Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Captain Harley H. Hall - MIA

The US Involvement in the Vietnam War ended over 40 years ago and you would think that some issues would have been settled in that time but there is still the issue of some of the people that were declared as Missing In Action.  One of those people was Commander Harley H. Hall.
Out of all the people that are still listed as Missing In Action in Vietnam, how did I become acquainted with this name?  Well, it all started a few years ago when I was visiting Washington D.C. to see the Star Wars exhibit at the Air and Space Museum.  I only spent a day to see that exhibit, but I spent a couple of days in Washington.  On one of those days, I decided to take a walk around the Mall and that of course led me to the Vietnam Memorial.
After viewing the memorial and being more awed than the first time I saw it, I noticed that there were a few tents of people selling MIA bracelets.  I'd heard of MIA bracelets but I never saw one but I figured that if the money was going towards locating these people I would get a bracelet.  I looked through the stack of bracelets and picked one of the Navy guys.  I figured that he would have been an aviator and anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that I like Naval Aviators.
There was a little piece of paper that came with the bracelet and it explained the circumstances of the person's capture but little about the person.  One day I decided to do a little poking around the internet to found out more about the person behind the name on the bracelet.
Well it turns out that the person on my bracelet was named Harley H. Hall.   He was a Naval Aviator of the highest regard.  He was born in Broken Bow, Nebraska but attended in Vancouver, Washington.  At the age of 32, he became the youngest man to hold the rank of Commander.  He served as the Commander of the Blue Angels for two tours and was an astronaut candidate.  Chances are very good that he would have gone pretty far had he not been shot down and captured.

His last position in the Navy was as the Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron 143 (The Pukin' Dogs, so called because their logo looked like a puking dog).  On January 27, 1973, he took off in his F-4J from the deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) with his Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Commander Philip R. Kientzler to attack North Vietnamese supply vehicles.  His aircraft came under intense anti-aircraft fire and he tried to escape to the safety of the sea but his aircraft caught fire on the left wing and fuselage.

He and his RIO ejected and were seen to land.  Commander Hall was seen to move away from his landing sight but no radio contact was established.  It was considered that he and his RIO were captured.  Lt. Commander Kientzler was returned later in the year during Operation Homecoming.  Kientzler told his guards that his pilot was killed and no other POWs established contact with Commander Hall.  However, the Pentagon maintained him in POW status for six years.  Interestingly enough, the peace accords between North Vietnam and the United States would go into effect about six hours after Hall was shot down.  As such, he was considered the last Navy casualty of the War and he was also considered as the last American POW of the war.  He would later be promoted to Captain while his status as a POW was maintained.

Normally this would be where the story would end but there are some pretty abnormal circumstances surrounding the capture of Commander Hall.  In 1988, a Joint American and Vietnamese team was trying to repatriate the remains of people that were considered as missing in action.  They visited the site where it was believed that Captain Hall was buried but they could not locate the missing remains.  It was unusual for their to be no records of the burial because the North Vietnamese kept fairly meticulous records of known American gravesites and it's likely that this was known site if he were buried there.

There are records from Naval Intelligence and other sources that Captain Hall may have been captured alive.  There are also reports from villagers that tell of a big Blue Angel that was paraded around.  There are some that believe he was taken to the Soviet Union.

In 1993, three of his teeth and some bones were returned by the Vietnamese Government to Captain Hall's wife.  The teeth were verified as his but they also showed the effects of long mistreatment and malnourishment and that indicates that he was in captivity at some point.  The bones were never really verified.  There are also some records that indicate he was moved through different POW camps and may have been interrogated by the Soviets but like the other things surrounding his death or capture there are contradictions.

It is now over 40 years after he was shot down (that was the last verifiable action that happened to him).  I would hate to think what his physical and mental state would be after that length of time in captivity but I honestly have to believe that he is dead by now.  In that time, we've had Vietnam move towards more of a market economy and the Soviet Union has collapsed.  You would think both would come clean about his status so that his final chapter can be concluded. 

You would think the US government would demand some sort of accountibility but given the other bits of shameful US actions surrounding the Vietnam War, that seems highly unlikely.  I guess all that we can do is make sure that people remember the man and hope that things come to light in the future.

It was pure chance that I would find the bracelet of this man but I'm glad that I did.  For the most part, I thought the MIA issue was settled but I have to believe that Captain Hall is not the only MIA who is cloaked in mystery.

1 comment:

Jeannetta said...

I wore Commander Hall's POW/MIA bracelet for a long time. He went to HS with my mother. I can't see the black POW flag without wondering, and a pang goes through my heart. Thanks for your post.