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World War II veteran honored by Honor Flight

He was just a kid, 18 years old, but all of that changed when he was drafted in 1943. World War II was raging in Europe and the South Pacific, and it wasn't long before Paul Hanten, who had grown up in Virginia, was a Navy Seabee stationed in the...

Sam Cook
Sam Cook is a News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com.

He was just a kid, 18 years old, but all of that changed when he was drafted in 1943. World War II was raging in Europe and the South Pacific, and it wasn't long before Paul Hanten, who had grown up in Virginia, was a Navy Seabee stationed in the bleak Aleutian Islands off the coast of mainland Alaska.

Although he never came under fire during his three years in the Navy, he also served in Hawaii and on the island of Samar in the Philippines just as the war was winding down.

"Don't make me a hero or anything," said Hanten, who will be 88 in July.

Paul and his wife, Helen, live in Duluth. He worked as a compositor, or typesetter, for the Duluth News Tribune for about 35 years, retiring in 1988.

Hanten was one of the World War II veterans invited to make Duluth's third Honor Flight to the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., on May 15. I happened to see a copy of the note that Hanten sent out upon his return.

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On the flight, the veterans had a "mail call" reminiscent of their days in the service.

"The mail call occurred on the flight out, and besides notes and messages from friends and family, there were notes and drawings done by school children, mostly from Hermantown and Proctor schools: Everything from pictures of tanks and helicopters to messages thanking us for keeping our country free. All very touching," Hanten wrote.

In a phone conversation this week, Hanten said the Navy changed him.

"I grew up in the Navy," he said. "I started looking at, you know ... I wasn't a kid anymore."

He thought seriously about staying in the Navy, he said, but decided he wanted to come home. While working full-time at the News Tribune and building a home, he also went to college, earning a degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

In Washington last week, he was moved by the World War II monument, a recent addition to the memorials at the mall.

"Oh, boy," he said. "It's huge. A beautiful memorial. The Pacific on one side, the Atlantic on the other."

After spending time there, the veterans moved on to the Lincoln Memorial.

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"We had a group picture taken on the steps," Hanten wrote. "One veteran in our group led us in singing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' impromptu. Across the road were lots of people watching while our senators came to greet and speak to us. One adult leader of a group of school children came over to ask if the children could come shake our hands. They did, and it was great."

Back home, he spoke more about that moment.

"They were maybe 10 years old," Hanten said. "They probably don't even know what World War II is yet. That was kind of moving. They said, 'Can I shake your hand? I want to thank you for giving us freedom.' That was amazing to me."

"We were late getting back to Duluth, but were met with uniformed officers of the Duluth and Hermantown Police, the Sheriff's Department, the Border Patrol and veterans' groups who formed two lines for us to walk between getting off the plane and into the airport. There was a band playing, and a veterans' bagpipe group and lots of cheering families and friends," Hanten wrote in his note.

Two more Honor Flights will be made from the Northland this year, on Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. Each flight costs about $90,000 and carries about 160 people, including the veterans and their attendants, according to Durbin Keeney of the Honor Flight Northland board.

"It was quite a day, one I will never forget," Hanten wrote.

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at scook@duluthnews.com . Follow him on Twitter at "twitter.com/samcookoutdoors."

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