John Hancher was born in El Campo in January of 1916. He grew up there and attended public school, graduating from El Campo High School with the class of 1935.
Upon graduation from high school, John attended the University of Texas in Austin. He worked in one of the campus cafeterias to help support his education. He was accepted into the UT Law School and received his Law degree in 1940, and passed the Texas State Bar that same year. At age 24, John was not quite ready to settle down to a law practice and he had a burning desire to learn to fly airplanes. He reasoned that joining the US Army Air Corps was the best way to scratch this itch. When he enlisted, he was told that he would be notified when the Air Corps was ready to begin his training. While awaiting orders to report to duty, to pass the time, John made a trip to Central America and did some prospecting for gold.
Finally, in March of 1941, John received orders to report to the Army Air Corps training center in Hemet, California. He began his flight training in a single engine Stearman Biplane. After just 10 hours of flying with his instructor, the instructor said, “Take it up.” John replied, “Solo? Do you think I am ready?” The instructor said, “Sure!” Well, very excited, John climbed into the cockpit and took off. After an exhilarating few minutes it was time to land. He had shot only 4 simple landings with the instructor, and had never landed in a crosswind, not a difficult task if you have been told how to do it. Unfortunately, John encountered a brisk crosswind on the landing and cracked up that new, shiny Stearman plane and got washed out as a pilot in Uncle Sam’s Army Air Corps.
For the next two weeks the Air Corps gave John lectures on being a navigator, a flight engineer, radio operator, gunner, or bombardier. His enlistment agreement stipulated the option of taking a discharge if he did not qualify as a pilot. John wasted no time asking for the discharge, which he received in August of 1941. He already knew exactly what his next plan of action would be.
Within days, John traveled to Winnipeg, Canada to visit the Royal Canadian Air Force recruiting station. He was told that he would be welcome to join and train with the Canadians. So, John returned home to El Campo, to explain his plan to his family. His dad told him, “I think you are a fool!” However, Mr. Hancher advanced John the money to return to Canada to train as a pilot. While in training, the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred. John lived in a barracks with a number of other American boys who had gone to Canada to join the RCAF. All were excited that the US would now enter the war because they all felt that the US should have been in sooner.
After receiving his wings, John and his fellow airmen traveled across the Atlantic on the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth. He was transferred to the British Royal Air Force and stationed just outside of London. John flew missions as a fighter pilot for the RAF, but as the US Army Air Corps began preparing for the invasion of Europe, they needed more pilots to fly the B-17 (Flying Fortress) bombers. Once again, he was transferred to the US Army Air Corps and taught to fly these aircraft. Unwittingly, he achieved the goal he had originally sought. John commented that life was quite different as an American pilot than a British pilot. He noted that American accommodations and food were much better.
Two days prior to D-Day, John volunteered to fly one of the two B-17s that were sent to photograph the landing beaches and terrain where the airborne troops would be dropped when the invasion began. On D-Day, John’s flight group was not assigned to fly. He and several other pilots checked out planes to fly high above the action just to see what was taking place. “We stayed high so we didn’t get any flak, but we could see the stream of bombers and mass of ships crossing the channel. It was quite a sight.” Over the next 11 months John flew many missions into Germany dropping bombs to destroy Nazi rail yards, ammunition factories, and other strategic sites.
He flew two missions over the city of Berlin. On the last one, his wing flew directly over the city, but their targets were not identifiable because of a heavy fog ground cover. They encountered heavy flak during the pass, however, their wing commanders decided to circle and make another pass, in hopes of enough clearing to drop their bombs and accomplish their mission. The rest of the pilots were not too happy about the risk of a second run, considering the heavy pounding they took on the first pass, but obeyed orders. Sure enough, the cloud cover broke just enough to identify their targets and they returned to England with empty bomb bays and a successful mission.
During his three years in England, John met a beautiful Army nurse serving in the European Theater, Louise Beattie.
Originally from Watertown, NY, Louise took her nursing training at the Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, NY. In 1942, she graduated as a Registered Nurse and joined a group of doctors and nurses from the hospital to form the 19th General Hospital Unite to serve in England and France during WWII.
The couple fell in love, and he proposed to her. They were married in London, in April of 1944.
By the beginning of May 1945, the Nazis surrendered and the war in Europe ended.
Louise was Honorably Discharged in July 1945.
The young couple returned to New York to meet Louise’s family. Shortly afterward, both were discharged from the Army and they moved to Columbus where John was invited to join Hollis Massey in his law practice. John was especially happy to reconnect with his older brother, Ladd, who was also living in Columbus.
During their first year in Columbus, Louise became pregnant, and John decided to open his own solo law practice in an office above the First State Bank of Columbus. Then, in April of 1946 their only son, Thomas Beattie Hancher, was born. As John grew his practice, the County judge position became vacant and he was appointed to fill the position. He served as Colorado County judge from 1948 through 1954. John then returned to solo law practice for the rest of his life. Tragically, Louise developed breast cancer and died at the age of 46. Their son, Tom, was 21 years old at the time.
In the years that followed, John Hancher became most respected in Colorado County as an honest and top-notch lawyer. He served as a member and president of the Colorado County Bar Association. In addition, John served as a board member and chairman of the Columbus Community Hospital, and president of the Columbus Rotary Club. He was a member of the State Bar of Texas; Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post No. 6113; and the American Legion. For over 50 years, John served as the county Veterans Service Officer. John Hancher passed away at age 90 in December of 2006.