JCU professor recounts WWII experience in new book

April 22nd, 2010

Richard Hansler was 19 years old when an explosion on a B-17 bomber left him stranded in enemy territory during World War II.

Hansler is currently an adjunct professor of physics and the director of The Lighting Innovations Institute at John Carroll University. In 1943, however, he was a navigator for the U.S. Army Air Force.

The explosion required him to eject out of the B-17 bomber that carried him and others during their mission to bomb an oil refinery in Germany. He leapt from the plane and parachuted to the ground, where he was forced to flee from enemy soldiers.

The book, “Prepare to bail out!” is Hansler’s account of the events that led up to and followed his squadron’s 25th mission, when the plane was shot down. Dorota Silaj Publishing published the book in March.

“I started writing it 65 years ago when I got back from war. I did about 90 percent of it,” said Hansler.

It was not until the release of a book by Boguslaw Zieba last year that Hansler decided to finish his book. Zieba’s book “Blechhammer” accounts the crash of the B-17 on which Hansler was aboard from the perspective of the author, who was a child at the time and witnessed the crash.

He said, “When that [“Blechhammer,”] came out  I thought I’d finish what I started and gave it [“Prepare to bail out!”] to the same publisher.”

Hansler is profiled in Zieba’s book, but “Prepare to bail out!” provides Hansler’s first-hand experience.

Hansler said his parachute landed on the Czechoslovakian side of the Poland-Czechoslovakia border, where a local peasant took him back to his house and hid him from the Germans in a hayloft above his barn.

“If the Germans would have found out they would have shot him [the peasant] on the spot,” he said. “He was very brave.”

“Prepare to bail out!” describes Hansler’s stay in Czechoslovakia, as well as his time spent working with the Polish Partisans and the Russian front.

“We crossed the border during the night and hiked into Poland, where we were put into contact with the [Polish] Partisans,” said Hansler. “We lived with them in the mountains for many months.”

After staying in Poland, Hansler and others joined the Russian front. Hansler said he experienced his most terrifying near-death moment when an intoxicated Russian sergeant mistook him for a German. Later, Hansler spent six weeks at a Russian field hospital recovering from pneumonia.

Soon after his recovery, Hansler received word that the allies would be sending a cruise ship to retrieve Hansler and other allied soldiers from Odessa.

“It was like paradise,” said Hansler. “We had good food and white bread – we had only black bread all winter – it was like cake.”

The cruise ship brought the men to Italy, where Hansler caught a flight to the U.S. and enrolled in college.

Today, Hansler is married with four children and ten grandchildren. After 42 years of working as a physicist for General Electric, he runs The Lighting Innovations Institute at JCU, which helps develop runway lights for several corporate and government organizations.

“Prepare to bail out!” is available for purchase on in paperback and Kindle editions.