Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series.
When George W. Hall, of Keokuk, was 4 years old, he fell down a flight of steps and hit his head on a car jack. From then on, he was called, “Jack.”
Jack was raised by his grandparents. Their sons, who were his uncles, were like brothers. Hall was not his last name, but since his grandparents' name was Hall, he took that name.
Jack had seven years of grammar school education. When he was 15 years old, he married a girl who was 13. She had her first child at the age of 14.
When Jack was 18, life was tough. Both his marriage and job were in trouble. Pearl Harbor had been bombed, the war was on. Jack and a buddy decided to enlist in the infantry. They hopped a freight train to Des Moines. Jack's buddy did make the infantry, but Jack was sent to tank school in Texas. He served for a year under General George Patton, and turned 19 in a tank in North Africa.
During the duration of the war, Jack was wounded four times and was a POW, escaping three times. His battle wounds were all field treated and undocumented, therefore no Purple Hearts were awarded. He was also field promoted to corporal, also undocumented. Therefore, he left the army with the same rank as he entered, a private.
After a year with “Blood-and-Guts” Patton, a Jeep rolled through with a sign reading, “Rangers Are Tuff, Can You Handle It?” Jack joined the Rangers. He wanted hand-to-hand combat rather than tank fighting. His commanding officer said, “You'll be back, Jack.” Jack retorted, “Sir, if I come back, I'll kiss your rear end in front of the whole platoon.” There was no way Jack was going to do that, so he never went back. Jack served under Colonel Darby of the famed “Darby's Rangers.”
Stories: While still with Patton, Jack and a buddy parked their tank outside a red-light house and were there for three days. The MP's had to dig them out. Jack was court martialed, not for being AWOL, but for leaving his tank.
While a POW, an old German soldier, who had been wounded and was no longer fit for combat, marched them out to chop wood in the winter. The old German propped himself against a tree and fell asleep. The Americans saw a deer. Jack took the sleeping soldier's rifle and shot the deer. The German soldier awoke with a start, thinking he'd been shot. They had meat that night.
The commandant of the prison camp left his horse tied up. Jack jumped on the horse and took off. The Germans were bad shots and Jack got away. He was on the run for three weeks, hiding in hay stacks during the day, and riding trains at night. One morning, when he jumped off the train into what he thought was a haystack, it turned out to be a camouflaged German officers' tent. The German officers beat him severely with a rifle butt, rupturing his ear drum, and returned him to the prison camp. He was whipped with a “cat of nine tails,” not for escaping (that was his job according to the commandant), but for missing work.
In Italy, he came down with malaria, and was shipped to a French hospital. After he recovered, he was going to be shipped to a different unit. He ran away from the hospital, caught a ship to Italy, to return to his Ranger unit.
He was captured again and was part of the famed “Death March Across Germany.” When he heard they were going to be marched back, he grabbed an ox yoke, clubbed a German guard, stole his rifle and escaped. When he finally caught up with American troops, he was mistaken for a German and nearly killed. He had lost 60 pounds, and was still in the same rags as when he was captured.
Jack was put on a ship for the states. Half way across the ocean, he heard cannons booming and thought they were in a sea battle. The war was over.
The second part of the story will be next week: “Jack Hall after the war.”
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com. Curt also reads his columns at www.lostlakeradio.com.