VETERAN SPOTLIGHT: Barryton man fought in Battle of the Bulge

Leonard “Bud” Hanline is pictured in this vintage photo. (Courtesy photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of a monthly series featuring local veterans of the U.S. military from different, recent eras. It will focus on both the era in which they served as well as issues they faced before and after their service. If you or someone you know has a story to share, email trath@pioneergroup.com.

BARRYTON — For the past several years, on Veterans Day, World War II veteran and longtime Barryton resident Leonard “Bud” Hanline helps put on a program for children at the local elementary school that he calls “War is Hell.”
For Hanline, who volunteers with local branches of veterans’ service organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, staying involved in the community is important. But the annual program for school children is particularly significant.

“Kids don’t learn about war in school, not as much as they should. They need to know that that guy over there, even though he is our enemy, he is someone’s friend. He is a person,” Hanline, 93, said during a talk at his home last month.

“One time, a student asked if I had killed anyone. Once I got over the shock of him asking such a blunt question, I told him, ‘I gave fire orders to men to pull guns. Where it went, who it killed, nobody knows. I hope I never killed a man, but I don’t know if I have or not.'”

As a private in the U.S. Army during some of the American military history’s bloodiest conflicts, Hanline has seen his share of brutality. In a way, he said, he asked for it — getting permission from his parents, Walter and Vera, to enter the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
“I was in Ann Arbor at a movie on Dec. 7. It wasn’t only me, it was hundreds of guys in that theater who were swearing up a storm about them Japanese and what they done. We wanted to go and do something about it,” Hanline said. “I was only 16, so I had to get my dad’s permission. He told me to make sure I got home alive.”

Hanline dropped out of school in Ionia and went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he received training to become a field lineman. In conflict, Hanline would be responsible for laying telephone wire from forward observation posts, or OPs, back to artillery units. He was shipped to England a few months before D-Day, biding his time before the invasion of Normandy with intense training.

On Sept. 12, 1944, Hanline received orders that placed him in the 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division, of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. Together with a crew of four other men, Hanline would lay groundwork for communications in France, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria for the remainder of his time in the war.

For Hanline, one of the most memorable incidents during the war came shortly after joining the regiment. They were assigned to install an OP at a hotel in a bombed out French village that controlled by Americans. The Germans were shelling the village and approaching U.S. forces. Despite the fire erupting all around them, Hanline’s unit drove their truck through a hotel wall and put in the OP.

However, the artillery fire quickly cut the line of communication. Hanline and another man in his unit got out to fix the line, but it was soon interrupted again. They were preparing to fix it once more when they were knocked off their feet by a mortar round.

“All hell just broke loose,” Hanline said. “We were getting hit like that for more than an hour.”

The men survived the attack and fixed the line for good. Eventually, the Germans were forced to retreat. For their effort, Hanline and his team received Bronze Stars.

Among the conflicts Hanline was part of was the Battle of the Bulge — a monthlong, wintertime slog through the densely forested Ardennes region of Western Europe that ended up being the the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front. Hanline recalled the speed with which his unit was assigned to fight in the battle.

“We were in Saarbrucken, Germany, at the time, which was a major train hub. Ike (Gen. Dwight Eisenhower) got ahold of Patton and said, ‘I want the 317th, the 318th and the 319th Infantry Regiment on the right flank of the Battle of the Bulge in 12 hours. Don’t give me no (lip service) — get them there.

“We were 150 miles away at the time, but 12 hours later, we were fighting. They put us in big semitrucks and drove us over there with big lights on. I’ll never forget that.”

During the battle — famously fought in snowy, rainy conditions — Hanline suffered nerve damage injuries that have stayed with him throughout his life.

A few months after the Allied victory in the Bulge, the war was over in Europe. Hanline was transferred back to England, where he stayed for a few months, before coming back to the U.S. He recalled seeing the Statue of Liberty on Christmas Day in 1945 as a welcomed sight.

“Seeing that old girl, holding the torch up, that was amazing to see,” Hanline said.

Hanline was honorably discharged, receiving six battle stars, plus his Bronze Star and infantryman’s badge. He went on to work for the Ionia County Road Commission for a few years before joining General Motors at the Fisher Body plant in Lansing, eventually retiring from the Walker plant after 30 years as a machine operator.

Hanline married a girl from West Virginia, Doris Lou, shortly after his return home. Together, the two raised two children; Naomie and Lenny. Doris Lou passed away in 2005 after nearly 60 years of marriage.

Hanline still lives on his own, in a home near Tubbs Lake, and drives frequently. He is deeply religious; an active member of the Barryton Church of God.

Hanline said he has spoken with church leadership many times through the years in order to reconcile what happened in Europe so long ago.

“I’ve asked my minister a number of times, ‘What about, thou shalt not kill? Have we been forgiven?’ And he says, ‘Yes, I think you have,'” Hanline said. “We had two options — either kill them, or they’ll kill you. He says, ‘You did what you had to do.'”

Hanline has stayed active through the years in a number of community activities. One of his favorites, he said, used to be umpiring Little League baseball games. In the early 1970s, he was asked to umpire games at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania — the first man from Michigan to hold the honor.

But his most meaningful community work, he said, comes from his involvement in veterans service organizations — giving veterans their due and helping tell their stories.

“We just buried a man who spent over a year in Iraq, catching hell. He came back from Iraq and got hit by an automobile,” Hanline said. “The thing of it is, they deserve everything they get from us, as veterans. If we don’t do it, who will? That’s why I’m so active.”

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