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Sunday, July 14, 2024 - 05:18 PM


First Published in 1994


Hall Remembers his Service during an Unforgettable Time


In remembrance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that happened 72 years ago on December 7, I sat down with a WWII vet to get his take on this fateful event.

On the day of the attack, Frank Hall and his friend hitchhiked into town to watch The Last of the Mohicans at the theater. While they were watching the movie a typed messaged was projected on the screen that read, the Japs just bombed Pearl Harbor. Hall remembers that gasps were heard within the darkness and a bunch of people got up and rushed out. At that moment in time Hall didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was located and thought it was a town in China since they had been warring with the Japanese for quite some time. It wasn’t until he phoned his mother that he found out that the attack was on American soil. In shock, he returned home to be with his family and listen to the message from the president urging for Congress to return. Hall was 15 years old at the time.

Since he was five years old Hall had dreamed of  becoming a fighter pilot, but he was never sure if it was going to be in the Navy or the Army. At a young age Hall started the hobby of building model planes and his love for aircraft only grew as time passed on. He studied books on aviation and read every aviation book that his local library had. Hall was interested in designing, building, maintaining and flying aircraft.

A couple of years after the attack on Pearl Harbor Hall volunteered for military service during his Christmas holiday break from Berea College. His first stop was at the Navy office because his brother was in the Navy. Going in to the recruiting office there was one question that was very important and it was one that he had to ask.

“If I sign on the dotted line today how soon will I be flying in combat?”

Hall wanted to get even for the attacks and he wanted to make sure that there was enough time for him to join the fight. The Navy told him it would take 27 months before he would be flying and by his calculation the war would be over by then.

Next, Hall went to the Army recruiter and asked him the same question. He was told that if he did everything that he was told and did it all well, in 11 months he would get his gold bars and his wings of silver. The Army let him know that it would be 13 months and he would be flying in combat. Without a second thought Hall asked where he had to sign.

Hall joined the aviation cadets and like all good plans his did not turn out the way it was promised. Soon after enlisting, Hall developed a love/hate relationship with the P-51. The P-51 was the aircraft that he wanted to fly. The obstacle that developed was in the efficiency of the aircraft. P-51s became operational with the 8th Air Force in England the same month that Hall joined. At a time when the Army was losing aircraft and men in high amounts the P-51 reduced the losses to a minimum. The Army realized soon that they had over-recruited.

Hall’s entire cadet class was sent to a B-17 tech school. After becoming a B-17 mechanic, Hall was then selected with five others to become an aerial engineer on B-17s. That is what he did for the rest of WWII.

It was during his 450 hours of flight time that Hall’s attention to detail ending up saving the lives of many more airmen. While stationed in Hobbs, New Mexico, for eight months, Hall was a part of the program that helped train pilots by simulating a bomb mission on Berlin. These simulated bomb missions that were a requirement for B-17 pilots would fly from Hobbs to St. Louis to simulate flying out over the North Sea. After St. Louis the flight would turn and fly to Memphis to simulate the turn to Berlin. After Memphis they would turn and come home.

As one of these training flights was passing over Arkansas it disappeared without a trace of the people or plane. It was concluded that the plane had blown up. After the disappearance everyone was instructed to keep their eyes and ears open for anything that would cause a B-17 to blow up.

Five months later Hall was on a B-17 that didn’t have reliable landing gear blocks. During flight if the landing gear wasn’t secured it would creep down creating draft that would knock the aircraft off course. Hall made it a routine to always go back in the bomb bay and check the landing gear fitting. By cranking on the fitting you would be able to tell if the landing gear was secure. If you tried to turn the crank and it wouldn’t turn then you knew it was secure. If the fitting did turn then it would have to be turned until it was locked.

After getting off the ground and the gear was retracted, Hall did like he always did and went to check to see if the gear was locked. While he was checking the gear he could smell fuel. Since there wasn’t supposed to be fuel in the bomb bay, Hall became curious. He started looking around to see where it was coming from and found a trickle of fuel no bigger than his little finger coming down from the right wing and into the bomb bay before running down through the cracks of the bomb release hatch. Adjacent to the bomb bay was the radio room that had a 480 volt motor on the floor. The motor would throw off sparks constantly. Hall shut the hatch between the bomb bay and the radio room before going forward and telling his pilot what we had discovered.

The plane was turned around and landed. After landing Hall and the crew tore into the plane until they found the source of the leak. It was discovered that the fuel pump on the number three engine had been sabotaged. All B-17s were grounded upon discovery of the sabotage that affected 15-20% of all fuel pumps and the investigation became secret. It was found that a female Nazi sympathizer in New Jersey, where they made the pumps, was creating a stress riser in the pump shaft. After hours of operation the stress would fracture and punch a hole in the case and allow fuel to come out and down the wing.

If Hall had not discovered the leak his plane would have blown up just as the other aircraft did over Arkansas.

Hall’s attention to detail most likely saved many lives during the war when pilot training accidents saw six times more losses of airplanes and people than losses from enemy gun fire. Training pilots wasn’t safe and it wasn’t easy. It was just as dangerous as war but in a different way.

“It’s a different thing to have people shooting at you,” said Hall.a