Several years ago, back in 2012 I think, I was combing through some of the writings of my grandmother, Henrietta Ellis Case, passed down to me by her daughter, my mother, Barbara.  Henrietta was a prolific writer and a wonderful storyteller as reflected in her many poems, short stories and journals.  I was intrigued by one poem in particular.

TO A NEIGHBOR’S SON-November 4, 1942
By Henrietta Ellis Case

Grey-eyed laughing twenty-one
Silver wings on tunicked chest
Hurtling down through shining sky
Roaring down to say hello
To Mom and neighbors here below.

Transfixed staring earthen-bound
Weary folk on leaden feet
Looking backward through the gloom
Seeing only danger here
A future holding naught but fear.

Wildly waving children’s arms
Futile shouts in autumn air
Shrilling upward through the blue
“Hi Hattie, Hattie hello!
You on your way to Tokyo?”

Blue eyed tense and fearful proud
Feet apart and head up-flung
Lifting heart to bridge the space
Climbing up to say hello
A mother’s soul from here below.

Praying silently O God
There goes past and future too
Let him climb through shining sky
All our hopes are in his hands
Hope of ours and far-flung lands.

Give him faith and courage too
Silver wings on boyish chest
Lifting hearts of weary folk
Bringing promise to the young
Of heroes bold if yet unsung.

Clear-eyed laughing twenty-one
Glad heart beating in your breast
Chasing evil from the sky
Come on back to say hello
Pray your neighbors here below,
All.

At the end of the poem, my grandmother, Nana, wrote this:

Written November 4, 1942 after Harrison “Hattie” Hannah flying his warplane had buzzed Thayer Avenue in West Los Angeles, California, where we lived at 1927 Thayer and his family lived across the street.   Henrietta E. Case

Henrietta Ellis Case with her dog, Red, 1942, at their house on Thayer Ave.

By November of 1942, the United States was almost a year into World War II fighting the Germans and Italians in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre.   The Case’s neighbor, Harrison “Hattie” Hannah, was obviously a fighter pilot.   My mother, Barbara, passed away in 2012, one month shy of her 91st birthday, so I asked my mother’s younger brother, Stan Case, if he remembered “Hattie” or knew what happened to him.  

My uncle said “I remember Hattie well.   He was a fun guy about your mom’s age. I was 8 years younger and would have been 13 when Henrietta wrote that.   Hattie buzzed our houses on Thayer several times by flying overhead at a very low altitude.   He was in pilot training with the Army Air Corps, I think, at March Field (now March Air Force Base) in Riverside County.   As I recall, he flew P-38 fighter planes.   He was shot down on a bombing run in Italy, and I’m pretty sure he was killed.  Hattie was a hero to us kids.”

Henrietta wrote presciently about this:

Weary folk on leaden feet
Looking backward through the gloom
Seeing only danger here
A future holding naught but fear.

That must have been very hard on Hattie’s parents—his whole family   So many young men were killed during World War II.   The collective amount of grief must have been staggering.   I wondered if Henrietta ever shared her poem with Hattie or his parents.   And I left it at that.   

That is until I retired and joined Ancestry.com several years later. It was now 2021 and I came across Henrietta’s poem again.   I thought ‘I’ll just spend a little time and see if I can find anything more about Harrison “Hattie” Hannah.”  My grandmother was clearly impressed by that stunt, moved by the perilous times facing our country and the young men and women going to war, and fond of this particular young airman—enough so to write a beautiful and powerful poem in his honor.  This was worthy of some more effort.

Was I ever rewarded, thanks to Ancestry’s vast treasure trove of members’ shared information and my upgraded subscription to Publisher’s Extra which provided me with access to the deep well of digitized newspapers.  And the fact my mother kept almost everything, including yearbooks from high school and college.

The first thing I found on Ancestry was a photo of Harrison Hannah in the 1937 edition of the Chieftain—the yearbook for University High School in West Los Angeles.   On the same page was a photo of my mother, Barbara Case.   They were in the same class, 16-year-olds, and sophomores.

University High School, West Los Angeles, 1939

That find prompted me to dig out my mother’s high school yearbooks.   As I combed through her copy of the 1937 Chieftain, I noticed Hattie had signed it.

“Best of Luck to a brat who can pitch & fling woo (I guess) Hattie Hannah

I suspect Hattie was kidding around. “Pitch/fling woo” are now outdated phrases synonymous with dating, courting, kissing and cuddling.  It would seem Hattie didn’t get a chance to experience that first-hand with Barbara. Perhaps an unrequited love?

Hattie was on the junior varsity track team in 1937. He’s in the 3rd row, 6th from the left

Here are some photos of Hattie from the 1938 and 1939 Chieftains.

Junior Class Photo 1938
Junior Class Photos, Barbara Case and Harrison Hannah
Junior Varsity Track 1938. Hattie is in the 2nd row, far right
1938 Junior Varsity Football. Hattie is 2nd row, 5th from right
1939 Senior Class Photos
Harrison “Hattie” Hannah

Based on information from other members’ family trees, I learned “Hattie” was born Harrison Hayden Hannah, Jr. on July 11, 1921, in San Francisco, to Harrison Hayden Sr. and Sarah Escott.   He was a whopping 10 days older than my mom.    Hattie’s mother was from Coos Bay, Oregon.  He was an only child.

According to military records found on Ancestry’s Fold 3, Hattie enlisted with the Army Air Corps on April 5, 1941 at Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro, California.  He was 19 years old and had completed one year at Los Angeles City College. In 1942 he was hospitalized twice with chronic and acute bronchitis. 

A September 13, 1942 article in a Phoenix newspaper announced the engagement of Helen Heathington to Army Cadet Harrison Hannah.

Helen Heathington seated on the left

And a few weeks later, in a Coos Bay Oregon paper, Hattie’s mother announced from her home in Los Angeles that her son had earned his Army Air Corps wings and was commissioned an officer in commencement ceremonies at a Phoenix air base.  

September 30, 1942, Coos Bay, Oregon

Hattie was transferred to March Field in Riverside County for pilot training shortly thereafter, and he brazenly “buzzed” his and the Case’s homes on Thayer Avenue five weeks later.

Lt. Hannah was trained to fly P-38 fighter planes, a workhorse during WWII manufactured by Lockheed, and capable of reaching speeds in excess of 400mph.

Lockheed P-38

In early 1943, the young Lieutenant shipped out to an airbase in Foggia, Italy, and was attached to the 15th Air Force, 14th Fighter Group, and 48th Fighter Squadron. 

In the February 9, 1944 edition of the Los Angeles Times, it was announced First Lt. Harrison Hannah Jr. was missing in action in the Mediterranean Ocean.

A Missing in Action report, dated January 2, 1944, provided more details.   On December 30, 1943, Lt. Hannah and his 48th Fighter Squadron, flying P-38 Gs, were on a mission to escort B-17 bombers, destination Verona, Italy.   They took off from Base #7 in Foggia.  The weather was cloudy and overcast.   At around 1:30 in the afternoon, the convoy came under attack by enemy aircraft, and Lt. Hannah’s plane was shot down near Padua, Italy, just to the east of Verona. According to the three comrades who saw what happened, “Pilot disappeared from formation and it is possible that he did survive.

This news was unquestionably devastating for Hattie’s parents and his friends.  Their only child shot down in action.   But the report did say “it is possible he did survive.”      There was some hope.  

And less than one month later, on March 2, 1944, the Los Angeles papers reported First Lt. Hannah had in fact survived and was in a German prisoner of war camp.   Hattie’s obituary, dated October 19, 2000, revealed he was at the Stalag Luft 1 camp in Barth, Germany, in the far north on the coast of the Baltic Sea.  “Luft” indicated that the camp was run by the German Luftwaffe (air force) and housed captured Allied Forces pilots. It is said the presence of the camp spared the town from Allied bombing.

March 2, 1944, Los Angeles Times
German Prison Camps in World War II

Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces in May of 1945 and the war in Europe was over.   There had been no word about Lt. Hannah in over 14 months since he was captured.   Was he still alive?

This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on July 1, 1945.

Lt. Hannah was alive, and back in the States.   He’d spent 30 months in Europe, 16 of those as a prisoner of war in Germany.   For his heroic service, he received the Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart.  The Air Medal is awarded for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.  11 Oak Leaf Clusters means Lt. Hannah received the Air Medal a most impressive 12 times.

Less than a month after his survival was reported, Hattie was engaged to be married.   But not to Helen Heathington. 

Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1945

Ruth Ingalls and her twin brother, Tommy, were also classmates with Hattie and my mother at Uni High.

1938 Chieftain Yearbook. Ruth and Tommy Ingalls are bottom right.
Ruth and Tommy Ingalls, Uni High Class of 1939. Source: The Chieftain Yearbook

Ruth and Lt. Hannah were married a month later and they would have three children over the next 14 years; two boys and a girl.  Hattie remained with the Army Air Corps, which became part of Air Force, for another 17 years and was discharged after 21 years of service in October 1962, having achieved the rank of Major.  

He served during the Korean War and, according to some articles in the Tallahassee, Florida papers, Major Hannah was director of personnel at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, and then in 1958 became a professor of air science at Florida State University.

Hattie and Ruth divorced in Kern County, California in 1966, and in 1976 he married Marilyn Yvonne Usher in San Bernardino County.  

A January 1984 article in the San Bernardino papers reported Harrison Hannah was serving as Program Director of the San Bernardino Community Hospital’s Care Unit.  

Harrison Hayden “Hattie” Hannah, Jr. passed away on October 25, 2000 in Palm Springs at the age of 79.   He was survived by his wife Marilyn, his and Ruth’s three children, three stepchildren, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.    He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery.   

Grey-eyed laughing twenty-one
Silver wings on tunicked chest
Hurtling down through shining sky
Roaring down to say hello
To Mom and neighbors here below.

POSTSCRIPT: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED–AND THEN SOME

CONTACT WITH HATTIE’S FAMILY.  I put this story on Write Me Something Beautiful.com in April of 2021 with the hope that Harrison “Hattie” Hannah’s descendants might find it and particularly the poem Henrietta Ellis Case wrote about him all those years ago. The poem belongs to Hattie’s family.

Three months later I received a deluge of heartwarming comments to the story from Hattie’s family.    Here are a few:

Susan: Hattie Hannah is my father.  I happened upon this and was overjoyed! I cannot thank you enough. I spoke at my Dad’s funeral and wrote that he was a hero. He overcame alcoholism and devoted the remainder of his life helping others to overcome their addictions. I am very proud of my Dad and he taught me so much. Thank you for sharing this!!

Tammy: Hattie was my grandad. I never knew any of this, nor have I seen any of these photos. Thank you for sharing!! I’m in tears!

Tommy:  My grandfather was Tommie Ingalls and Hattie married his twin sister, Ruth. My grandfather was also a pilot in the war, but was stationed in Taft, California as an instructor. As I write this, I’m with Hattie’s eldest child Michael. I am sure that by the end of today, all 3 of Hattie’s children will have read the article along with his 7 grandchildren and will be passing the link along to his many adult great-grandchildren. I cannot express enough gratitude for the happiness your article has brought to the Hannah / Ingalls family.

Hattie never talked about his time as a POW. Before he died, he told his youngest child Steven about getting shot down. He was injured and was taken to a military hospital. The pilot that shot him down came to the hospital and convinced his superiors to have Hattie transferred to a civilian hospital to receive better care. This was done solely from the respect the German pilot had for other pilots. He was released from the civilian hospital back to the German military and was sent to a POW camp, until his release back to the U.S. military.

Michael: I am Hattie’s eldest son. POP spoke very fondly of your mother, Barbara. When he was a prisoner he helped several others escape. POP had no fear of dogs, so he would go to one side of the compound and make a huge racket. All the guards and dogs would come after him. When they got close he would lie down and be still as the dogs growled at him. As this was taking place, others were leaving on the other side of the compound.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.  I was overjoyed Hattie’s family found the poem and Hattie’s story.  Of course, I shared these comments with my family, particularly my uncle Stan, who as a teenager looked up to Hattie as one of the neighborhood heroes.   I even shared the story and family feedback with some of the executives with Ancesty.com who’s vast well of resources helped a lot with my research.   I gave myself a pat on the back and thought, ‘OK, now I’ve done my part- end of story.’

Not so fast.

THE ITALIAN CONNECTION

Five months later, in January 2022, this comment to Hattie’s story was posted on my website by Enzo Lanconelli:

Hi. I write from Italy. I’m an historical researcher and archeologist of air war in Italy. You can see my work on my web site www.aereiperduti.net. I found on your blog a post dedicated to Lt. Harrison H. Hannah.  Over years of research, I have found out a lot about the story of Hannah.  It seems incredible, but his plane crashed a short distance from my house. I am writing because if any of Hannah’s relatives want to know all the details I will be happy to share them. I also have some small fragments of his plane found with a metal detector.

Enzo Lanconelli with the yellow hardhat holding a piece of Lt. Chester Erwin’s P-38 (photo courtesy of Enzo Lanconelli)

This was utterly amazing.   Not only did Hattie’s family stumble on the story, but the guy who knows more about Hattie’s plane crash than anyone else on the planet— and even has fragments of his plane—also found it. And that Hattie’s plane crashed practically in Enzo’s backyard?  Goosebumps.   I immediately forwarded Enzo’s message to Hattie’s family and made the introductions to Enzo via email should they want to follow up with him.   

Enzo sent to the family and me the extensive report he prepared with the details of the crashes of Hattie’s P-38 and that of his fellow squadron member, 2nd Lt. Chester D. Erwin, Jr. and their capture by the Germans.  Here are some excerpts from the report.

On 30 December 1943, a formation of American B-17s flying over northern Italy with the target of Verona met a mixed formation of enemy aircraft near Padua. Ten German JG 53 and JG 4 fighter planes engaged in battle with the escort P-38s. In the ensuing air battle at least three P-38s from the 14th Fighter Group-48th Flight Squadron based in Foggia were seriously damaged. The plane of squadron leader Major Frederick W. Baggott was hit first. Flying with only one engine, he was able to return safely to the Triolo airport in Puglia.

The second P-38 shot up, that of 2nd Lt. Erwin, was seen visibly leaking fluid from the right engine. However, there was no news of 1st Lt. Harrison H. Hannah, who disappeared from the sight of his companions during the battle. Erwin and Hannah were reported missing in the Padua area, with a good chance of having survived.

The Germans lost at least one plane during the battle and the pilot, Feldwebel Otto Vechtmann, was killed in the crash. 

Feldwebel Otto Vechtmann

According to German records, the dogfight actually took place in the skies of Ravenna, about 100 miles south of Padua. Vechtmann’s Messerschmitt was, according to witnesses, probably shot down by Lt. Hannah, and crashed in a swampy area southeast of the Ravenna airport.  Erwin’s and Hannah’s P-38s were disabled by Feldwebel Muller.

With an engine on fire, Erwin bailed out with his parachute and landed in Ravenna. His fighter crashed near San Bartolo. Farmers in the area found Erwin unconscious and shoeless, his boots having blown off when he ejected from his plane. They transported him to a nearby farmhouse where he was given the necessary help.

Aerial photo of crash sites of Erwin’s and Vechtmann’s planes (courtesy of Enzo Lanconelli)

German soldiers soon arrived at the spot Erwin’s parachute landed. One of Erwin’s rescuers, Dino Ravaioli, age 27, took the young American by the arm and led him into the fields. They hid in a ditch but were soon discovered and captured by the Germans.

Erwin and Ravaioli were taken to a local prison in Ravenna. Lt. Erwin was subsequently transferred to the Stalag Luft 1 prisoner of war camp in Barth, Germany, where he remained until May 1945.

2nd Lt. Chester D. Erwin, Jr. June 1943 (The Miami News)

A much worse fate fell to Dino Ravaioli for aiding an enemy pilot.  He was delivered by the Germans to the authorities of the Fascist Socialist Republic, where he was tried and shot near the walls of the Ravenna cemetery on 7 January 1944.

Memorial to Dino Ravaioli, Rivenna, Italy (photo courtesy of Enzo Lanconelli)

Our team discovered the remains of Lt. Erwin’s P-38 in September of 1999.   Chester Delmore Erwin was contacted in Florida and invited to Ravenna by the City fathers to celebrate on April 25, 2001, the 56th anniversary of Italy’s liberation from Nazi occupation.  Lt. Erwin and his wife Katherine, for the first time since he was shot down, reviewed the field where his plane crashed, the place where he was rescued and the farmhouse house in via Cella where he was hidden.

Mr. Erwin, then 82, recalled the events of that distant December day.  This was his fifth mission and suddenly he found himself in the crosshairs of enemy gunfire that hit the cockpit and instrument panel of his P-38. Miraculously, he had not been injured, but then his plane was hit with a new burst that set his right engine on fire. There was nothing left for the pilot to do but tilt the craft and bail out.

Erwin also learned what happened to the man who tried to rescue him, Dino Ravaioli, and was deeply disturbed by his tragic death.

Lt. Erwin passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.

Graduation photo Chester Delbert Erwin, Jr. University of Florida in Gainesville, June 1946

After Lt. Hannah’s plane was hit, he bailed out and landed in the town of Santerno. The plane continued to glide and crashed into farmland near the small town of Villanova.

Aerial photo of sites of Lt. Hannah’s plane crash and capture (courtesy of Enzo Lanconelli)

Mr. Antonio Tabanelli remembers that beautiful sunny day of December 30, 1943, very well: “It all happened around two in the afternoon. The American was taken prisoner by the Germans in Santerno and driven to Villanova, where he was paraded through town by his captors. Hannah was smiling and it seemed he was treated well.”

My team located the crash site in 2001.  Almost nothing remains of Hannah’s plane. Surely the autopilot was still working because it fell gliding and crawled on the ground. In the following days it was completely dismantled and sold as scrap metal. At the crash site I found with a metal detector small pieces of his plane left in the ground.

Fragments of Lt. Hannah’s P-38 (courtesy of Enzo Lanconelli)

Unbelievable as it may sound, 12 years before I discovered the fragments of Hannah’s plane, we built our house right next to the crash site. So, every morning when I open the window, I see the field where Hannah’s plane lay.

Aerial photo of crash site of Lt. Hannah’ plane next to the Lanconelli home (courtesy of Enzo Lanconelli)

Enzo told me “I don’t get paid for my research activities.  This is my hobby-my passion. I have a completely different career that pays the bills.   When I can give answers to the descendants of the aviators who fought here, I have achieved my goal and feel completely satisfied.   The other members of my search team feel the same way.”

I realized Enzo and I share a similar passion and mission:  connecting people we don’t even know with precious fragments of their family’s history.    Our paths synchronistically crossed thanks to Lt. Harrison “Hattie” Hannah.    Enzo and his team had recovered pieces of Hattie’s plane and that of his comrade, Chester Delmore Erwin.  Enzo was able to make a connection with Mr. Erwin who came to Ravenna in 2001.  Hattie died in 2000, a year before Enzo and his team found what little was left of his plane, and Enzo had not been successful in connecting with any of his family. 

I had found a poem written by my grandmother in 1942 about a neighbor and brand-new fighter pilot, Hattie Hannah.   I felt a strong compulsion to learn more about this man and try to get the poem and some photos of Hattie I’d found in my mother’s high school yearbooks to his descendants.  

Fortuitously—miraculously—both Hattie’s family and Enzo Lanconelli found my story.   My grandmother’s poem and Enzo’s detailed report of the dogfight and discovery of the remnants of Lt. Hannah’s plane were finally in the hands of Hattie’s family.   Where they’ve always belonged.  

Emily Sue Buckberry had done something like this when she contacted and connected me in 2008 with a letter my father had written to me 40 years earlier—a letter I had never before seen.  [That story is told in this short film by Steve Date, The Letter https://vimeo.com/132897727] Her instinct and courage to reach out changed my life forever.   Just as Enzo and his team have brought some closure to so many families whose loved ones fought in the air and crashed in Italy during WWII. 

We do this because we can—and it brings comfort, sometimes help, and even joy and wonder to the lives of others.    There is no greater reward.

Casey Gauntt, Author and Grief Advisor

11 responses to “TO A NEIGHBOR’S SON”

  1. AvatarSusan Dobbins says:

    Hattie Hannah is my father. I happened upon this and was overjoyed! I cannot thank you enough. I believe I have met Barbara but cannot recall her married name. I spoke at my Dad’s funeral and wrote that he was a hero. He overcame alcoholism and devoted the remainder of his life helping others to overcome their addictions. I am very proud of my Dad and he taught me so much. Thank you for sharing this!!

  2. AvatarLinda (Ingalls) Hedien says:

    Tommy Ingalls was my father. Uncle Hattie and Aunt Ruthie were such a major part of my life. Your article brought tears, laughter and memories. Thank you and God bless.

    • Casey GaunttCasey Gauntt says:

      Linda, I’m so happy the story and my grandmother’s poem found you and your family. I’ll send you a few other photos that didn’t make it in the story. Warm regards Casey

  3. AvatarTammy Huffman says:

    I’m Tammy Hannah Huffman. Hattie was my grandad. I’m Michael’s daughter. I never knew any of this, nor have I seen any of these pics. Thank you for sharing!! I’m in tears!

    • Casey GaunttCasey Gauntt says:

      Tammy, I’m very happy the story found you and your family. So is my grandmother, Henrietta! Warm regards, Casey

  4. AvatarCharlene (Huffman) Lull says:

    Hattie was my great grandfather. I am Tammy’s daughter and Michael’s grand daughter. Much like my mom, I didn’t know any of this but it is a blessing to have a little piece of a man that I had never had the chance to meet. Thank you so much!

    • Casey GaunttCasey Gauntt says:

      Charlene- I’m so glad you enjoyed the story, and I’m getting a kick learning more of Hattie’s story as a prisoner of war from your other family members. What Hattie and those men must have endured is unimaginable. Take good care. Casey

  5. AvatarMichael Hannah says:

    I am Hattie’s eldest son. POP spoke very fondly of Barbara. When he was a prisoner he helped several others escape. POP had no fear of dogs, so he would go to one side of the compound and make a huge racket. All the guards and dogs would come after him. When they got close he would lie down and be still as the dogs growled at him. As this was taking place others were leaving on the other side of the compound.
    Thanks for your article, I enjoyed it.

    • Casey GaunttCasey Gauntt says:

      Michael-I’m so glad the story and Henrietta’s poem found you and your family. My uncle Stan, who was 13 when your dad buzzed their house (more than once!) remembered Hattie as a real good guy. I appreciate hearing more about your dad’s time as a prisoner of war, and the German pilot who shot him down, helping with his care. Sincerely, Casey

  6. Hi, I’m an italian ww2 aeronautical historian researcher. I found this page and would like to share everything I know about the shooting down of Lt. Hannah. the MACR is not very correct, like many others, Hannah was shot down north of Ravenna and his plane crashed a short distance from where I now live, in Villanova di Bagnacavallo. I am a researcher only for passion, not for work, if any relative of Lt. Hannah wants more information they can write to me. I will reply with great pleasure
    enzolanconelli@gmail.com
    my website is http://www.aereiperduti.net
    thank you.

    • Casey GaunttCasey Gauntt says:

      Enzo- thank you so much for contacting me. I’ve forwarded your messages and email address to Lt. Hannah’s family, and I know they will be excited to learn more from you. I also sent you an email. My email address is casey.gauntt1@gmailcom. Thank you for the wonderful work you do. Casey

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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