Warren native Clayton Hahn killed in action two days after D-Day
Today marks the 76th anniversary of D-Day.
Part of Operation Overlord — the Allied invasion of the German-occupied Normandy coast — thousands of men stormed sectors of the beaches that now have such iconic names as Omaha and Utah.
Clayton D. Hahn was one of those men.
Hahn was born in October 23, 1921 in Warren to Howard and Thersia Hahn.
His mother died in 1942.
When he entered the service isn’t clear.
At the age of 22 in June 1944, it’s likely that Hahn was one of the millions of men drafted into Uncle Sam’s ranks.
Hahn was a member of the 20th Engineer Combat Battalion.
His unit faced an absolutely critical function — removing mines and cleaning and widening the roads for the Army units landing on the beach.
If the inlet roads stayed closed, the assault would face greatly increases changes of failure.
“On 5 June, the 16th Infantry and the 20th Engineers sailed out of Portland Harbor and into the English Channel to join the greatest convoy of assault craft the world had ever known,” according to a history of the unit at 20thengineers.com. “Off the coast of Normandy, their craft crept slowly to the shore toward ‘East Red’ and ‘Fox Green’ beaches.
“Struggling ashore, the men were pinned down and found it difficult to advance in the face of brutal fire. The 16th Infantry advanced over their own dead and were able to ascend to the cliff areas. The 20th Engineers attacked along with them, clearing mines and removing obstacles, allowing the supporting vehicles to move off the beach.”
The unit continued with the “rapid advance” of the division with their mine and road effort, awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and the French Croix de Guerre, according to that history.
They cite General Orders No. 67 which was written on August 16, 1944: “The 20th Engineer Combat Battalion is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action. The 20th Engineer Combat Battalion was attached to the 16th Infantry with the mission of clearing the beach obstacles within the tidal range of the beach from vicinity of Vierville-sur-Mer to Colleville-sur-Mer under savage artillery, mortar, rifle, grenade, machine gun, and small-arms fire. Despite persistent enemy activity the 20th Engineer Combat Battalion, with courageous determination and tenacity of purpose, cleared gaps in barbed wire and minefields to gain the beach.
“The operation was especially complicated because infantry and other troops were within the danger radius cleared a beach exit through antitank ditches, road blocks, and minefields subjected to hazards of enemy fire and sniper activity, and despite heavy casualties and loss of vital equipment, the battalion, by splendid foresite and technical skill, gallantly accomplished its difficult mission of clearing the beach, removing obstacles, and assisting the infantry in a manner consistent with the highest traditions of the military service. The courageous prosecution of these extremely perilous tasks in the face of overwhelming odds and deadly enemy opposition is deserving of the highest praise.”
Two days into that effort, Clayton D. Hahn was killed in action.
Within a span of less than two years, his father, Howard, lost his wife and his son.
The Dec. 6, 1944 Warren Times-Mirror gives us a glimpse into what happened on June 8.
“Howard A. Hahn, Pennsylvania Avenue West, has just received the Bronze Star Medal awarded to his son, Pvt. Clayton D. Hahn, for heroic achievement with his engineering group that cost him his life overseas,” the report states.
It then includes the full text of the citation which is included here: “For heroic achievement in connection with military operations against an armed enemy, Private Hahn volunteered to act as a forward outpost during the construction by members of his unit of a vital road block ahead of the Infantry lines. Because of the nature of the terrain, the observation afforded Private Hahn was quite limited. There were numerous hidden approaches to the road block. In an attempt by the enemy to force the road block by infiltration, Private Hahn was killed. He had been successful in his mission, however, as his own holding force received warning of the enemy attack and was successful in repulsing lt. The service of Private Hahn merits great praise. It is in keeping with the traditions of the Armed Forces.”
A couple years after the war, the federal government gave families the option to either return the remains of their loved ones or leave them to rest on foreign shores at no charge to the families.
Hahn’s father evidently decided to leave his son in France — he is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery.
In addition, he is listed on the Wall of Remembrance at Omaha Beach.