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Minnesota Gophers: National Champ, National Hero, Dale Hanson #TBT

Dale Hanson helped the Gophers gain dominance in wrestling before becoming a pilot during World War II. Lieutenant Hanson holds the heroic distinction (as far as I can tell) of being only one of a very few (I can only identify 3) Gopher athletes to die while serving his country.

National Champion, National Hero Dale Hanson
National Champion, National Hero Dale Hanson
U of M

Dale Hanson was born in Postville, Iowa on June 2, 1918. His father Edd Hanson was a Norwegian immigrant who worked as an automobile mechanic. The nickname PeeWee came when Dale joined his high school wrestling team despite only being an 85 pound freshman. He followed his wrestling coach Dave Bartelma to the University of Minnesota where he would become the first Gopher All-American not born in the state of Minnesota.

Gopher wrestling team, 1939. Dale PeeWee Hanson circled.

Competing at 128 pounds Hanson wrestled for 3 years at Minnesota. In his Gopher career Dale won 43 straight duel meets. Capturing Big Ten titles in 1939 and 1940, Hanson won an individual NCAA Championship in 1939. After the tournament PeeWee was voted "best collegiate wrestler in the country". His only collegiate defeat (and first since his sophomore year of high school) was in an upset loss by decision in the 1940 NCAA title match. Dale would have probably continued this storied career into his senior year had war not broken out.

PeeWee dropped out of college and enlisted during the second semester of his senior year as an Air Force pilot. Fighting in some of the most pivotal points during WWII. On December 7, 1941 he was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. Dale flew in the Battle of Midway (June 3-7, 1942) as part of 23rd Bombardment Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group (Heavy), Seventh Air Force. It was during the Battle of Midway that Dale was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry.

First Lieutenant Dale Hanson.

Sadly Dale lost his life on October 5th, 1942 co-piloting a B-17 over Rabaul, New Britain (part of Paupa New Guinea). His B-17 airplane along with 5 other bombers were on a mission to hit Vunakanau Airfield when they were attacked by 25 Japanese Zero fighters. PeeWee's plane was last seen flying into a cloud with one engine down and smoke coming from the other. He 24 years old.