Jim Hanson grew up in a military family. His father completed a career in the Infantry, serving in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and his mother was a career military spouse. He attended high school at Fort Leavenworth and in the Panama Canal Zone, where he also attended college. He enlisted in the Army for flight school, opting to become a Warrant Officer, and his Junior ROTC experience served him well in Basic Training. His primary flight school was at Fort Walters, Texas, and his advanced flight school was at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After qualifying on both the OH-23 and the UH-1, he deployed to Vietnam, where he was assigned to A Co, 4th Aviation Battalion, in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. During his first tour, he survived the Tet Offensive and daily combat assaults. Returning home, he was assigned to the Panama IAGS (Inter-American Geodetic Survey) team and helped cartographers map Central and South America. In that assignment, he pushed the OH-23 to its limits, flying through the mountains with Side Looking Airborne Rader to “fill in the map.” He married his wife Mary in 1969, and returned to Vietnam in 1971, where he served with the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company. In that assignment, he flew on the Lam Son 719 mission, in the A Shau Valley, and near Chu Lai and Marble Mountain. After his second tour in Vietnam, he returned to Panama, where he served from 1976 to 1979. He concluded his career with service at Fort Bragg and in Korea. After retiring from the Army, he continued to serve as a flight instructor at Rucker, as an advisor in Saudi Arabia, and as a contractor in Iraq.
In this interview, Jim talks about growing up around the world, basic training, flight school, and the types of airframes he flew. He describes his two tours in Vietnam in great detail, and provides insights about his assignments in Panama. His discussion about mapping in Central and South America is fascinating. Finally, he reflects upon his career.