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Veteran of the Month – Ralph L. Hann

April 1, 2014

Name: Ralph L. Hann

  • DOB: 6/20/1926
  • City of Birth: Plainfield, New Jersey
  • Town: West Simsbury, CT 06092
  • Military Branch: US Navy
  • DOB: 6/20/1926
  • Rank: Seaman First Class
  • Military Job: Main Winch Operator on USS Navy Ship Mazama, AE 9, #3 Cargo hold; Coxswain on #1 motor launch, Helmsman when underway.
  • Battle: Leyte Gulf, October 1944
  • Unit/Ship: USS Mazama AE9; U.S. Seventh Fleet
  • Served in: Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Naval Personnel Distribution Center. USN Receiving Barracks Camp Shoemaker, USS Mazama AE 9, South Pacific WW II War Zone, Philippine Islands Liberation
  • Duties: Served aboard the USS Mazama AE 9 in South Pacific 1944 -1945, Part of US Seventh Fleet under Admiral Bill Halsey. Torpedoed by Japanese Kamikaze Submarine on January 12, 1945 at Ulithi Atoll.
  • Foreign War: WWII
  • Active Service Dates: 7/16/1943- 8/1/1946
  • Decorations:
  • Philippine Liberation WWII Military Medal
  • Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal
  • World War II U.S. American Campaign Medal 1941-1945
  • Armed Forces Service Medal
  • Navy Good Conduct Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal

U. S. Navy Veteran Ralph L. Hann of West Simsbury, CT was a high school student in Plainfield, N.J. when World War II broke out. Feeling a draw to answer the call to service, he completed his junior year and, with his parents’ permission, enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 17. The state of New Jersey issued him a graduation diploma on June 20, 1943. He was sworn in on July 16, 1943 in New York City, and shipped off to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, Illinois for Boot Camp Training.

Upon graduation from the training station on August 25, 1943, Hann went home on a two-week liberty, returning to Great Lakes upon completion. Once back in Great Lakes he was sent out to California. After a very long train ride, he arrived at the Naval Personnel Distribution Center in Pleasanton, CA. The next stop was U.S. Naval Receiving Barracks in Shoemaker, CA.

Within a few days, Hann was drafted as second alternate to serve on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. However, by the end of the first day, boarding was completed and only the first alternate was selected. Hann was returned to the base for further duty. After about a month of odd duties he was selected for a job in the base post office and worked as a postal clerk for about a year until his number was called to serve aboard the USS Mazama AE 9.

On August 15, 1944 Hann shipped out to Mare Island, CA, an ammunition base where the Mazama was undergoing an overhaul and ammunition reloading prior to leaving for the South Pacific on August 25, 1944. The crew’s first stop was Pearl Harbor, where they did some island hopping and replenished the ammunition on several ships before continuing to the Philippines. They landed on October 23, 1944, sailing into the interior, with Hann as the Helmsman. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to Seaman First Class (S1/C).

The Mazama went back out to Leyte Gulf and serviced several military ships. A day or two later, the Battle of Leyte Gulf began and continued day and night. One morning at dawn the first sign of Japanese kamikaze planes swarmed all over the sky, dropping on ships and sinking many of them. The destroyer escort was hit mid-ship off the starboard side. Within three minutes it was sunk and all hands were lost. Shortly after, while the crew was servicing the USS Colorado battleship, a kamikaze headed straight for them. Both ships cut lines and took off just before the kamikaze hit.

In early November 1944, when things had quieted down, Hann and his fellow servicemen headed for Ulithi Atoll and dropped anchor just inside the harbor nets. The following morning a tanker was hit off their starboard side by a kamikaze submarine. The tanker caught fire, sank, and the crew was lost. A few days later, they went to Espiritu Santos for an ammunition reload and stayed through Christmas 1944. Just before the New Year, they departed on a several week long journey back to Ulithi Atoll, where they awaited other ships of the Seventh Fleet prior to heading for the invasion of Iwo Jima.

On the morning of January 12, 1945, the Mazama was torpedoed by a Japanese kamikaze submarine and started to sink. Earlier that morning, Hann had held watch from midnight to 4:00 a.m. which allowed him to sleep in until 7:00 a.m. and avoid sweepers call at 6:00 a.m. At 6:55 a.m. General Quarters sounded. Hann got dressed and headed for his battle station which was the Pom Pom gun outside the wheelhouse, starboard side of the ship. The crew’s sleeping quarters were empty, as everyone else was topside sweeping or at General Quarters. When Hann started up the inside ladder to go topside, the torpedo explosion hit the ship and he was thrown off the ladder, landing on the deck in a daze. At that time there was water and debris floating on the ship and Hann did not realize right away that the torpedo explosion had caused injury to his left leg as well as bumps and bruises to his arms and shoulders when he was thrown off the ladder.

When the dazed feeling subsided, he started back up the ladder to his gun mount. He could not go forward due to the water and debris blocking his way so he headed aft and climbed an outside ladder up on the starboard side to his gun. Soaking wet, he sat on his metal gunner’s seat, plugged the gun into the electronic fire controller and got the worst shock of his life. Hann felt as if he was being electrocuted.

The Mazama was taking on water and slowly sinking from the bow due to the gaping hole on the portside. A sea-going tugboat along with a large salvage ship pulled alongside the Mazama to try to save the ship. Evaluating the damage, they started to pump the water out of the ship faster than it was entering. Divers made emergency repairs that allowed them to make it to Guam and Saipan for the major repairs that held until they could get back to the United States. Thanks to the help of many, the USS Mazama was rescued.

Hann also vividly remembers running the launch the night they found his best friend, Ed Marsh, dead from the torpedo explosion in the #2 hold on board Mazama. Hann had the honor of giving his best friend his last ride in the motor launch to the local burial ground. Ed enjoyed working with Hann and his crew on the launch and this was a very sad trip for the team.

After repairs were completed the USS Mazama headed back to the United States in April 1945 and stopped at Pearl Harbor for supplies and mail. They arrived in San Francisco on April 12, the day President Franklin Roosevelt died and Harry Truman became the President of the United States.

Shortly after arriving in the States, Hann went to the ship’s sick bay medical officer for treatment of his injuries, and was sent to the Naval Hospital on Treasure Island, CA where he was ordered to bed rest. Hann was transferred between naval hospitals for 18 months while he underwent treatment for Sclerosing Osteomyelitis.

On April 8, 1946 Hann was again transferred to the USNSH Seagate, N.Y. for further treatment and returned to St. Albans Hospital on May 8, 1946. Seaman First Class Hann appeared before a medical board of review on July 6, 1946 which found that his condition was considered to have been incurred in the line of duty/ a service incurred disability, caused by the torpedo attack.

On August 1, 1946 Hann was honorably discharged from the United States Navy Reserve and moved back to Plainfield, NJ. He later attended college at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ, married his high school sweetheart Corrine in 1948, and took a job working for Allstate Insurance Company. In 1968, the couple moved to West Simsbury, CT where they currently reside. The Hanns have been blessed with three children (two girls and a boy), six grandchildren and one great grandchild.

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