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His Feet Were Too Big for the Marines (1944)

(This story was originally written and recorded for Retrocast #21, released on October 23, 2023.)

Beginning on March 3, 1944, newspapers across the United States began to follow the unique story of Marine Pfc. Lawrence Irving Hanson, a 19-year-old hailing from the small town of Rigby, Idaho. What set this Marine apart was his astonishing shoe size—15-EE. This was significantly larger than the largest size stocked by the Marines, which topped out at 12 1/2-F. Given this unusual circumstance, he was given a choice most did not have: he could opt to remain stateside, far from the frontlines of the ongoing war.

Undeterred by the challenge of his outsized feet, Hanson chose an unconventional path. He purchased three pairs of 15-EE shoes at his own expense and boldly set off for overseas duty. His determination was admirable, but as he would soon discover, these extra-large shoes would prove to be both a blessing and a burden.

Hanson was no ordinary Marine. Standing at an impressive 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) tall, he was a standout athlete during his high school days in Rigby, excelling in football, weights, and track, and he still held the district shot put record.

His determination to serve his country was unwavering. In places like Guadalcanal and the Gilbert Islands, he wore those 15-EE shoes proudly, even when the situation became so dire that he resorted to going barefoot on Tarawa to save his last pair for emergencies.

By the time April 8, 1944, rolled around, the story of shoeless Hanson appeared to take a turn for the better. News arrived that the elusive size 15EE shoes that he needed had been located. A Pocatello, Idaho shoe company stepped forward, ordering a custom-made pair of shoes tailored to Hanson’s extraordinary size, and turning them over to the local marine recruiting office for shipment.

This was welcome news, but the next obstacle was a perplexing one—how to transport these shoes to Hanson in the distant South Pacific. A complex postal challenge had arisen: the post office declined the shipment of the oversized shoes, citing their considerable weight as a barrier to overseas delivery.

This decision left citizens disheartened, and several of them took it upon themselves to voice their displeasure through sharply worded letters.

For example, Frank Roemmelt, of Detroit, Michigan, wrote, “For … sake, cut the red tape and see that he gets the shoes as quickly as possible.  This item makes my blood boil.”

1942 Rigby High School yearbook photograph of Lawrence I. Hanson.
1942 Rigby High School yearbook photograph of Lawrence I. Hanson.

But sometimes one must think outside of the box—in this case, a shoebox—to come up with a unique solution.  It was Miss Mary V. Markiel from Beachwood, NY, who suggested, “Did you ever think of sending each shoe in a separate parcel? Hoping my idea works so Marine Pfc. Lawrence I. Hanson gets those shoesies so he can kick a Japie or two for me.”

On April 20, 1944, a breakthrough occurred when the post office reconsidered its earlier decision and accepted the shoes as “military equipment.” This marked a turning point, and it paved the way for these crucial shoes to reach Marine Pfc. Lawrence I. Hanson in the South Pacific.

It fell upon Sgt. Wallace Hanson, a Marine recruiter, to manage the logistics of getting the shoes from Idaho to Hanson. He acknowledged that it was “no small task,” but his dedication was unwavering, declaring, “But I’d do as much for any fellow Marine.”

Did he ever get the shoes? That answer is unknown, since the press dropped the story shortly after the post office agreed to ship them.

After the war, Hanson returned home, he married Lois Burke on May 11, 1945, but soon divorced on January 4, 1946.  He then married Bonnie Jean Larson on November 26, 1947.  The couple had five children and remained married until his death on April 17, 2003.  Hanson was 79 years old.  

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