OKEECHOBEE — “All of our veterans are heroes to us, but Earl Henry Hansel is special,” Betty Williamson told the Okeechobee County Commission at its June 27 meeting.
Mrs. Williamson appeared before the board at their meeting in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse to ask the board to honor Cpl. Hansel by naming a street in his honor.
Cpl. Hansel joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and served until he was honorably discharged, said Mrs. Williamson. In 1950, during the Korean Conflict, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, she continued. “At the time, we called it a ‘conflict,’ not a war,” she added.
“His father said, ‘Son, please don’t go. You’ve served your time.’ Earl replied, ‘It’s better that I go and fight them there than they come to us’.”
Cpl. Hansel entered the service and was sent to North Korea, where he was captured and died in a POW camp.
Mrs. Williamson explained that Cpl. Hansel’s remains were not returned to the United States. She said a fellow prisoner visited with the family in Okeechobee and told them that he knew where Cpl. Hansel was buried. Over a decade ago, two of his siblings provided DNA so that when the remains are found, they can be identified.
“With the recent talks between North Korea and our president, a few remains were sent to Hawaii and on to the U.S. In light of the fact that efforts to retrieve remains of U.S. soldiers have recently been abandoned, I believe it is more important than ever to honor this war hero,” Mrs. Williamson explained.
According to research by county staff, Cpl. Hansel was the recipient of the following medals: Prisoner of War Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea War Service Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.
He is listed on the monument in Flagler Park and on a monument in Hawaii. The family was presented with a Gold Star from Gold Star Families.
Mrs. Williamson said the Hansel family lived in Bluefield, which straddles the line between Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties. Earl and his siblings all attended school in Okeechobee County.
Mrs. Williamson asked the commissioners to name a street somewhere along State Road 70, in the area where the Hansel family would travel every day, in honor of Cpl. Hansel.
“I know you can’t do every request that comes before you,” she said. “This one is a little special.”
“I think it’s admirable, it’s honorable, and it’s something that honors our veterans every single day when they go by that sign,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.
“Bluefield Ranch spans the county line. The groves are in Okeechobee County,” noted Commissioner David Hazellief. He suggested they rename Center Street, which runs from Berman Road to Bluefield.
Mrs. Williamson said she would prefer a road that is seen by more people.
“I think all of us are on board in doing this. We can work together to find the best location,” said Commissioner Culpepper.
“I was thinking about Center Street as well because it goes back to Bluefield,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread.
Commissioner Kelly suggested they consider the street options and bring it back as an action item at a future meeting.
“In the meantime, Mrs. Williamson might have a chance to go by there and see what she thinks about it,” said Commissioner Goodbread.