William Hansult Sr. kept secrets from his wife and children for nearly 60 years. He wasn’t the only one. The secrets of war run deep among the brotherhood of soldiers who served in the famed 42nd Rainbow Division during World War II. His son, William Hansult Jr., vowed to share his father’s war stories to honor all Rainbow soldiers, including those still serving in the division.
In 2003, Hansult Jr. traveled to Germany and Austria with his elderly parents, Hansult Sr. and Rosemary. Many of the cities and towns the family visited together during the trip, a young Hansult Sr. had seen years prior as a Rainbow soldier.
“My dad was standing on bridges and walking through towns where he’d been as an 18-year-old kid,” Hansult Jr. said. “He’d lived a lifetime in between, but the trip brought him full circle.”
The trip with his parents sparked Hansult Jr.’s curiosity to learn more about his father’s service. A lawyer by profession, he spent the next 10 years researching his father’s service and the Rainbow Division by reading unpublished declassified action reports, diaries and recorded histories written by men his father served with, together with many other published historical resources.
“I started putting the pieces of my dad’s service together,” he said. “Then I realized I needed to really talk to my dad. I needed to hear his stories.”
Hansult Jr. shared his research with his father and his father responded by sharing his experiences as a soldier.
In 1944, Hansult Sr. had just graduated high school when he joined the Army and took a train to Florida for boot camp. A kid from Farmingdale, New York, Hansult Sr. had never been away from home or shot a gun. Yet, he was a replacement soldier assigned to the 42nd Rainbow Division’s 232nd Regiment, 2nd Battalion, E Company.
“Dad replaced a soldier who didn’t make it,” Hansult Jr. explained. “He was a teenager, and like a lot of American boys, he suddenly found himself in European cities he’d never heard of before.”
Hansult Sr. fought bravely. He was awarded a Bronze Star and the prestigious Combat Infantry Badge for his actions. Then, on April 29, 1945, Hansult Sr. and his fellow Rainbow soldiers liberated one of Hitler’s most famous concentration camps, Dachau.
“He saw things and endured things that I can’t even imagine. But, having had a near death experience myself, I slightly understood when my father spoke about moments where he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it and the feelings that come with that,” said Hansult Jr., who survived a plane crash in 2006.
To complicate war further, Hansult Sr. didn’t know at the time he had family remaining in Germany, including uncles and cousins, serving in the German army, the Hitler Youth, and one uncle was a high-ranking official in the Nazi party.
“My father endured a lot during his war experience but it was different for him because, although he didn’t know it then, he was fighting relatives he’d never met,” he said. “It wasn’t until years later he learned of them and connected with them.”
In 2014, shortly before his father passed away at the age of 87, Hansult Jr. started pairing his years of research with his father’s stories to create “The Final Battle: An Untold Story of WWII’s Forty-Second Rainbow Division”, a book honoring his father, but also the accomplishments of all the men who served in the Rainbow.
“I wrote this book for all of them,” Hansult Jr. said. “I wrote it for my dad. But, I also wrote it for Rainbow families and those still serving in the Rainbow. They should all know the division’s history. They should know the stories of the soldiers. My dad’s stories are all of their stories.”
Suellen McDaniel, daughter of a career soldier who served in WWII as a member of the Rainbow Division’s HQ Company, 1st Battalion, 242nd Infantry Regiment, is one of those Rainbow families. An active member of the Rainbow Division Veterans Memorial Foundation, McDaniel often encounters veterans and their families. She is the longtime secretary of the Millennium Legacy Association of the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division, which focuses on surviving family members of Rainbow soldiers.
“Children are always affected by the actions of their parents whether spoken or unspoken,” McDaniel said. “Often when I’ve been asked by families for history of the 42nd, it has been to understand the events that made the veteran the person he was to his family. ‘Now I understand….’ has been an often-heard response to the personal stories shared with seeking descendants.”
Melanie Remple’s great uncle, Ferdinand “Fernie” Framstad, served in the Rainbow Division’s 222nd Infantry Regiment, K Company. A career soldier, Framstad enlisted into the Army in 1938. He served in Hawaii, in the Canal Zone (Panama Canal) and at Fort Worden in the state of Washington prior to being sent to Camp Gruber in Oklahoma to join the Rainbow Division. Remple, a former board member of the RDVMF and president of the Millennium Legacy Association, forged many friendships with Rainbow veterans.
“Those who didn’t speak of the war, or those who only spoke very generally of their experiences, probably had never really fully processed the events. The events were so traumatic that they just couldn’t live through it again — PTSD that was never acknowledged or treated,” Remple said. “There was so much death as they made their way from France into Germany until VE day.”
Editor of the RDVMF REVEILLE newsletter, McDaniel reiterates the division’s motto: “Never forget.” With so many soldiers passing away at a rapid rate due to age, she knows Hansult Jr.’s book is an important recording of the division’s history for generations to come.
“Interwoven through the many personal stories of WWII men of the Rainbow Division, he included his beautifully expressed and successful search for a deeper relationship with his father in understanding his untold experiences as a young soldier at war,” McDaniel said.