OKEECHOBEE — Decades after his death, Cpl. Earl Hansel was honored last year when Okeechobee County renamed a road in his memory. Unfortunately, because of the restrictions in place for COVID-19, they were unable to hold any type of ceremony. This year on May 28, that will be rectified, and a ceremony will be held in his honor at 9 a.m. in Memorial Park.
Hansel grew up in Okeechobee in an area known as Bluefield, off Berman Road between Okeechobee and Saint Lucie Counties. Hansel was the only son of Henry and Lillian Hansel and had five sisters. Before he finished high school, Hansel enlisted in the Navy in order to fight during WWII.
After surviving WWII, Hansel was drafted in 1950 to serve in the Korean War. His father attempted to get him to stay home, telling him he did not have to go, because he had already served. Hansel told his father, “If I don’t go there, they will come here.”
Hansel served with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, in mid-May 1951, Hansel’s regiment was holding a defensive position on a hill crest between the Hongchong and Soyang rivers, in the central sector of the larger U.N. defensive line called the “No Name Line.” Their position was strong, but on May 16 it came under attack from overwhelming numbers of Chinese and North Korean troops. The attack was slowed, but not stopped, by minefields, barbed wire and heavy artillery fire. The enemy eventually began overrunning the area, forcing parts of the regiment to fall back to new positions.
By May 18, enemy units were infiltrating to the rear of the regiment and some companies had to redeploy to face this threat from behind. The 38th Infantry ultimately held the line, but suffered many casualties during this massive attack.
Hansel was awarded the Prisoner of War medal and a Purple Heart for his service.
Betty Williamson, one of Okeechobee’s local historians, made it her goal over the last several years to have a road named after Hansel. “I just think if someone serves in two different wars and doesn’t make it home, we should do something special to honor him,” she said. Williamson went before the county commission saying, “All of our veterans are heroes to us, but Earl Henry Hansel is special.”
Williamson was thrilled when she received word the road was being renamed in his honor but disappointed there was no ceremony. She said she is excited to finally see it all come to pass.
Gregg Maynard, a local veteran, also made it a goal to see Hansel honored. Maynard went before the county commission in 2018 and said, “This gentleman gave the ultimate sacrifice. He went to World War II. A few years later, the Korean War broke out. He went to Korea. The family was notified that Mr. Hansel had died in the POW camp — three other soldiers reported that they saw him die — but his body was never returned to the United States. I think this man should be honored with a street or a little park, something like that. I believe a soul wanders if it doesn’t have a proper resting place. Maybe a little something would give this soul a little bit of rest and maybe give his family some closure.” Maynard even offered to pay for the sign himself if it would help get it done.
In August 2020, the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners agreed to rename Center Street off of Berman Road in Hansel’s honor.
The top of the sign carrying Earl H. Hansel’s name is green with white lettering and includes a POW/MIA emblem. It measures 6 by 42 inches and is double-sided and reflective. The black sign with white lettering and a POW/MIA emblem is 18x24, high-intensity, reflective, single-sided 0.080” gauge aluminum.
Hansel’s immediate family members have all passed away, but he still has cousins living in the area.
May you rest in peace Cpl. Hansel. Thank you for your service.
Richard Marion contributed to this article.