Robert Murray “Butcher Bob” Hanson MOH

b. 04/02/1920 Lucknow, India. d. 03/02/1944 at sea, Papua New Guinea.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 01/11/1943 – 24/01/1944 Bougainville Island and New Britain Island.

Robert M Hanson MOH

Robert M. Hanson was the son of Methodist missionaries who served for several decades in India. In Lucknow, India, his playmates were Hindu children. He attended an American-run missionary school, Woodstock School, in Mussoorie in the Western Indian Himalayas, along with his siblings, Mark, Stanley, Earl Hanson, and Edith Hanson. After attending junior high school in the United States, he returned to India to become light-heavyweight and heavy-weight wrestling champion of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, at the time a large province in northern India. In his honor, the sports field at his alma mater Woodstock School in the Indian Himalayas is still named Hanson Field.

In the spring of 1938, on his way back to the United States to attend college, he bicycled his way through Europe and was in Vienna during the Anschluss. He was attending Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted for naval flight training in May 1942 and earned his wings and a Marine Corps commission as a second lieutenant on February 19, 1943, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

First Lieutenant Hanson arrived in the South Pacific in June 1943 and his daring tactics and total disregard for death soon became well known. A master of individual air combat, he downed 20 enemy planes in six consecutive flying days. He was commended in the citation accompanying the Medal of Honor for his bold attack against six enemy torpedo bombers, November 1, 1943, over Bougainville Island, and for bringing down four Zeros, the premier Japanese fighter, while fighting them alone over New Britain, January 24, 1944.

A member of VMF-215 flying the F4U-1 Corsair, the ace was shot down twice. The first time, a Zero caught him over Bougainville Island. Bringing his plane down on the ocean, he paddled for six hours in a rubber life raft before being rescued by the USS Sigourney (DD-643). His second and fatal crash occurred one day before his twenty-fourth birthday. He was last seen on February 3, 1944, when his plane crashed into the sea after a cancelled (due to overcast) fighter sweep mission over Rabaul, New Britain. He was attempting to destroy a lighthouse on Cape St. George, Southern New Ireland, that often gave the fighter group trouble by firing flak at the fighter group as they passed the lighthouse. His squadron leader Capt. Harold L. Spears watched as he attempted to land his damaged plane in the water during rough seas. His plane cart wheeled when one of the wings grabbed a wave and the plane disintegrated. He had no time to escape the cockpit, thus sank with his plane. He was subsequently declared killed in action. He has cenotaph memorials at Manila, Philippines and Newton, Massachusetts. 

The Medal of Honor was presented to the lieutenant’s mother by Maj. Gen. Lewie G. Merritt on August 19, 1944, in Boston, Massachusetts.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as fighter pilot attached to Marine Fighting Squadron 215 in action against enemy Japanese forces at Bougainville Island, 1 November 1943; and New Britain Island, 24 January 1944. Undeterred by fierce opposition, and fearless in the face of overwhelming odds, 1st Lt. Hanson fought the Japanese boldly and with daring aggressiveness. On 1 November, while flying cover for our landing operations at Empress Augusta Bay, he dauntlessly attacked six enemy torpedo bombers, forcing them to jettison their bombs and destroying one Japanese plane during the action. Cut off from his division while deep in enemy territory during a high cover flight over Simpson Harbor on 24 January, 1st Lt. Hanson waged a lone and gallant battle against hostile interceptors as they were orbiting to attack our bombers and, striking with devastating fury, brought down four Zeros and probably a fifth. Handling his plane superbly in both pursuit and attack measures, he was a master of individual air combat, accounting for a total of 25 Japanese aircraft in this theater of war. His great personal valor and invincible fighting spirit were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.