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Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes: A Vietnam War Story

Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes: A Vietnam War Story

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Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes: A Vietnam War Story

235 pagine
Oct 20, 2014


A wife tells of her husband’s combat missions—and the Agent Orange exposure that changed both their lives.

Through her husband’s letters from Southeast Asia about his combat missions in Vietnam and over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos in 1971 and 1972, Marge Hansen shares a gripping journey into one of the most divisive and turbulent periods in the nation’s history.

Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes: A Vietnam War Story captures in a flier’s words the conflict, drama, frustration, heroism, and longing for home and family that mark combat missions. Through meticulous research and compelling narrative, Marge brings to readers a chance to understand what may have been only an ongoing headline in the news for those at home or a distant episode in American history for younger readers. In her voice and Charlie’s, she captures the experience of those who serve and those who support them. For Marge and Charlie, the war was immediate and personal and has not ended; both were impacted by the legacy of Agent Orange—he from his assignment to front-line bases and she from her visit to him at one of those bases. Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes recounts the story of one war, one hero, one marriage, and one family. This book stands for all those whose voices have not been heard.
Oct 20, 2014

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Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes - Marjorie T. Hansen

© 2014 Marjorie T. Hansen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes:

A Vietnam War Story

Brown Book Publishing Group

16250 Knoll Trail Drive, Suite 205

Dallas, Texas 75248

(972) 381-0009

A New Era in Publishing™

ISBN 978-1-61254-226-3

ISBN 978-1-61254-209-6 (HC)

ISBN 978-1-61254-217-1 (PB)

LCCN 2014945915

Printed in the United States

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For more information or to contact the author, please go to

For Charlie,

Rest in God’s arms—I miss you and I love you.






I thank Charlie for choosing me to share his life and go on the journey with him. I thank the military wives who took me by the hand when I was a young bride and kept me from stumbling in a hard and difficult environment by preparing me for the loneliness and fear that came with the Vietnam War and teaching me the coping skills for my final role: surviving spouse. I thank the brave warriors, humble heroes who gave everything they had to give in the service of their country. We will never forget you. I thank all of the men and women who served with distinction, pride, and honor during the Vietnam War, and the families who waited at home, for this is your story also. And to my precious family, what can I possibly say to you? My cup runneth over with joy to have you for sons and granddaughters. Each day I thank God for my many blessings.

I owe a special debt of thanks to the outstanding team of professionals at Brown Books Publishing Group who helped make this book possible.



We stood on the runway at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP) February 3, 1972, holding each other as I fought back tears and desperately tried to smile as we said good-bye. It was time for me to start my journey back to the States after fifteen days in Thailand with Charlie. On that hot, humid runway near the Laotian border, 235 miles from Hanoi, North Vietnam, sadness and fear washed over me like a giant ocean wave. Charlie had three more months of flying combat missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos before he could return home, and leaving him behind in a war zone was heartbreaking, knowing the danger he faced and the possibility we would never hold each other again. As I silently prayed for God to protect him, I experienced a strong unsettling feeling that the Vietnam War would never end for us. The dark premonition was to become our fate.

Shortly after my flight departed NKP, Charlie wrote,

Thurs AM

3 Feb ’72

Dearest Marge,

While you are still in the air for Bangkok and I’m waiting for someone to come get the air conditioner, I’ll jot down a few lines.

I’m sure you feel like I—the past two weeks have been an almost perfect honeymoon. I say almost because I got left behind. You’ll really have some stories to tell your grandchildren now!

So much for now. I miss you already and—

I love you,


I really do have some stories to tell my grandchildren now! The story I love to tell the most is Charlie’s story.

Charlie’s commitment to a life of service began when he was a child growing up in East Point, Georgia. He was a Boy Scout, an acolyte in the Episcopal Church at age nine, and a summer church camp counselor. Although he had many opportunities in his childhood, his life was far from privileged. Times were hard in the South from 1934 to 1952. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother who worked long hours to provide private school and a loving home for him. He swept floors and bagged groceries at the local grocery store from the time he was old enough to work until he left home for college. Knowing that college would not be possible for him without a scholarship, in the eighth grade, he entered Georgia Military Academy in College Park, Georgia, as a day student where he focused on his education, with a service academy appointment as his goal. He graduated magna cum laude from GMA in 1952 with honor appointments to both the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis and the United States Military Academy in West Point. He chose the US Naval Academy and graduated with the Class of 1956 as a member of the 13th Company. He was commissioned into the United States Air Force upon graduation.

Charlie’s story became our story when I met Second Lieutenant Charles Jasper Hansen Jr. in September 1956 during my senior year at Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee. As a favor to my sorority sister, I had reluctantly agreed to be his blind date for an entire football weekend. I was not too happy about the arrangement since I had just returned a United States Naval Academy pin to a midshipman, Class of ’58. Disappointed about the failed relationship, I had vowed never again to date a service academy man! However, since I had attended June Week ’56 in Annapolis when Charlie Hansen graduated, my sorority sister thought we would have something to talk about over the long football weekend. She was right. Our one-weekend-only blind date led to a lifetime of adventure, joy, and love.

During that first weekend and in the months and years that followed, we discovered the many things we had in common like our traditional values, faith in God, love of education, and strong desire to serve something greater than self in our chosen careers. We were young, idealistic, in love, and ready to take on the world. After I graduated from FSU with the Class of ’57 and completed one year of secondary level teaching and Charlie completed his flight training and earned his navigator wings, we married in 1958.

I am blessed without measure to have been a part of his extraordinary life for fifty-six years—his best friend, his wife, his lover, the mother of his two fine sons, and the grandmother of his three precious granddaughters. Our life together had all the elements of a beautiful love story—glamour, excitement, adventure, travel, danger, adversity, disappointment, sacrifice, loneliness, sadness, fear, challenges, illness, and death. The most important elements were faith, hope, and love.

Our story played out all over the world—from the FSU campus to Japan; from the Florida beaches to the rugged California coast and the islands of Hawaii; from South Vietnam to the jungles in Thailand; from frozen North Dakota to deep in the heart of Texas—during one of the most divisive and turbulent times in our country’s history, 1956–2012, which saw the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations, racial unrest, the Vietnam War, riots, secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, Agent Orange, downsizing of the military, and social change.

Charlie’s first assignment after training was to Yokota Air Base, Japan, in 1959 and 1960. He spent a year flying as a crew member on a RB-66, an electronic countermeasures aircraft. As newlyweds in an exotic foreign country, we lived a life that could not have been more exciting or glamorous! We lived off base in Shimo Fussa in a tiny Japanese house that had traditional tatami mats on the floor and sliding shoji screens, and on a clear day, we had a breathtaking view of the magnificent snow-capped Mount Fujiyama from our bedroom window. In January 1960, Charlie and I were two of just a few Americans on the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo to see and hear the emperor of Japan speak. Fifteen years earlier, the Japanese and Americans were enemies, but on that day in 1960, Charlie and I were honored guests. Our lives were forever enriched by the friendships we made with the Japanese people, and we were sad that we had to leave Japan after just a year.

Upon the completion of his one-year tour at Yokota AB, Charlie was ordered back to the States for B-52 crew training in California and assigned to Strategic Air Command (SAC) Eglin AFB, Florida, Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), B-52 Bomber. During our assignment at Eglin, the reality of military life hit me hard. Although Charlie had prepared me for the difficulties of Air Force life, I was not tested until the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Because of the nuclear capabilities and the geographic location close to Cuba, Eglin AFB was considered a primary target. B-52 crews were ordered to pack their flight gear and bags for an extended period away from home. Families were told only that information would be forthcoming as the situation developed, but we received no information on their location. We didn’t know if our husbands were flying, on alert at a facility on base, or evacuated to a military installation beyond the missiles’ range. When Charlie left home, I didn’t know if I would see him again. If he did return, would our baby son and I be alive?

Crippled with fear, Air Force families waited along with the entire world for thirteen days in October 1962—on the brink of nuclear war—and prayed for a peaceful end to the crisis. For the first and only time in our history, military readiness within the Strategic Air Command was raised to DEFCON 2, and Eglin AFB B-52s were staged to play a crucial role. Overnight B-52 crew wives were transformed from carefree, frolicking girls on the Ft. Walton–Destin beaches into strong, tough, mature women who came together to help each other through one of the most terrifying episodes in history. The coping and survival skills we developed served us well throughout our Air Force lives, preparing all of us for the turbulent Vietnam War era ahead—and preparing many of us for our final role: surviving spouse.

Ten months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, I experienced the difficulties of Air Force life once again. Charlie was actively pursuing a career change into engineering by testing, interviewing, filling out endless forms, and attending career counseling for graduate school, while I was preparing for the C-section delivery of our second baby due in August 1963. President Kennedy’s son died from Hyaline Membrane Disease two days after his emergency C-section delivery at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, on August 7, 1963. Thinking the early C-section might have caused the tragic death, US Air Force hospitals including Eglin AFB Hospital changed their policy on C-section deliveries. Eglin AFB Hospital immediately stopped any prearranged C-section deliveries and awaited due dates before scheduling surgery. Since my C-section had been scheduled almost three weeks early, Charlie’s personal time off to be with me was granted only if he switched crews and was not on alert when I went into labor. There was no way to schedule the event—babies and Air Force scheduling were not compatible! Charlie was on alert when I went into labor. 

Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong: the lengthy labor, drugs, and excessive blood loss complicated the C-section delivery. But our baby was beautiful, healthy, and robust. Even though Charlie was on B-52 alert at a facility only five minutes away from the hospital, he was not allowed to be with me for longer than fifteen minutes after the delivery. On our fifth wedding anniversary, two days after our baby’s birth, I was in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit while Charlie remained on alert. I was upgraded to serious condition twenty-four hours later and discharged after nine days in the hospital. I desperately needed him with us but soon learned that Air Force wives were dependent in terminology name only—we could never be dependent. The wonderful B-52 crew wives took care of us while he was away. During the remainder of his B-52 duty at Elgin that ended in June 1964, Charlie was with us only during his compensatory time off (CTO). B-52 crew families accepted the hardships without question in those days, believing the mission had to come first. Perhaps it was the idealistic belief that we were making a difference in the world that kept our attitudes positive. Although US Air Force life was hard in 1963, it would get harder in the years ahead as idealism was replaced with realism. Charlie’s pursuit of a different career path for a better future and a better life for us paid off.

Charlie was accepted for graduate school in June 1964. He was thrilled and ready to leave flying behind him. With an advanced engineering degree, he would have opportunities in engineering that also allowed him to be with his family more. By then, we had two little sons to move with us to Dayton, Ohio. In 1966, Charlie received his master of science in aerospace engineering after two years of study at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.

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