Updated: 12/01/2009 09:20 pm
TAMPA – Staff Sgt. Delbert E. Hahn survived the invasion of Normandy. He was a two-time Purple Heart recipient, including one for his actions in the days immediately following D-Day.
But when it came to a final resting place, the war hero wasn’t treated with honor or respect.
Hahn’s cremated remains – along with those of his wife and a third person – were found in a pile of trash dumped behind a vacant college on Busch Boulevard.
“I kind of decided that he shouldn’t be out there in the trash,” said Mike Colt, 19, who found the three urns. “Really nobody should. For somebody to do that to a World War II vet is kind of ridiculous.”
Hahn was a five-time Bronze Star recipient, including one for valor in the Normandy invasion, police say.
It wasn’t immediately clear when he died, although Colt said he believes paperwork found along with the urns indicated Hahn retired in the 1960s and died in the early 1980s.
A newspaper clip found in the trash says Hahn received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for “exemplary conduct in ground combat” while serving in the 26th Infantry Regiment in Europe in 1944, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said.
A military spokeswoman said it would take at least a week to find any service records for Delbert Hahn.
On Saturday, Colt and his girlfriend, Carol Sturgell, were looking through dumped items when they found details on Hahn’s military retirement and medals inside a green folder bearing a military stamp.
When it got dark, they left with the folder and tried researching Hahn on the Internet – with no success. Colt and his girlfriend returned the next day.
“We moved this couch, and out from this couch fell this paint-can looking container, and it said, ‘temporary container,’” Colt said. “There was a note to the bottom, and it had a death certificate. It said Barbara K. Hahn on it.”
They then found a big bronze container that held Delbert Hahn’s remains.
“I don’t know why anybody would throw this out,” Colt said. “It’s kind of mind-blowing that anybody would treat anybody like that.”
Hahn’s wife, Barbara, died Aug. 1, 2003. She was cremated Aug. 12, 2003, at Southeastern Crematories in Clearwater. A Southeastern funeral director said Tuesday that Barbara Hahn’s paperwork wasn’t immediately available.
The urns and paperwork were found behind Remington College, 2410 E. Busch Blvd., an area sometimes used for illegal dumping. Bills found there show the Hahns had lived in Zephyrhills.
Nicki Sheran and her husband, Alan, of Tampa, befriended Barbara Hahn for 25 years. They regularly played canasta, had dinner, shared stories and admired Barbara Hahn’s oil paintings. They affectionately called her Betty, Nicki Sheran said.
When Barbara Hahn died, she willed the Sherans her mobile home in Zephyrhills. Property records on file with the Pasco County Property Appraiser’s office show the Sherans took ownership of the property for $10 from the Barbara Hahn Revocable Trust in 2004.
The Sherans lived there until 2008. They had mortgaged the property, but the economy got tight and they couldn’t make the payments and the house was foreclosed on, Nicki Sheran said.
She said they got some items out of the home but weren’t able to get all of it before they lost ownership of the mobile home. They left behind dishes and beds that belonged to them and the urns, an American flag, photos and oil paintings that belonged to the Hahns, Nicki Sheran said.
She said the third urn contains the remains of Barbara Hahn’s mother, Barbara Stahlhofen.
“I would rather have it returned to us rather than just have it trashed out there in the middle of a field,” Nicki Sheran said.
Police say a Department of Veterans Affairs liaison determined the Hahns had no next of kin. VA officials said they were arranging with a Tampa funeral home to have the remains transported to Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.
Reporter Josh Poltilove can be reached at (813) 259-7691.