Robert Hanson, last Memphis Belle crew member, dies
ALBUQUERQUE - Robert Hanson, the last surviving crew member of the famed Memphis Belle B-17 bomber that flew combat missions over Europe during World War II, has died of congestive heart failure. He was 85.
Hanson and his wife moved from Arizona to Albuquerque recently to be close to their daughter. Hanson, who suffered from heart problems for some time, died Saturday, family members said.
He was the radio operator on the Memphis Belle, which flew 25 combat missions over Germany and France while escaping some close calls. Hanson told his family stories about a chase involving several German planes, the bomber's tail being shot off and a nose dive that left the crew wondering if it should use its parachutes.
"It's the end of an era. There's no one left," Hanson's daughter, Mary Black, said Monday evening.
Hanson's family remembers him as a caring father and grandfather who was known for his sense of humor. Friends say he was fond of ending his phone conversations with "dit, dit, dit, dah, dit, dah," the same way radio operators signed off using Morse code.
Born in Walla Walla, Wash., in 1920, Hanson joined the military in 1941 and was assigned to the crew of the Memphis Belle. The Belle flew to England in September 1942 and departed on its first mission in November.
Army records show the plane flew 148 hours and dropped more than 60 tons of bombs.
During its missions, the Belle was hit by flak, cannon shells and machine-gun bullets.
The plane's major parts were replaced at least once, and four of the 10 crew members died during combat.
Family members said Hanson came close once.
He was writing in a logbook one day and had to sneeze. As his head moved, a bullet missed him and put a hole through the book.
"He would always say, 'When it's your time, it's your time,' " his daughter said.
What these guys went through was pure Hell. R.I.P., flyboy.