Howard L. Hannum, 86, of Upper Gwynedd, a professor of English literature at La Salle University for 40 years who wrote a compelling memoir about his combat experiences in World War II, died of cancer Friday, Dec. 2, at home.
Dr. Hannum grew up in Germantown and graduated from La Salle College High School. In the summer of 1943, he was sports editor at the Germantown Courier before enlisting in the Army.
On Dec. 8, 1944, he landed at Marseilles, and by Dec. 14, he was fighting with an antitank unit in the Ardennes in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.
In the unpublished memoir he completed in 2005, he wrote, "The ground froze to the depth of a foot overnight, two feet within a matter of days. Picks thrown at the ground bounced back at us . . . bitter cold was to be our worst enemy in the weeks and months ahead."
Dr. Hannum would suffer the effects of frostbite on his fingers and toes for the rest of his life.
In January, the GIs told one another, he said, to "leave a leg out when the next shell came in (the left leg, of course) to get a 'million-dollar wound,' which would get a soldier out of the war, but not hurt him in later life. But we never followed through."
Late in his academic career, Dr. Hannum became an expert on Ernest Hemingway. In his memoir, he copied the straightforward prose and sparse dialogue of Hemingway, who saw bloodshed as an ambulance driver in World War I and as a reporter during the Spanish Civil War.
Pvt. Hannum's experiences seemed more harrowing than Hemingway's fictional accounts.
In March 1945, just nine men were left after Pvt. Hannum's squad crossed the Siegfried Line into Germany under "crushing murderous fire."
Pvt. Hannum wrote that the "climax" of his military experience came April 29 at Landsberg concentration camp. "We arrived to find adult male prisoners who weighed only 60 or 70 pounds whose eyeballs protruded from their skulls." Before retreating, the SS had locked some prisoners in sheds, which they set on fire, and had hanged residents of the town who displayed white flags of surrender. Pvt. Hannum and the GIs found "German civilians hanging from trees and lampposts."
Not all of the memoir is grim. At one brewery, the GIs stove into large casks of whiskey and liqueurs in the basement. "A canteen cupful of the liquid was enough to dazzle the brains of the strongest of us, and the whole platoon was soon too drunk, too far gone, to get back up the staircase."
After his discharge, he earned a bachelor's degree on the GI Bill from La Salle and a master's degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania. While in school, he was again sports editor at the Germantown Courier.
In September 1949, he began teaching at La Salle. For two years, he interrupted his teaching to work as a writer at Smith Kline & French, now GlaxoSmithKline, in Philadelphia, where he met his future wife, Jane Fritz, a secretary there.
Dr. Hannum taught at Villanova University from 1958 to 1962, when he returned to La Salle. While teaching, he earned a doctorate in 19th-century English literature from Penn in 1964.
"Howard was a very witty and insightful lecturer," said John Seydow, a former student of Dr. Hannum's who is now a professor of English at La Salle. He never spoke about his war experiences in the classroom, Seydow said.
After retiring in 1995, Dr. Hannum wrote several scholarly articles about Hemingway. An essay he wrote is included in the anthology New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.
Dr. Hannum read books about World War II and did research to prepare his memoir, his son David said. He shared copies of the unpublished memoir with his family and with La Salle colleagues.
Before writing the memoir, he rarely spoke about the war, his son said, but said he was very happy his sons never had to fight.
Dr. Hannum and his wife enjoyed travel to the British Isles and in the United States and Canada and summer vacations in Avalon, N.J., with family.
He was an avid fan of the Phillies and Big Five basketball, especially La Salle.
Besides his wife of 54 years and son, Dr. Hannum is survived by sons James and Howard Jr. daughters Anne Pierson and Ellen; and four grandchildren. A daughter, Joan, died in 2000.
Services were private.
Donations may be made to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, Va. 23510.