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MS – 123: Robert D. Hanson Papers

(11 boxes, 2.97 cubic feet)


Inclusive Dates: 1904-1949

Bulk Dates: 1924-1945

 Link to Finding Aid - PDF

Processed by: Meghan Kelly

July 2011



Musselman Library Received this collection in 2004 as a bequest from Robert D. Hanson.


Robert D. Hanson was born on December 16, 1916 in Harrisburg, PA, the son of Henry W. A. Hanson, and Elizabeth Trimble (Painter) Hanson. He had two older brothers, Henry (“Hen”) W. A. Hanson, Jr. and Theophilus (“T”) Painter Hanson. The Hansons moved to Gettysburg in 1923 when Henry Hanson became president of Gettysburg College, a position he held until 1952. Robert D. Hanson attended Gettysburg public schools and graduated summa cum laude from Gettysburg College in 1939.

After graduation from Gettysburg, Hanson entered Dickinson Law School in the fall of 1939 with his brother Henry. The bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred partway through their final year there and, as a result, Dickinson offered early graduation for seniors in good standing who wished to join the service. Despite the fact that Robert had a postponement of his military service till August 1942, he chose to graduate early and reported to Fort Benning, GA in March 1942.

Robert Hanson served from 1942-1946. During training he was stationed at Fort Benning, GA, Camp Forrest, TN, Yuma, AZ, and Fort Dix, NJ. Upon his arrival at Camp Forrest, Hanson was assigned to be a platoon leader for the anti–tank company of the 319th regiment, 80th Division. Hanson turned down a position as Professor of Military Science at Valley Forge because he felt that he had a duty to lead his men. In addition, as a result of his law background he was part of the defense counsel for the special court and, when that was dissolved, became the new Trial Judge Advocate in addition to his other duties for a short period of time.  In December 1942 he was made company commander.  He returned to Fort Benning in September of 1943 to complete another training course before returning to training with his men in Arizona during the winter of 1944. During this training Hanson contracted Desert Fever and spent about one month in two hospitals in California recovering before reporting to Fort Dix.

During the summer of 1944 Hanson departed for overseas duty and was part of General Patton’s Third Army – European Theater of Operations. Shortly after arriving in Europe he became the Divisional Staff Officer of the Information and Education Division at Division Headquarters.  One of the most personally significant events for Hanson during his service was his visit to the Ohrdruf concentration camp shortly after it was liberated. When he returned from the war he served as a witness to the atrocities, speaking about his experiences whenever asked. During his service Hanson was promoted several times ultimately becoming Major Robert D. Hanson by the fall of 1945 and he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

After the war Hanson and his brother Henry opened a firm in Harrisburg where they practiced together until Henry’s death. Robert Hanson continued practicing law until concern for his wife’s health compelled him to retire.

Robert D. Hanson married Barbara (“Barbie”) Esmer on April 22, 1949. They did not have any children and remained together until Barbara’s death in 2000.

Robert D. Hanson passed away on July 28, 2006 at his home in Harrisburg, PA.

Scope and Content Note:

This collection is mainly comprised of letters and telegrams of the immediate Hanson family during WWII (1942-1946, with gaps), though there is a selection of letters to members of the family from other authors and a small group of letters written from 1904-1924 to Elizabeth and Henry Hanson from Elizabeth’s parents F. V. N. (Franklin Verzelius Newton) and L. T. ( Laura Trimble) Painter. In the sub-series of other letters addressed to Robert Hanson there are several letters pertaining to Robert’s admission to law school, the bar, and the army in addition to personal correspondence.

The bulk of the collection consists of Robert Hanson’s letters home to his parents. Hanson has strong ties to his family and an intense love and respect for his parents who he frequently refers to as “ideal parents”. Occasionally, Hanson uses these letters to express his own commentary on the war, his philosophy on life and his convictions of faith. Overall, he views his experience in the army in a very positive light and his letters reflect that. His early letters focus on the events that occurred during training including his promotions, descriptions of his positions and the challenges he is facing. He also requests updates on events going on back home, results of paperwork from law school, plans for leave and plans for visits from his parents. While Hanson’s letters from overseas also provide brief notes on his work, a detailed description of his new position is not written until June 11, 1945. Any action seen is generally not mentioned; with the exception of a brief description on August 30, 1944 of the event that led him to receive a Purple Heart, and an aerial dogfight on December 24, 1944. In addition, although visiting the liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp proved to be an important event for him after the war, it is not mentioned in any of his letters home. Many of his overseas letters focus on plans to practice law once her returns home, interactions with his fellow officers, events with his family back home, requests for items to be sent to him and discussions of his finances. While overseas he is very careful about the information he provides in his letters and, despite the fact that many of these letters were censored, Hanson’s writing was not edited. Censored letters have been marked as such. Enclosures, such as pictures and other letters referenced in Hanson’s letters were kept with the letter in which they were mentioned. In several of the letters, however, enclosures are mentioned that are not present in the collection. At the end of this sub-series there are two miscellaneous folders with various items that Hanson had sent home which are not dated that were not referenced in his letters, as well as two different newspapers.

Hanson does not date his letters until April 1944. Prior to that, he lists the day and time of day, such as “Sunday Morning,” at the beginning of each letter. The dates in brackets are based on this information in conjunction with the postmark and content of the letter. 

Letters in the collection authored by other family members generally focus on daily life and work. Several of the letters from Mrs. Hanson to Bob in the late spring and summer of 1943 discuss Mrs. Hanson’s victory garden as well as how they are being affected by the gas shortage. Both Dr. and Mrs. Hanson’s letters, beginning in February 1943 make note of the air training camp which is housed on the Gettysburg College campus for most of the war.

In many instances letters from family members were circulated so that everyone could read them. This is noted in several letters which contain attachments of additional letters written by other authors. Mrs. Hanson occasionally notes that she is enclosing an envelope so that they can return the letter to her when they are finished with it.

The letters are arranged chronologically by author, with the exception of miscellaneous correspondence which is arranged chronologically by recipient.

Series Description:

Series I – Hanson Family Correspondence is divided into three sub-series.

Sub-Series A: Letters and Telegrams from Robert D. Hanson to Dr. and Mrs. Henry W. A. Hanson.

Sub-Series B: Family Correspondence, which consists of letters and telegrams between members of the immediate Hanson family.

Sub-Series C: Other Correspondence which consists of letters to Robert Hanson and to Dr. and Mrs. Henry W. A. Hanson from various acquaintances and extended family members. There is also a miscellaneous folder at the end of this sub-series which contains five photographs of unknown subjects circa, 1900 and two copies of the invitation to Dr. Hanson’s inauguration at Gettysburg College.

 Link to Finding Aid - PDF