now called Guyana ). On the way, two engines on the airplane
were lost and they almost crashed into the jungle. The crew
jettisoned what they could from the aircraft to lighten the
load. A B-24 stalls at 90 miles per hour and the plane was
shuddering. They then discovered that the landing gear was
not lowered; they fixed that problem, and landed safely.
They stayed in British Guyana for two weeks waiting for the
engines to be replaced. The weather was rainy and humid. Pete
and his fellow crewmen used this time for some rest and relaxation.
They played poker, using the aforementioned $10,000. Pete
and his friend Jack went to Georgetown to go to a U.S.O. dance.
They had a wonderful time. They were the only two Caucasians
there. The rest of the people were natives from the region.
Next stop was Belem , Brazil , for one night and then to Ascension
Island overnight and on to Accra on the Gold Coast of Africa
(now called Ghana ). There they stayed for two or three days.
The local natives did their laundry, shined their shoes, and
were their servants. From Accra they flew to Central Africa
en route to Khartoum and finally in February 1943, arrived
in Soluch in the Libyan Desert . From this desolate area, the
bombing missions began.
Pete and his crew bombed many Axis targets, including Palermo
, Sicily , and other targets in Sicily , Greece , Southern
Italy , and Vienna , Austria . Vienna was a seven or eight
hour flight. They sometimes carried extra fuel in wing tanks
for these long flights. They bombed the Messina Straits in
Italy , which was a supply area. They also bombed the German
headquarters in Sicily . They mostly bombed supply routes,
air bases, and railroad yards.
Rome , Italy was considered an open city and was not to be
bombed. Leaflets were dropped on Rome telling the Italians
to watch at a certain date and time precision bombing of their
railroad yards. The Pope in the Vatican was invited to watch.
Pete was the lead bombardier on this raid, and, as a result,
his name was broadcast over Reuters radio and was heard back
The Germans violated the conditions of an open city, so the
U.S. bombed Rome .
After a bombing raid, Pete's plane nearly crashed in the Mediterranean
Ocean off of Rome . They were running low on fuel and there
was a problem with the fuel transfer of the extra on board
fuel. Pete was getting prepared to ditch in the ocean when
the co-pilot, Arnie Good, ran to the area where the fuel transfer
switching was done and was able to fix the problem.
Another target was the German base close to the island of
Malta . The British controlled Malta . The United States wanted
to protect Malta because there were RAF fighters assigned there.
These fighters would sometimes escort U.S. bombers. In addition,
the British would deploy speedboats from Malta to rescue airmen
who had been shot down in the area.
On August 1, 1943 , Pete and his crew took part in the raid
on the Ploesti oil fields in Romania . This raid was known
as the "Tidal Wave," because the planes flew over wave after
wave. They practiced for this raid by flying low, no higher
than the roofs of houses. Two groups, the 98th Bomb Group and
the 376 th Bomb Group, known as the "Liberandos," were part
of the 9 th Air Force. Three groups, the 44 th Bomb Group,
the 93 rd Bomb Group, and the 389 th Bomb Group (part of the
8 th Air Force detached to the 9 th Air Force for this mission)
based in London , flew support in this raid, for a total of
179 airplanes. When the first wave came over, they turned
too soon and the Germans were alerted. After the low-level
bombing runs, the planes would climb for the higher altitudes to
fly back to their base. The German fighters were at these higher
altitudes and there was air-to-air fighting. German fighters
would attack after bombing raids - not before or during. One
hundred sixty two aircraft arrived at the target and 54 were
Pete completed 30 missions including 282 combat hours. He
needed 300 combat hours to return home. His crew was to fly
the oldest B-24, "The Blue Streak" back to the United States
to participate in a 30-day bond tour.
On August 16, 1943 , on Pete's last mission, his airplane
was shot down after bombing an air base near Foggia , Italy
, on the Adriatic Coast . Engines 1 and 2 on the
B-24 were hit by anti-aircraft fire and were on fire. Don
Hurd, the pilot called to the crew to prepare to bail out.
The crewmen in the rear of the aircraft bailed out first.
Five minutes later Pete and Jack Reiter attempted to bail out
from the nose of the aircraft but Pete's foot was caught in
the nose wheel door. Jack kicked Pete out and then bailed out
after him. As a result, Pete sustained an injury to his ankle.
On the ground Pete met his pilot Don Hurd and they were free
for about 2 ½ hours. During this time, they took off
their dog tags and buried them. This was a dangerous mistake
because these dog tags were their only identification and,
without them, they could have been considered spies. The Germans
were firing at them, but the bullets went over their heads
as they were lying in the underbrush.
Pete and Don were captured by the Italians, turned over to
the Germans, turned back to the Italians, and turned back
to the Germans again. Pete was transported on the top of an
armored car with a German guard to an apartment where he was
locked in a room. On the way, a small child ran into the street
in front of the car. They did not stop - just rolled right
over him, right in front of his mother.
At the apartment, Pete could talk to some Italians. Even though
the Italians were allies of the Germans, they were treated
poorly. The Italians hated the Germans.
Eight of the crew members were at this apartment. Three were
injured: Pete's ankle, and Jack and Art Johnson both had broken
pelvic bones. They were put in a hospital in Foggia and the
rest of the crew was sent to a prisoner of war camp.
After three or four days in the hospital, the Germans moved
Pete to solitary confinement in a building outside of Foggia
. He was put in a room 7 feet by 12 feet that had a small
barred window and a heavy door with a slit. His only companions
were fleas. He was fed a piece of black bread served with
some type of coffee once per day. He persuaded his guards
to let him out of his cell where he read the German newspaper,
rather looked at the pictures because it was printed in German.
Along came the German captain and put Pete back in solitary.
A few days later, in the middle of the night, Pete was put
into a German touring car with two Germans in the front and
Pete between two Germans in the rear. He was taken to Foggia
. When they arrived in Foggia , Pete was turned over to a
guard named Shultz, and they were handcuffed together. They
were en route to Frankfort am Main via Rome and through the
Brenner Pass. While in Rome , Pete asked to see the Coliseum
and Shultz took him there.
Pete was put on a train bound for an interrogation facility
for prisoners of war in Frankfort . His guard took him to
a car behind to see a Prussian officer. This officer had a
scar on his cheek signifying bravery from fighting a dual.
This "brave" Prussian officer spit on Pete. He was then handcuffed
to an outside rail separating two railroad cars. Pete was wearing
light clothing and the weather was very cold.
At the facility in Frankfort , Pete met his pilot, Don Hurd,
and his co-pilot for this raid, James Carlisle (Snuffy) Smith.
Pete was put in solitary again and was interrogated by the
Gestapo or SS troupes. The interrogator wore civilian clothes
but wore an army jacket with insignia. He might have been a
captain. He had a lot of intelligence information about the
missions that were flown, the training of the crew, and the
fact that Pete's was one of the first crews near completion
of tour of active duty. He had a book that had pictures of
Pete's bombardier graduating class of 1942 from Roswell , New
Mexico . It was not known just how much information the Germans
had or how much they were guessing. Pete only answered vaguely
questions that were asked of him, and never confirmed any of
their information. He gave his name, rank, and serial number,
as provided for in the Geneva Convention.
Along with other prisoners of war, Pete was sent by train
to a POW camp in Germany (now Poland ), 90 miles southeast
of Berlin . This camp, Stalag Luft III, housed 10,000 officers,
all airmen. Pete met Snuffy Smith and Don Hurd at the camp,
and the three of them were put in a barracks with Ken Allen,
Charlie Hachett, Ambrose Riley, Squirt Miller, and Ralph (Speed)
Goss. The barracks consisted of one large room furnished with
bunk beds with wooden slats and straw mattresses. There were
ten combines of eight men living in each barracks. The lavatories
The POWs who were already at the camp did not immediately
accept the new prisoners. They were concerned that there might
be German spies (or stooges as they were called) among them.
They had their own intelligence within the camp. After questioning
the new POWs and ascertaining that they were indeed downed
airmen, they were accepted.
Roll call for the POWs was at 7:00 a.m. and at 4:00 p.m. The
barracks were closed with lights out at 9:00 p.m. During the
day, the men were occupied with many different activities.
They cooked their own meals on a stove that was shared with
the other nine combines. Before the Red Cross started sending
parcels, the food for the men consisted of black bread and
German coffee, potatoes, and jam, barley soup, and horsemeat.
They had breakfast and dinner - no lunch. Once the Red Cross
packages started arriving, they had more food, including Nescafe,
powdered milk, Spam, corned beef, and condensed chocolate.
They even made a chocolate pie from the condensed chocolate.
They made an ice cream freezer and ice cream made from powdered
milk and ice. Representatives from neutral nations such as
Switzerland and Sweden came to the camp to make sure the POWs
were being fed and treated according to the terms of the Geneva
Convention. When the Germans gave Pete and the other men horsemeat,
they knew the representatives were coming.
The Red Cross sent books and athletic equipment. The Germans
allowed the POWs to participate in competitive sports, such
as track, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Pete carved model
airplanes out of wood.
The Germans provided no clothing for the men, only long French
Army coats. Pete traded the watch that his aunt had given him
for an Eisenhower jacket from a British airman who had been
a prisoner since the battle of Dunkirk . The men were allowed
to write three letters per month, so Pete wrote to his family
and asked them to send heavy clothing, vitamins, tooth brush,
and tooth paste. The family did send packages and even included
hard candy that would not spoil. Mail call was a very precious
time for the POWs.
The men spent time planning their escape. They dug tunnels
using bed slats for support. They made a bellows system to
bring fresh air into the tunnel. The dirt that was dug from
the tunnel was passed out in cans, and the men concealed these
cans inside of their long army coats. They would then walk
along the perimeter of the yard inside the fence for approximately
½ mile slowly spilling the dirt on the ground, much
like an hourglass. If they stepped outside of the fence, they
would have been shot. When the dirt became too thick, they
would stamp it down. With the excess dirt, the men planted
gardens, using seeds they received from the Germans. Pete feels
that the Germans knew about the tunnels, but did nothing about
it. Pete knew of only one man who escaped, and he was never
heard from again. There were about ten or twelve men who tried,
but they were recaptured.
Some of the British POWs at this Stalag dug a tunnel and attempted
to escape. Fifty airmen escaped; they were recaptured and all
were shot. A movie was made of this daring escape called, "The
Great Escape," starring Steve McQueen.
Parts to build a radio and camera along with film were smuggled
into the camp in packages from the Red Cross. The camera and
radio were secretly assembled and hidden behind books in their
library. Pete thought the Germans knew that they had a radio,
but they could never find it. The radio was tuned to BBC news
and in this way the POWs could follow the progress of the
war. They were aware of the D-Day landing in France , and
knew it was just a matter of time before Germany would be
The following italized excerpts are from the Internet Website
www.usafa.af.mil/dfsel/sl3/march/index.html,"The Story of Stalag
Luft IIII," describing the march to Moosburg, Stalag VIIA
at Moosburg, and the liberation of the camp:
On the night of January 27, 1945 , Col.
Charles G. Goodrich, the senior American officer,
announced, "The Goons have just given us 30 minutes to be
at the front gate. Get your stuff together and line up!"
At his 4:30 staff meeting in Berlin
that very afternoon, Adolf Hitler
had issued the order to evacuate Stalag Luft III. He was
fearful that the 10,000 Allied airmen in the camp would
be liberated by the Russians. Hitler wanted to keep them
as hostages. The Russians were within 20 kilometers of the
In the barracks following Colonel Goodrich's announcement,
there was frenzy of preparation - of improvised packsacks
being loaded with essentials, distribution of stashed food,
and of putting on layers of clothing against the Silesian
As the men lined up outside their blocks, snow covered the
ground six inches deep and was still falling. Guards with
sentinel dogs herded them through the main gate. Outside the
wire, Kriegies waited and were counted, and waited again for
two hours as the icy winds penetrated their multilayered clothes
and froze stiff the shoes on their feet. Finally, the South
Camp moved out about midnight .
Out front, the 2,000 men of the South Camp were pushed to
their limits and beyond, to clear the road for the 8,000 behind
them. Hour after hour, they plodded through the blackness of
night, a blizzard swirling around them, winds driving near-zero
At 2:00 a.m. on January 29, they stumbled
into Muskau and found shelter on the floor of a tile factory.
They stayed there for 30 hours before making the 15.5-mile
march to Spremberg, where they were jammed into boxcars
recently used for livestock. With 50 to 60 men in a car
designed to hold 40, the only way one could sit was in a
line with others, toboggan-fashion, or else half
stood while the other half sat. It was a 3-day ordeal, locked
in a moving cell becoming increasingly fetid with the stench
of vomit and excrement. The only ventilation in the cars
came from two small windows near the ceiling on opposite
ends of the cars. The train lumbered through a frozen countryside
and bombed-out cities.
Along the way, Colonel Goodrich passed the word authorizing
escape attempts. In all, some 32 men felt in good
enough condition to make the try. In 36 hours, all had been
The boxcar doors were finally opened at Moosburg and the Kriegies
from the South and Center Compounds were marched into Stalag
Pete was one of the POWs who marched to Moosburg. He remembers
that they marched in the snow, they made sleds, and they carried
their possessions. The march was so hard that little by little
they left their possessions along the way. When they arrived
at the boxcars, conditions were extremely bad. The boxcars
were filthy with excrement from the horses that were carried
at an earlier time. The men were dirty, hungry, were vomiting,
and had diarrhea. Pete had a blanket that he secured over
the heads of the men to make a hammock. The hammock lasted
for only a short time. It fell down because of the bumpy train
ride due to the ruts from bombing of the railroad. It was at
this time that Pete felt despair. For the first time, he wondered
if he was going to make it.
Stalag VIIA was a nest of small compounds separated by barbed
wire fences enclosing old, dilapidated barracks crammed closely
together. The camp had been built to hold 14,000 French prisoners.
In the end, 130,000 POWs of all nationalities and ranks were
confined in the area. In some compounds the barracks were
empty shells with dirt floors. In others, barracks consisted
of two wooden buildings abutting a masonry washroom with a
few cold-water faucets. Wooden bunks were joined together
into blocks of 12, a method of cramming 500 men into a building
originally intended for 200. All buildings were infested with
vermin. As Spring came, some of the Kriegies moved out of
the barracks into tents.
Stalag VIIA at Moosburg
On the morning of April 29, 1945 , elements of the 14 th Armored
Division of Patton's 3 rd Army attacked the SS troops guarding
VIIA. Prisoners scrambled for safety. Some hugged the ground
or crawled into open concrete incinerators. Bullets flew seemingly
Finally, the American task force broke through, and the first
tank entered, taking the barbed wire fence with it. The prisoners
went wild. They climbed on the tanks in such numbers as to
almost smother them. Pandemonium reigned. They were free!
Two days later, General Patton arrived in his jeep, garbed
in his usual uniform with four stars on everything including
his ivory handled pistols. The prisoners cheered and cheered.
The Longest Mission was finally over!
As Pete remembers, the American soldiers fought the young
German soldiers for about two hours. Pete saw General Patton
from a distance of about 30 feet and he could see his ivory
handled guns. After the German guards left, Pete was told not
to leave the camp; it was safer to stay because there were
pockets of Germans outside the camp. However, Pete did leave
for one day. He met an ordnance group; he asked for and received
food. He remembers that the food was good and that he had chocolate
From the camp, Pete could see a church in Moosburg that flew
the German Swastika flag. He saw that flag lowered and the
American flag raised. The POWs cried for joy. Their country
had not forgotten them.
The former prisoners from all nations including Britain and
the United States flew in DC-3s to LaHavre , France . The
Red Cross fed them and sent them on Liberty Ships across the
Atlantic to Camp Shanks in New Jersey . From there, Pete called
his sister in New York . He then took a train to Jefferson
Barracks in St. Louis , Missouri . The train had priority over
all other trains except one in Indianapolis , Indiana that
carried repatriated Japanese wounded prisoners of war. From
St. Louis Pete went to Mason City , Iowa , where his Aunt
Laura, Uncle Henry, Aunt Hilda, and Uncle Alfred met him.
They took Pete to lunch, and all he wanted was an American
hamburger and a coke. On May 29, 1945 , he went to Hartley
and caught up on the news about his family. Pete called Peggy.
Civilian life . .
Pete met Margaret Elizabeth Duff (known as Peggy) in 1942
when Pete was a cadet in Santa Ana , California . Pete's roommate,
Louis Grush's wife, Anabelle was Peggy's sorority sister at
U.C.L.A. Anabelle and Louis invited Pete and several other
cadets to Anabelle's parents home for dinner. Anabelle also
invited some of her sorority sisters, one of whom was Peggy
who drove the cadets to the dinner. Pete remembers her blond
curly hair. Pete took Peggy home that night, and she remembers
that he did not kiss her goodnight.
Peggy worked at the Bank of America. She saved her money and
at a cost of $14 for an airplane ticket, flew to attend Pete's
graduation at Roswell . She took the bus back home. They corresponded
while Pete was overseas and through his aunt learned that
he had been shot down and was a prisoner of war. They corresponded
and she sent packages.
Pete invited Peggy to come to Hartley in June 1945. He proposed
and they were married on July 15, 1945 , with Pete's family,
Peggy's parents, and maid-of-honor, Durette Scott, in attendance.
The bride and groom honeymooned for one week at Lake Okoboji
in the Lake Region near Hartley. Pete had $5,000 which he
had accumulated while he was in the service.
Pete and Peg purchased a 1939 Chevy for $800 and drove to
Santa Monica , California , to start their life together. They
stayed for a week at the Del Mar Club, which was made available
for all former POWs. Pete was reunited with other POWs. He
was given a physical examination, promoted to captain, and
was given his discharge papers. Pete was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Silver Cluster signifying
30 raids, the Purple Heart, and the POW medal, which was awarded
several years later.
Pete and Peg rented an apartment on Patricia Avenue in West
Los Angeles . Peg worked at U.C.L.A. evaluation credits for
student athletes while Pete went to school at U.C.L.A. for
one year and one summer session. His tuition was paid by the
Pete then went to work for Peg's father in the Gordon Duff,
Inc. welding supply business. He worked there for 17 years.
Peg's mother and father were like another mother and father
In 1949, Pete and Peg bought a lot and built their first home
in North Hollywood . It had two bedrooms and one bathroom.
When their family started to grow, they moved to a larger
home in Van Nuys. Their third home was in Northridge where
they lived for 33 years. Peg's mother had passed away and her
father lived with them until he died. Pete and Peg have three
children: Janet, Nancy, and Tom, and two grandchildren, Kenny
In 1962, Pete went to work for Miller Electric Manufacturing
Co., of Appleton , Wisconsin
. They manufactured welding machines.
Pete was District Manager for the West Coast and Arizona
for 13 years. He then became their Account
Executive. He sold equipment, making sure their customers
purchased the right equipment. He held this position for seven
years until he retired in 1982.