Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series.
Arriving back in the states after the war, Jack was held for a month to get him back to health, and debrief him. He was told, “You just forget the war, Jack, and become a good citizen.”
Yeah, right. He was plagued with dreams, and would wake up in the middle of the night screaming. One of the dreams was of the time he and a buddy had crawled off into a cave to sleep. There were other soldiers in the cave sleeping, and Jack and his buddy pushed them over to make room. When they awoke in the morning, they discovered that the other men in the cave were dead Germans soldiers placed there for hiding.
Jack turned to alcohol to help him sleep.
When he got back to Keokuk there was a big parade, and Jack was marched down Main Street in his uniform carrying a tommy gun. The mayor gave him the key to the city. He was a war hero.
Jack had several good jobs. He was a heck of a carpenter, and was a foreman at Freuhauf Manufacturing. Everybody liked Jack, including women. He was married eight times, twice to the same woman.
But he couldn’t stay sober. Or out of trouble. While drunk, he stole a feed truck to get money for booze. He was caught and sentenced to the prison farm at Ft. Madison. A train ran right through the prison farm. Jack hopped the freight and escaped. He was in Arkansas for a year, and would hop another freight train to St. Louis to mail letters to his first wife — that way the authorities wouldn’t know where he was hiding.
When he heard that his first wife was dying, he came back. He was walking down Main Street in Keokuk, drunk, when he was arrested. He was sent back to the prison farm and had a year tacked onto his sentence. The warden asked him why he had come back. Jack said he ran out of money. The warden said, “Heck, Jack. I would have sent you money. You had it in the bank.”
If anyone did anything against Jack, his first reaction, because of his war experience, was to kill. He knew this was wrong. But when a drug dealer was selling drugs to his son, Jack killed the person. Jack wasn’t caught for seven years. When he was caught, he was sent back to the Ft. Madison prison, this time for life. He was 61 years old, and prisoner # 801309.
Ironically, prison may have saved his life. He couldn’t get his hands on alcohol. But he was a heavy smoker, and still plagued with dreams. He told a prison minister that he wanted the peace that his sons had, but didn’t know how to pray. The minister asked if he had ever called out to God while in a foxhole. Jack said, “Oh, yeah.” “Well,” the minister told him. “You know how to pray. Just talk to Him.” Jack finally found the peace he was looking for.
Jack was a strict segregationist. In another piece of irony, it was the black prisoners who took care of Jack while in the prison’s hospice program. They grew quite close, and would have done anything within their power for Jack. He was a war hero. An award wining HBO documentary by Edgar Barens was made, “Prison Terminal, the Last Days of Private Jack Hall, Living With Their Sins, Dying With Their Dignity.” Jack had seven stints in his chest, and suffered from chronic emphysema.
On Sept. 9, 2006, a son and grandson were with Jack. The grandson was a minister, and prayed, “God, we thank you for the journey my grandfather has been through. We ask you to be with him on the journey that he is about to take.” Jack Hall passed away. He was 83. The Ranger made his final escape.
Have a good story? Call of text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at email@example.com, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frmes.com.