Veteran and musician Dennis Hanna reflects on service

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Guttenberg native Dennis Hanna poses with his wife, Gayle, both members of the Community Veterans Day band. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Dennis Hanna's Naval career and music career began almost at the same time. "My mother was a cook and my father was a janitor; I knew I wasn't going to college," said Hanna. 

Inspired by his high school band teacher to try out for the Navy School of Music, Hanna's talents were quickly recognized by this branch of the service. 

He made the band but shortly after, the Korean War broke out, and he was called up to boot camp. "There were 50 members in the band, 49 were sent to the West Coast and I was sent to the East Coast. They told me it was temporary duty," said Hanna. He was assigned to Squadron VF-6, on the USS Franklin Roosevelt. When asked if he was a gunner, he said,   "No, I'm a drummer." 

At the tender age of 18 he was put on a prop plane flying in a torpedo bomber. "I was small enough to get into the turret, so I never shot a gun," commented Hanna.

A month later I was asked if I wanted to attend music school and I turned them down," he said with a smile. 

Hanna was then assigned to Aviation Ordnance. Aviation Ordnancemen are aircraft weapons specialists in charge of storing, servicing, inspecting and handling  all types of weapons and ammunition carried on a Navy aircraft. 

He was never in Korea, but his Naval duties sailing on the USS Midway took him on tours across the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas.

After his tour of duty, he attended Drake University in Des Moines on the GI bill. 

At was in Des Moines that he meet and married his wife, Gayle. Hanna stated, "We were members of the pep band and the director asked Gayle if she wanted to play percussion in the concert band. She said, 'yes' and the director told me, you can teach her." As the saying goes, the rest is history. 

They married and had a daughter, Vicki. They moved to Guttenberg in 1958. 

Dennis began his 33-year teaching career the same year with the Guttenberg school system.  His involvement with the Veteran's Day program began in 1981. "Mr. Whalen, the principal at the time,  was a key figure in bringing this event to fruition," said Hanna. 

The Veterans Day program was originally held every other year. It has now expanded to the current annual program.

Then asked what his greatest accomplishment was throughout his Naval and music career, this unassuming proud man replied, "My work with students has been my greatest joy." Hanna shared this story. "When I was student teaching in college, a young girl and her mother came to me to learn how to play the bells. The young girl's hands were crippled by muscular dystrophy and she experienced difficulty opening up her hands. I worked with her on the bells, but she was enthralled by the drumsticks lying on my desk. I put the drumsticks in her hands and taught her basic rhythm. After several lessons, the mother came to see me with tears in her eyes and said the girl was now able to open her hands and grab the drumsticks on her own." The beginnings of the importance of music therapy.

Dennis Hanna's involvement in Boys State began in 1964. His 54 years of service has covered a lot of territory. He started as a county counselor and later became an assistant director, eventually becoming the Director of Boy's State, a post he held for many years.   

Hanna has been the Boy's State Band Director for over 35 years, still filling in when needed.

He has been involved for the past 20 years with the 85-member All Iowa Military Band, playing such venues as the Legion Convention, the Iowa State Fair, the Des Moines Civic Center and on the Capitol building steps in Iowa to name a few. 

As I ended my interview with this humble "young" soul, a quote from William Penn came to mind. "Sense shines with a double luster when it is set in humility. An able and yet humble man is a jewel worth a kingdom." — William Penn

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