March 4 – Happy Birthday William Hassenfuss, Jr.

hassenfuss
Hass’s AHS Yearbook photo from 1939.

I was the Sales Service Manager at the Noteworthy Company for three years back in the late 1970s. My office was in the company’s 100 Church Street location now inhabited by the Walter Elwood Museum. Back then, the company still maintained its commercial printing operation in the basement level of that building, which originally served as the headquarters of the Sanford family’s rug empire.

On my first day on the job, Noteworthy’s owner, Tom Constantino walked me through the entire multi-building plant and introduced me to each of the 100 or so employees working there at the time. When we got to the bindery area of his commercial printing operation, Tom introduced me to the jack-of-all-trades then running that department, Bob Hassenfuss. I remember what Tom said to this day. “Mike, this is Bob Hassenfuss. His brother was the first soldier from Amsterdam killed in World War II.”

Unfortunately for me, Bob was about to retire when I first took that job so I never got the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss the specific circumstances of the death of his brother Bill Hassenfuss. But during the short time we worked together, it became apparent to me that Bob was a mechanical genius. He could take apart and put back together any machine in his department and you could tell he was the kind of guy who absolutely loved finding out why something mechanical wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do.

According to a well-written article that appeared in the Recorder newspaper on December 6, 2014, that’s exactly what today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was doing when a bomb dropped from a Japanese plane on that fateful December 7th morning in 1941, hit Hangar 15 at Hickam Field in Honolulu. The article was written by Amsterdam City Historian, Robert Von Hasseln.

William E. Hassenfuss was born on March 4, 1921 and grew up in a family of nine children on Amsterdam’s Northampton Rd. His nickname was “Hass.” He was a 1939 graduate of Wilbur Lynch High School. It was as a kid that he developed a love of fixing and building things, beginning with radios. When he reached his teens his passion turned to airplanes and while still in high school, he completed flight lessons at the old Perth airport and learned how to fly. After he turned 18 he took that passion to the next level by enlisting in the US Army Air Corps and after basic training, he was assigned to the 22nd Material Squadron, 17th Air Base Group, Bomber Command, Hawaiian Air Force at Hickam Field in Honolulu.

Despite having a dream job in a beautiful location, by his second year stationed in Honolulu, Hassenfuss sensed trouble with Japan was on the horizon. In a letter home to his parents in early December of ’41, Hassenfuss wrote that more and more personnel were being assigned to the air base and discipline was being tightened up. Still, the young mechanic was hoping to be back home in Amsterdam on furlough in time for Christmas. That didn’t happen…

I’ve already started work on the second volume of “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays” and this young hero’s complete story will be featured in it. I will be sharing the complete posts of some of the Volume II birthday celebrants in future issues of the Amsterdam Birthday Blog Newsletter. If you are not yet a newsletter subscriber, you can sign up for free here.

This war hero shares his March 4th birthday with this well-known founder of a popular Amsterdam insurance agency.

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