Episode 9: We Were Treated Like Kings

Ep 9 - Robert Hanson, Navy

With Lieutenant Robert Hanson, Navy

Did education and affluence affect how our World War 2 veterans served and had their hunger satiated?


Ep 9: Feb 3, 2020

The majority of the veterans we’ve heard from this season recall growing up in Great Depression poverty. Such is not the case with Robert Hanson, a Navy Lieutenant whose father found himself in an intriguing position of economic strength that helped Robert settle into Ivy League academia by the start of World War 2. But that doesn’t mean he was guaranteed safety or good eats when assigned to run PT 182 off of Mortotai island – one of the motorized torpedo boats that would take on Japanese barges in some of the most dangerous fighting in the Pacific.

Did income and education make a difference in the end? Listen along as Robert guides us through Navy combat and island cuisine in this story of service and sacrifice.

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Novelist, historian, and former Coast Guard officer Myke Cole advised us on the combat clips in this episode. Thank you to Bob’s daughter, Debbie, for her help with this episode. And to Bill Walker – William Walker’s son – for connecting us with the Hansons for this episode. Hear more about Bob and William’s friendship in part 2 of our episode, “Dad, I Can’t Talk About It.”

Behind The Episode:

  • Read a fascinating recount of the bloody battles over the nutmeg trade in the Bandas (Spice) islands at Atlas Obscura and this account at NPR.
  • What is Maluku sago flour porridge? Try your hand at this recipe from the Spruce Eats and read more about Maluku cuisine at Indonesia Eats.
  • This interview with Navy officer P. Lanier Anderson Jr. of Danville, Virginia shares some incredible details of Navy food in the Pacific.
  • A breakdown of Navy personnel statistics through the war.
  • How did cooks navigate galley kitchens on PT boats? Benedict Bronder remembers at the WW2 Museum.
  • Read about the Moluccas islands at Britannica.
  • How did SPAM become a military staple and iconic brand? Read some fun accounts at Navy Times, Art of Manliness, Time, and Eater.

Extra interview clip!

Hear Robert share the story of how an AWOL escapade post-war got him from the Pacific islands back home to the Pearl Harbor Navy base. (Extra clip from the episode.)
Thanksgiving menu on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, 1944
Navy Thanksgiving menu on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, 1944
Take a tour of restored PT-658
Walter A. Teipel was a Milwaukee VP with a yearly income of over 2.4 million (comparatively with today’s inflation), as seen in the image in the gallery below. This letter to the chef at the Waldorf Astoria during the Great Depression is an example of the disparity between those going to Penny Restaurants for a humble 5-cent meal and those who could still afford their lavish lifestyles. As also seen in the gallery, he was able to bail his son out of jail on $300 bond for charges of drunk driving and disorderly conduct the Police Chief said he doubted they would be prosecuted for.
A spread in Life Magazine, March 1940

Gallery:

click on images to enlarge