Monday, November 16, 2009

Louis Hannah: The Traveler

Louis Hanna was a local hero; he was rumored to be the oldest working living firefighter at age 97. Louis meant a lot of things to the townspeople where we lived. He was a characater about town, well-respected and loved by all. To me, he was a traveler and storyteller, the very best kind of person to know.

We met one summer after my mom had a car accident. She drove through a double brick wall and dislodged a pop machine in the center of town (this is worthy of another story altogether!) and he was directing traffic on Main Street that day. Unbelieveably, my mom exited her totaled car without a break, a bruise or even a scratch! She simply fell asleep at the wheel, or so her doctor said. She drove through town asleep. Louis took his job of directing traffic seriously but got bored after awhile, so went over and snapped a shot of the damaged car. The day he met me, he delivered the photo to our home. (I don't think my mother ever fully appreciated this gesture as seeing her car in that condition upset her).

Louis found out I had traveled quite a bit, and he began to talk about his foray into India during World War II. That day I was smitten by the adventure and daring of Louis Hannah, or "Snapper" as he was fondly called. At 93 or 94, his eyes still expressed the excitement of the moments he disobeyed his commanding officer and went out in the villages.

This was the beginning of a great friendship. He never forgot to look me up when I got in town and take me to some of his favorite places, including a renovated ship called Flagship Niagara. The ship was used during the war of 1812. He served as a hand on it at age 85 or 86 for a seven months. Even though he was the crew's favorite, he insisted on doing more than his fair share of hte work. At my insistence, he showed me some award he got for that tour of duty. "Ain't nothing much." The men meant the world to him.

"Snapper, can I write your book?"

"Someday I will give you a run down on some of my life, which I'd like to compare with yours as you sure seem to get around a lot in different parts of the world that I have not been in yet."

I had to pin him down but we finally started the interview process when he realized that I was serious. I tape recorded some of his stories and he also wrote letters annotating his memories on an archaic typewriter. He brought out some very old pictures, which I still have.

Louis and I didn't finish his book but he has a very special place in my heart. I would like to do some fresh anecdotal research and finish it off one day soon. Our town deserves to read the rich story that made up his life--the travels he was so proud of, his years in the military, his thirty years as firechief, and his continued service, his time on the ship, and his years on his Harley, late in life...! Snapper lived an unforgettable life of adventure but he never forgot his manners along the way!

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