Len Martin Hanawald

Lieutenant Colonel
Army of the United States
09 September 1935 - 03 September 1969
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Panel 18W Line 028


Silver Star

Combat Infantry

Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign


The database page for Len Martin Hanawald

07 Jun 2007

LTC Len Hanawald was a very impressive officer when he reported into the 2nd Battalion 506th Infantry in the late Spring of 1969 as the new Battalion Commander. I was a very young Company Commander (22 years old - OCS Graduate) on my second tour, and just adjusting to my new responsibilities when Len Hanawald arrived at Camp Evans (about an hour north of Hue) in I Corps.

At that time the Battalion and Brigade Commanders in the 101st Airborne were allowed to select their own call signs, and our new commander selected "Airborne". Such a macho call sign seemed a little silly, since he was such a small guy, maybe five foot five, and weighed maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. But Len Hanawald had served his first Viet Nam tour with Special Forces, and it was clear from the first day that he understood the "ins and outs" of small unit tactics.

"Airborne" was also a officer who didn't hesitate to pack his rucksack and spend a few days "in the field" with his rifle companies. He was small and wiry, but he was as strong as barbed wire. Normally Battalion Commanders lived on the Fire Support Bases with the Battalion Headquarters, which were "rustic" to say the least. But on the Fire Bases at least you had a dry place to sleep at night, one hot meal a day, and place to wash up. But going "to the field" with a rifle company meant giving up those "luxuries". Everything you owned, you carried on your back in your rucksack, and normally the only uniform you had was the one you were wearing. If you were lucky your company found time once a week to stop in a local stream, set up security, so everyone could bath (in shifts naturally) and wash their fatigues.

Len Hanawald was also unusual in that he talked to everyone, officers, sergeants and soldiers. And even more important he listened to everyone, and was able gather many good ideas from these conversations. He was very approachable, and when you were talking with him, he always made you feel very comfortable and important. Len was a natural teacher and coach, and helped many of us not in our military duties but also in other parts of our lives. "Airborne" made a huge difference in the Battalion, not only in more effective military operations, but also in the "organizational culture". It was a very positive organization, a true "band of brothers", and we were all very proud to be members.

In early September 1969 "Airborne" was killed during an aerial reconnaissance mission. Generally Battalion Commanders didn't take part in this type of front line mission, but "Airborne" was a different type of Battalion Commander. He was always trying to see what was happening with his own eyes, so he could make the best plans for "his boys". There were only two in that observation helicopter: the pilot, and Len Hanawald who was acting as the observer/gunner. They were scouting an area along the base of the mountains to the west of Camp Evans, when they discovered a Viet Cong guerrilla in the high grass. The helicopter was only 20-30 feet off the ground, and "Airborne" had this VC guerrilla covered with his M-16, and could have easily killed him by just squeezing the trigger. But "Airborne" always told us that prisoners are more valuable than bodies, so he was intent on capturing this guerrilla. "Airborne" wanted to give the pilot instructions to land, but was having trouble finding the microphone button (located on the floor in this helicopter) and he took his eye off of the guerrilla for just a second. But just a second was all the time it took for this Viet Cong to reach down and pick up his AK-47 rifle and spray the small helicopter with 30 rounds of automatic fire. "Airborne" was hit more than once in the torso, but the pilot only had minor scrapes and was able to fly the damaged helicopter back to the medievac hospital at Camp Evans. Len Hanawald was still alive when they got to the Medievac Hospital, but he had lost too much blood, and died on the operating table.

It was a sad day. Each of us felt that we had lost not only a Commander, but a man who truly understood us, and cared for us. A good man, gone too soon. Len died in September of 1969, but his example lives on with all of his military brothers.

I Am Not Dead

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am diamond glints of snow;
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds encircled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there, I did not die.

Lyrics by Mary Frye (1932) and Wilbur Skeels (1996)

James Stevens Roach
Col (Retired)

25 Jun 2007

This is an email correspondence from Ronnie Rondem to Jennifer Hanawald, LTC Hanawald's daughter, on 26 September 2006:

When LTC Hanawald became the commander of the 2d Bn (ABN) 506th Infantry in 1969, he came in with an already established reputation as a very fine leader. I was the Battalion S-1 (Personnel and Administration), and was therefore in contact with the Brigade and Division staff officers. I was told that he was a "superstar in rising". He was that and more to the officers in the Battalion. He was a genuine person who seemed to really care about those he was charged with leading. Not too long after he assumed command, he gave me the opportunity to command B Company. In that position I did not change my opinion in the least, in fact he probably rose higher.

There are many days that I think of him and think of the day that I heard that he died. I later talked to the pilot who was with him in the helicopter and took him to the hospital, to gain the correct version of what had happened.

The only death of a leader that I can come close to comparing with my feeling that day, was November 23, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. Your Dad's impact on me was much more personal than that of JFK, but my loss was at least as large. I can only offer this as my way of sharing the grief and sorrow that you must have felt growing up.

Should you have any questions about your Dad that I may be able to answer, please do not hesitate to contact me.

My most sincere condolences are offered in remembrance of your father, Lieutenant Colonel Len Hanawald, radio call sign "Airborne".

Ronnie B. Rondem
Colonel, Infantry, USAR (Retired)

Ronnie B. Rondem
B Co Commander, 2d Bn, 506th Infantry
13390 Providence Lake Drive, Milton, Ga 30004

A Note from The Virtual Wall

LTC Hanawald was graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1957 and completed both Airborne and Ranger training. In 1964 he completed Special Forces qualification and began his first tour in Vietnam in 1965. On completion of his tour he attended Command and General Staff College and was then assigned to the HQ US Army staff. After early selection for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam, arriving in-country on 06 May 1969. LTC Hanawald reportedly was awarded four Silver Stars for personal valor in combat. He is buried in Site 189-5, Section 46, Arlington National Cemetery.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
his Bravo 2/506 company commander,
James Stevens Roach
Col USAR (Ret)
13390 Providence Lake Drive, Milton, Ga 30004

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 07 Jun 2007
Last updated 02/06/2008