Memorial Day tribute to Sverre Hansen, who fell in the Second Battle of the Marne, 1918

Sverre Hansen, perhaps in Norwegian military uniform prior to his immigration. Picture supplied by Karen Rowe

My teenager and I were recently on our Ancestry.com family tree when we linked to relative’s tree of the same family, and there came across a name we hadn’t seen before—a younger brother of a great-grandfather on my wife’s side named Sverre Hansen. This was intriguing, so we followed the research rabbit hole to discover a sad but beautiful story of service and sacrifice.

Sverre Hansen was born May 25, 1879, to Thorval and Hanna Kristine Hansen in Høvik, Norway, a village near Oslo along the coast of the Oslofjord. The couple already had two other sons when Sverre was born: Johan Henry (b. 1882) and Halfden Theodor (b. 1885). The couple had a fourth son—Einar—in 1895. Their father’s occupation, per the 1891 Norwegian census, was listed as “pakining [sp?] af glasvarer ved Hovik glaswerk,” or glassware packager at Høvik Glassworks. Even Hanna and his two brothers—and himself, aged two—were enumerated as glasvarepakker, or glassware packagers.

Høvik Glassverk, Oslo Museum
Høvik Glassverk, workers, Oslo Museum

In 1904, Sverre’s oldest brother, Henry (my wife’s great-grandfather), immigrated to the U.S.—he went to Corning in upstate New York and became a glass blower at the Corning Glass Works, a job he held for over 25 years. His brothers Halfden (aka Halvdar) and Sverre would leave Norway for Corning in 1910 (estimated) and 1911 (Sverre arrived April 14 on the Adriatic), respectively. Their youngest brother, Einar, remained in Norway and raised a family.

In March, 1914, Sverre appeared before the New York court in Steuben County to declare his intention to “renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity” to the Norway’s King Haakon VII and to become a U.S. citizen. His wish to become a citizen would be fulfilled in January 1917.

Sverre Hansen, Declaration of Intention, via Ancestry.com

In 1915, Sverre lived with Henry and his family (Henry’s wife Inga Kristiansen, also a Norwegian immigrant, and their young daughters Anna, Elsa, and baby Lillian; a fourth daughter, Lily, would arrive in 1918, tragically just ten days after Lillian’s death) on Baker Street in Corning (Sverre’s name is mis-transcribed as “Sweater” on the New York State census). Both men are listed as “glassworker,” and they would have been employed at the Corning Glassworks. Halfden, too, was a glass blower at this time.

Via Ancestry.com

In June 1917, just a little over four months after Sverre became a U.S. citizen, he filled out a draft registration card, identifying himself as a “naturalized citizen.” This was part of the first of three draft registrations, and included men aged 21 to 31. Ten million men registered in 1917 alone. He was still a glass worker at Corning Glassworks, still single, and still lived with his brother Henry’s family, but now on Bridge Street in the town.

On November 23, 1917, Sverre was inducted (drafted) into the U.S. Army, and was assigned to Company E of the 7th Infantry Regiment, a storied unit whose lineage extends back to the War of 1812. In the month Sverre joined the “Cottonbalers,” the regiment was assigned to the 3rd (Infantry) Division. The division trained at Camp Greene, North Carolina, until it was deployed overseas, arriving in France in April 1918. During the spring and summer of 1918, the German army was on the offensive, launching massive attacks across a broad front to capture territory before American forces arrived in full force. Elements of the 3rd Division, including the 7th Regiment, went into battle against these attacks almost immediately.

On July 15, 1918, elements of the 3rd Division, including the 7th Regiment, were deployed along the Marne River from Château-Thierry east to the Surmelin River valley, and were operating in coordination with a French division and the American 28th Division. From the Center of Military History in Washington, D.C.:

The wooded, rolling slopes and overgrown fields on the southern banks of the Marne were ideal defensive terrain, offering the Americans both concealment and cover. Along the entire 3d Division front, the forward portion of the “outpost zone,” on the river banks, consisted of widely spaced rifle pits and machine gun nests. Behind this was the main line of the “outpost zone,” with entrenchments along railroad tracks running parallel to the Marne. The second defensive position, based around an aqueduct built along the slopes overlooking the river, was more elaborate; it included shallow trenches as well as dugouts used as command posts or dressing stations. The third defensive position, known as the “woods line,” bisected the Bois d’Aigremont to the south. This would be the last line of resistance.

July 15 was the day when the Germans launched what would become their last major offensive along the Western Front during the war. Just after midnight, German artillery bombarded American and French positions just south of the Marne River. Early in the morning, Germany ground units successfully crossed the river, as their artillery barrage continued. The battle that came to be known as the Second Battle of the Marne raged until August 6. An Allied counterattack supported by hundreds of American tanks thwarted the German military’s objectives, heralding the final 100 days of the war.

Sadly, Private Sverre Hansen died on the battle’s first day, July 15. “From 15 through 17 July,” according to the Center of Military History, “the 3d Division lost a total of 3,151 men (606 dead), with the heaviest losses falling on the 7th Infantry (730 casualties) and the 38th Infantry (632 casualties).” The American 38th Infantry was known thereafter as the “Rock of the Marne” for its heroic actions during the battle.

via Ancestry.com

On the abstract of his military service, we see that Henry was notified of Sverre’s death in that battle. Sverre was buried along with over 6,000 of his fellow American soldiers in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, in the commune of Seringes-et-Nesles, about 70 miles west of Reims.

Karl Sverre Hansen was a young man who voyaged from his home near Oslo, leaving his parents and little brother, to join his older brothers working at a glass factory in a small town in western New York. As soon as he could, he declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen, and achieved that goal soon after his 28th birthday. Then, just 18 months after his citizenship, Sverre Hansen died on a battlefield in France, wearing the uniform of his adopted country.

Thank you, Sverre Hansen, for your service.

(from original caption) “On May 30, 1937 a crowd gathered at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery for the Memorial Day Ceremony, which also included the dedication of the chapel.” American Battlefield Monuments Commission

For my previous posts honoring U.S. service members, see:

On Memorial Day, Thanks for the Sacrifice

Memorial Day tribute to Buford L. Dews, World War II infantryman

Memorial Day tribute to Richard W. Dews, a paratrooper

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