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Marcus Juul Hanson

Submitted by: Per G. Melberg {Distant relative}

Marcus Hanson image

Marcus Juul Hanson was born around 1890. Marcus Hanson served in World War 1 with the United States Army . The enlistment was in 1918 and the service was completed in 1918.

Story of Service


Markus Juul Hansen / Marcus J Hanson (1890-1918)
Tombstone of Markus Juul Hansen (Hørby Cemetery, Denmark)
Memory of
Markus Juul Hansen
Born in Lunden 24 June 1890
Killed in France
9 November 1918

He died for his Country


What journey in life led to a young man from a rural parish in Northern Jutland, Denmark dying on a battlefield in France, whilst serving in the U.S. Army? And this just a few days before the Armistice put an end to World War I. This is the story of Markus Juul Hansen.

Markus' childhood and youth in Denmark

Markus Juul Hansen was born on 24th June 1890 in "Lunden", a small farmhouse on Tranekær Mark in the northernmost part of the parish of Hørby, Northern Jutland, Denmark. He was the son of Hans Christian Hansen (1861-1934) and Mathilde Jensen (1855-1913), who had married in 1884 and had seven children together. Markus was the third sibling.

Markus was confirmed in Hørby Church in 1904, and still included in the census for Hørby Parish as being resident in "Lunden" in 1906. Being part of a large family living on a small farm, Markus soon had to make his own way of living, commencing as a worker on a larger farm in the neighboring Karup Parish.

However, in 1911, Markus' name is found in the census for Vraa Parish, Northern Jutland, Denmark, where he was studying at "Vraa Folkehøjskole" (Vraa Folk High School) during the school year of 1910-1911. He had skills of the book as well, albeit a Folk High School is not a common high school.

In the early 1800's, thoughts of enlightenment in Denmark were peaking and the tradition of national Danish romanticism were developing. N. S. F. Grundtvig (1783 -1872), a Danish pastor, author, poet, philosopher, historian, teacher and politician, was deeply inspired by these thoughts, and after personal experience from Trinity College, Cambridge in England, he developed the concept of the folk high school.

Grundtvig identified a growing democratic need in society - a need of enlightening the often both uneducated and poor peasantry. This social group had neither the time nor the money to enrol at a university and needed an alternative. The aim of the Danish folk high schools was to help people qualify as active and engaged members of society, to give them a movement and the means to change the political situation from below and be a place to meet across social boarders.

The idea came from the collegial atmosphere and mutual respect between the teaching staff and the students who all lived together in a small community transcending social classes. The atmosphere at the schools was important and, equally important, exams were prohibited. Consequently, Markus would not graduate from the Vraa Folk High School, only develop and educate himself. On the other hand, the Folk High Schools were not just about books – "a healthy mind in a healthy body" - they said.

Heading for the US and his first years in Minnesota

Upon conclusion of his year at the Folk High School, Markus most likely realised that he would only have limited possibilities for prosperity in rural Denmark. As a consequence, he emigrated to the USA in early 1912, where he settled in the small town of Windom, Cottonwood County, Minnesota, a place which had already attracted many Danish emigrants.

Little is known about Markus' journey to the US and his years in Windom, except that he worked as a tiler with Max Sorensen in Jackson County, MN. Jackson County is another Minnesota county just south of Windom. He may have completed a craftsman's education after arriving in Windom, MN, although this appears to be less likely.

Joining the U.S. Army

When the United States entered World War I on 6th April 1917, Markus – now Marcus - was drafted to the U.S. Army on 5th June 1917 and found fit for service.

Although drafted into military service, Marcus was not asked to join the U.S. Army immediately. The first drafted group covering ninety-one young men from Cottonwood County received their notices on 21st September 1917 and from this time until the end of the war, detachments of men went out on a regular basis according to the draft calls from Cottonwood County.

Marcus was in the second detachment from Cottonwood County, and he left for basic military training at Camp Dodge, Iowa on 29th February 1918 together with nineteen other young men from the county.

During World War I the U.S. Army introduced a basic military training program, which meant that each soldier received 16 weeks of intensive training in one of the 30+ training camps, or Boot Camps, which the U.S Army established around the US during World War I.

Marcus did his training in Camp Dodge, a training camp close to Des Moines, IA, which is circa 250 miles southeast of Windom, MN.

By the end of the war Cottonwood County had furnished in volunteers and draftees more than seven hundred men for military service. And a great number of these men saw action in the decisive battles on European battlefields and 19 of them were killed in action. Marcus being one of them.

Assembly camp, US Naturalization and heading towards to Europe

During basic military training at Camp Dodge, IA, the soldiers were allocated to their war time regiments, and Markus was ordered to the engineer troops, Company B, 603rd Engineers, based at Fort Benjamin Harrison, IN. This was most likely due to his practical skills as a farm worker in Denmark and, perhaps, also due to having worked as a tiler in Windom, MN.

Soldiers heading for the European theatre of war were assembled in a handful of large assembly camps, or "rest" camps as they were called, on the US east coast.

The "rest" camp, which 603rd Engineers was ordered to was Camp Merritt in Bergen County, NJ. It is not clear when 603rd arrived a Camp Merritt, NJ, but it would most like have been sometime in late July 1918.

Around World War I it was possible for a person to apply for naturalization after having stayed 5 years in the US. Consequently, as Marcus had arrived in the US sometime during 1912, he now applied for U.S. Naturalization.

Still in Camp Merritt, Bergen County, NJ, Marcus was granted his U.S. citizenship on 23rd August 1918 and he was in the documents referred to as "PVT" i.e., a private soldier. Together with the officers and other service men of Company B, 603rd Engineers stationed in Camp Merritt, Marcus was going to embark for Europe in Hoboken, NJ.

"Heaven, Hell or Hoboken" - as the U.S. soldiers jokingly said, typically heading towards an interim stop in the UK on their way to an uncertain future in France.

1st Battalion, 603rd Engineers, including Company B and Marcus embarked the SS "Ortega" in Hoboken, NJ in the afternoon of 31st August 1918. Before crossing the Atlantic, SS "Ortega" anchored in New York Bay until the convoy of thirteen ships plus convoy escort had gathered, leaving the safety of the bay on 1st September 1918.

En route to the UK and France

Crossing the Atlantic was uneventful, no German U-Boats and the weather proved calm, thus SS "Ortega" arrived safely in Glasgow (Scotland), 13th September 1918.

Company B, 603rd Engineers disembarked SS "Ortega" shortly after arrival in Glasgow (Scotland) and were taken by train to the American "rest" camp at Morn Hill, Winall Down, near Winchester (Hampshire), where they arrived on 14th September 1918.

On 17th September, 1918 the 603rd Engineers transferred by train to Southampton, where they in the late afternoon boarded USS "Yale", enabling the crossing of the Channel the same night. After another uneventful transfer they arrived in Le Havre (Seine-Maritime), France on 18th September 1918.

After a couple of uneventful days in Le Havre (Seine-Maritime), the 603rd Engineers board a train in the outskirts of Le Havre on 20th September 1918, and arrive, after three tiresome days, at Pontarlier (Doubs) in eastern France right next to the Swiss border. Having arrived at Pontarlier (Doubs) in error, they stayed for four days and then the regiment was transported by train to Port d'Atelier (Haute Saône), their original destination. They marched ca. 5 miles to the U.S. military camp at Arbecey (Haute Saône), arriving on 28th September 1918. It is here worth noting that the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in which 603rd regiment would take part, was launched a few days earlier on 26th September 1918.

For the next four weeks the regiment stays in Arbecey (Haute Saône) and in the neighboring village of Combeaufontaine (Haute Saône) spending their time performing thorough workouts such as infantry drills, gas mask drills, hiking in heavy marching order and physical drills.

From Combeaufontaine Marcus writes home to his family in "Lunden", Denmark on 27th October 1918, that he feels his life is "hanging by a thread", but that he otherwise is in good spirits. However, the letter did not reach home until sometime before Christmas 1918. By then Marcus was no longer alive.

On the 28th October 1918, 603rd Engineers receive orders to transfer by train via St. Dizier (Haute-Marne) to Auzéville near Clermont-en-Argonne (Meuse), where they arrive in the evening of 29th October 1918.

The regiment is less than 20 miles away from the Meuse frontline and are at risk of being noticed by enemy airplanes.

Hence, the regiment pitches tents while it is dark. They are now really in the war zone. Drilling is continued in the Auzéville (Meuse) area until 3rd November 1918, when the regiment is deemed ready and required to support in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. From this point on the companies of 1st Battalion, 603rd Engineers receive orders covering different military objectives and separates.

Into the Meuse-Argonne battle-zone supporting the advance of U.S. 89th Division (AEF)

Company B, which was led by Captain W. R. McGeachin, receives one of the more unusual orders in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, namely to move a pontoon bridge train captured from the Germans at the River Aisne, to the area just south of Pouilly-sur-Meuse (Meuse), which was right at the front-line.

The pontoon bridge train was being sent east by rail towards the Aubréville (Meuse) area and Company B made a forced march from Auzéville (Meuse) and met the train at Aubréville (Meuse) a few miles to the north. They were then transported by rail another 10 miles further north to Apremont (Ardennes), where Company B, with considerable efforts in the muddy terrain, unloaded the pontoon bridge train. Whereas the Germans had used horses, Company B had the luxury of trucks – two pontoon wagons per truck and they advanced with their trucks and wagons further north to Bois de la Folie Vengiers near Nouart (Ardennes). This place had been occupied by the Germans just two days earlier.

It was now the 8th November 1918, just three days before the Armistice.

Barely having arrived at Nouart (Ardennes), Company B received new orders to move the ponton bridge train to Foret de Dieulet near Beaufort-en-Argonne (Meuse), wait there until dark, and then move it by way of Laneuville-sur Meuse (Meuse) to Foret de Jaulnay, which was less than ¾ of a mile south of Pouilly-sur-Meuse (Meuse) and the Meuse River itself. This was indeed the frontline, as the Germans still occupied Pouilly-sur Meuse (Meuse).

The entire trip from Foret De Dieulet to Foret de Jaulnay was made under German shell fire, which was especially heavy when Company B was passing through Laneuville-sur-Meuse (Meuse). This caused the first casualties in the company, two killed and five injured.

On arriving at Foret de Jaulnay, Company B spent the rest of the night camouflaging the ponton bridge train. When daylight broke on 9th November 1918, the company was awaiting the final orders to construct the pontoon bridge across the Meuse River.

As they were working with material captured from the Germans, Cpt. McGeachin wanted to use the waiting time to skill up the soldiers and ordered drills covering everything from unloading the pontoons from the wagons, then building small sections of the bridge in open spaces in the forest, and finally reloading the material back onto the wagons again.

As German aeroplanes constantly were a threat, appearing each few minutes, lookouts were established and a camouflage detail was ready with branches in their hands. The lookout and camouflage detail were successful, but one German aviator was shooting wildly and randomly around and coincidentally hit three pontoon boats and wounded one man slightly – Marcus.
Although he was only slightly wounded, Marcus was ordered back for treatment at the nearest field hospital and he boarded an ambulance together with 10 other soldiers.

Ironically, the ambulance that would have taken him out of the battle zone and, with the Armistice just around the corner, also World War I, was just a few minutes later struck directly by German shells, killing Marcus and almost everyone else onboard. Only two of the soldiers in the ambulance survived.

As history tells, 9th November 1918 was the third last day of the First World War, as the Armistice came into force on 11th November 1918. However, the news that Marcus was missing, presumed killed, regrettably did not reach his family in Denmark until well into 1919.


The initial burial card indicates that his body at that point in time, i.e., right after the shelling of the ambulance, had not been found. It is assumed, but not confirmed, that Marcus' body was eventually found, identified and buried.

Marcus's coffin was at first buried at the cemetery in Laneuville-sur-Meuse (Meuse) in France. However, the cemetery at Laneuville-sur-Meuse (Meuse) was not going to be Marcus' final resting place.

On 11th March 1919, his coffin was moved to the Sedan American Cemetery at Letanne (Ardennes), being a part of the consolidation of the Allied cemeteries for those soldiers who had fallen during World War I.

But on request of his family in Denmark, Marcus' coffin was to be moved one more time.

An American regulation allowed that fallen soldiers could be buried in their homeland. Despite having become an American citizen in 1918, in the fall of 1921 Markus was taken back home to Hørby, Northern Jutland, Denmark in an iron coffin.

Hence, on 13th November 1921 Markus was buried again. This time from Hørby Church, and his coffin was laid to rest in the Hørby Cemetery next to his mother, Mathilde, who had died a few years earlier in 1913.

The priest of Hørby Parish, Anders Nielsen, conducted the funeral, mentioning in his speech that Markus, like so many others, had sacrificed his life in a foreign country, and thus had a hand in "the folding of the divide again" - an allusion to Southern Jutland's (Northern Schleswig) reunification with Denmark on 15th June, 1920.

The plebiscites and reunification of Southern Jutland, which had been lost to Prussia (Germany) as a part of Schleswig-Holstein during the 2nd Schleswig War, had been made possible by the Allied victory in World War I.

Although Markus' life was short, he pursued his dream of a better life in the US. This should be seen in comparison to the life, which the early 20th century would have offered him in a rural parish in Northern Denmark.

However, his dream of a better life in the US made Markus pay the ultimate price during the Meuse-Argonne offensive on 9th November 1918.

Markus' grave still exists at Hørby Cemetery right at the north-west corner of the church. For anyone wondering why it is there - this was his story.

Concluding on this "memorial" it should be noted that Markus', as wounded and killed in action by the enemy, whilst serving in the U.S. Army, may be entitled to a Purple Heart. However, it is not clear, whether a Purple Heart was ever applied for and awarded to him. Hence, an application has now been lodged with the U.S. Army, Awards and Decorations Branch, as there apparently are no statutory limits for awarding Purple Hearts. I guess this is the least we can do!

Post Scriptum: Both my wife and I have roots in Hørby Parish, Denmark and have for family reasons visited Hørby cemetery whenever possible, commemorating our ancestors. We had for a long time wondered, why and how a young man from Hørby Parish lost his life in the Great War just before the Armistice. Recently, we discovered that Markus was a relative of my wife, which gave the inspiration to investigate his short life.

The story of Markus Juul Hansen   US Army ASN 2856089 (US format)