Harry Hall Interview
From: Harry Hall Jr.
Date: May 13, 2011
Place: Indiana Wesleyan University, office of Dr. Harry Hall
Collected by: Claire Hall
CH: I’m here with Harry Hall and it’s um May 13, 2011 and we’re at Indiana Wesleyan University and I’m interviewing him. His name is Dr. Harry Hall. So, um what branch of service were you in and what wars did you participate in?
HH: Um, I was in the US Army. Um I participated in the Vietnam War and I served uh in the Pentagon during the first Gulf War.
CH: What was your rank?
HH: Um I started out as an enlisted uh man and uh got a promotion to warrant officer and then to Commission Officer uh so I went from private to warrant officer to commission officer and I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
CH: So tell me about your flying career.
HH: Uh I went to flight school. I began flight school in December of 1963. I graduated September of 1964. Uh my first tour in Vietnam was from September to September 64 to 65. Um two years... for two years after that I was a flight instructor in Fort Rucker, Alabama and I taught students how to fly the helicopter um then I had several other assignments and went back to Vietnam on another flying assignment in 1970 and uh then I had several other flying assignments in the United States and uh finally I was a liaison officer to the German army flight school from 1987 to 1990 where I flew German army uh aircraft, and that was my last flying assignment.
CH: Okay. What were all of the places that you were stationed?
HH: Um I was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Fort Walters, Texas. That was my primary Fort Leonard Wood was my basic training. Uh Fort Walters, Texas was my primary flight school. Fort Rucker, Alabama was my uh advanced flight school. That’s where I was also a flight instructor and I also worked in staff there for another time. I was stationed in Fort Rucker actually three times. I went to fixed-wing transitioned course there as well. I was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, um I was stationed uh of course two times in Vietnam. I was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, uh Fort Bragg, North Carolina, uh Bremerhaven, Germany, and uh Buckeburg, Germany, and then uh in the Pentagon. Those were my assignments.
CH: Alright. So what was it like for you living in a foreign country, working there? HH: Uh the army takes extra good care of you so we always had good support from the army. Uh it was always interesting uh even in Vietnam, it was interesting being in a different country and because people live completely differently. We’re not used to that. Uh as you know from being in China, it’s different. Um and uh I learned a lot in those countries.
CH: Was it hard for you to learn to speak German?
HH: Uh oh that’s right, I forgot. I went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey and went through ten months of German language training. And yes, German language is awful. It is so difficult to learn. Uh the grammar is so complicated. Uh the vocabulary is awful. Uh everything is conjugated. Everything is based on male, female, and neuter uh and you are your intelligence in Germany is judged by the quality of your grammar and so Germans when they heard you make grammar mistakes uh thought less of you. They were very particular. But yes, it was difficult for me.
CH: So how was it for you to work with the German police? Was that different?
HH: Well, I worked with the German police in my first tour um because I was, and that was in Bremerhaven, because I was the provost marshal, which is kind of like the county sheriff in Germany and so I worked with the German police and the American police there and uh that was so interesting. It was really um… the Germans don’t have all the civil rights protections that the Americans do, so the German police tend to be a little more… uh free-handed in how they do things, and which was always interesting. Um I went out with them several times knocking down doors and… and uh uh making drug busts. So it was fun, and then uh working with the Germany army was also interesting because um they’re a very close-knit group and uh it was… it was nice to work with um very professional that were in the German army.
CH: So what was it like to live in divided Germany? How did that affect you and your job?
HH: Um it was very interesting because we were always planning what to do if the Soviet army uh and the Eastern Block invaded uh Western Europe. We had contingency plans that we practiced. First of all, we had to get all our dependents out of the country, so we had evacuation routes and where they would meet the airplanes and how they would go back and then of course we all had battle positions and things we were to do uh should the Soviet army invade. Um and of course the the the separation between the two countries was um … was very um … made for very intense situations. You couldn’t get anywhere near the border. Uh German… East German guards were known to shoot people who got too close to the border. Um going through the checkpoints, going into East Berlin was interesting. Uh as an American soldier in uniform, I could travel through East uh Germany to get to East Berlin and uh travel through Berlin, see all the sights. Uh so it was very interesting, to include the Berlin Wall, of course.
CH: Okay. Were you there when the wall came down?
HH: Yes, we were. Uh um my wife and I and our daughter, first daughter, Kirsten were there along with several friends and uh we helped them um break up the wall and we bough pieces of the wall from East German citizens who were out there chiseling it with hammers and chisels and selling it for a dollar a chunk and so we supported the uh rise of capitalism in East Germany by paying the East Germans for pieces of the wall and we still have lots of those pieces.
CH: Mhmm. So what effects did you see after that from the reunification of Germany?
HH: Uh first of all, there was a mass exodus of East Germans coming to West Germany to get away from the poverty and to try to find jobs and um there was just a mass migration. So we had a lot of East Germans coming into our town and we collected um money and supplies for them, to try to help them and uh so it was a very interesting time. It was a very difficult time in Germany. Um because the uh… The East Germans were so poor, so poor and so backwards in their technology. Um it was a very difficult time for them, and of course the East German army essentially joined with the West German army uh which made for interesting things, because former enemies now became part of the same army that they were in. So it was a very interesting time.
CH: What was your most memorable experience, do you think, while you were in Germany?
HH: Uh, the wall coming down, no doubt about it. It’s uh… and seeing the difference uh… our first tour in Germany was in 1981 uh and then the Germans would get arrested if their tv antenna even pointed toward the West uh and the the German police would go around and they would arrest people for listening to Western music and talking to Westerners uh we had people follow us regularly when we would be in East Berlin um and the second time we went back in 1987, 1988, 89, it was completely different. They played American music. They loved to talk to Americans. They were very proud, particularly when the wall came down and they overthrew the communist government. The East Germans were just so proud. They called it the the bloodless revolution. Uh there was no one killed. Um uh the East German government just gave up.
CH: How did you stay in touch with your family back in the United States when you were there?
HH: It wasn’t as easy as it is now because it… the only thing we had was telephone um and uh we would phone pretty regularly back to the states and write letters. We would also make videos and send back and forth uh which made for some great classic videos of family uh that we exchanged because we kept all of them uh from our family.
CH: So were there any memorable stories or anything about other places that you were stationed or anything?
HH: Well, uh I was going to going to take… I prepared for about two months to take a mobile training team to south Yemen. Uh I was going to train them how to uh use armored personnel carriers and tanks and the day before we were supposed to leave the Camp David Peace agreement, um… let’s see, who who did that? Was it Jimmy Carter? Uh I think it was… uh was signed and the Saudis, the Saudi Arabians who had been funding it cancelled the funding. So we we were starting to load the equipment on ships and we were getting ready to go over there and I had spent time learning about the Yemenese uh culture and uh the history of Yemen and uh and that was pretty interesting.
CH: What was your favorite place to live and work and why, out of all of the places you were?
HH: Oh, it had to be the uh the experience with uh as a liaison officer with the German army because we lived in the German community, we um… we were almost living like Germans um but yet we still had some good support from the US army, but it was the best time for us as a family. Of course you weren’t and you missed all that.
CH: Yeah, yeah. Um so what did you do in the Gulf War? What was your participation?
HH: Um during the Gulf War, I was working in the Pentagon and my job was to get uh ammunition and spare parts for our Arab allies. Um the um the countries who supplied many of the weapons and ammunition, particularly Sweden, Norway, uh Denmark, um would not sell directly to the Arabs. So our Arab allies, such as Kuwait, uh Saudi Arabia, um Egypt, uh they wouldn’t sell things to them because they were in a conflict. So my job was to go and buy ammunition and spare parts for our Arab allies and then have that shipped to them, and of course we paid… they paid us back with a five percent handling fee, but I didn’t get any of that. That all went uh back to the government.
CH: So how was this war different for you from the Vietnam War?
HH: Because in the Vietnam War, I was on the front lines all the time, uh literally uh for two tours, and in the Gulf War, I was in the Pentagon uh walking around the hallways and not suffering a bit, not getting dirty, sweaty, or uh having to endure…endure people shooting at me or having to shoot at people. Uh I just did administrative stuff.
CH: Okay. How was that like for you, the Pentagon?
HH: It was a great way to finish a career in the military. Uh to start out as a private and then end up working in the Pentagon in the Secretary of Defense’s office. So it was a… it was a good… it was a good final assignment, and of course I retired from Arlington, so Arlington, Virginia. Um great ceremony there and it was a good place to retire from.
CH: Can you tell me some about the medals that you’ve earned?
HH: Um uh the highest medal I earned was when I left the Pentagon and that was called the Legion of Merit. Uh that’s the highest peace time award that you can get. Uh although the medal I’m probably the most proud of is the Distinguished Flying Cross. I got that for my service uh in Vietnam uh on some missions into Laos. We weren’t supposed to be in Laos, but uh I was uh given the mission to fly into Laos. It was classified, but um I did and uh everything went well, uh no one was hurt uh and… but I got the Distinguished Flying Cross for the flying I did get in and out of Laos.
CH: We’re done. Well, thank you.
HH: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you.