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Interview on experiences in World War II

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Ellis County Historical Society


Ellis County Historical Society

Veterans of WWII Oral History Project


Interview with Robert Hall*

June 5, 2006


Conducted by Janet Johannes**

*Hereafter referred to HALL

**Hereafter referred to as JOHANNES

JOHANNES: I'm Janet Johannes. Today is June the 5th, 2006. We're at the Ellis County Historical Society, Hays, Kansas, and with me is Robert Hall, who's going to do a World War Two oral history interview. Mr. Hall would you give us your name, and address and your age please?

HALL: Yeah, Robert Hall, I'm eighty years old. What else do you need?

JOHANNES: What's your address?

HALL: 2111 North Main, Hays, Kansas.

JOHANNES: And where were you born?

HALL: Hays, Kansas.

JOHANNES: Were you born you born at home or in one of the hospitals?

HALL: In the Hadley Hospital.

JOHANNES: And who were your parents?

HALL: Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Hall.

JOHANNES: Okay, are you married?

HALL: Yeah.

JOHANNES: And what's your wife's name?

HALL: /Leonella/ Hall.

JOHANNES: And do you have children?

HALL: Two.

JOHANNES: And what are your children's names?

HALL: Uh, one of `em, George Hall, and one of `em is Denise Hall, and one's Bob Hall, I've got three.

JOHANNES: And where did you go to school?

HALL: Lost Canyon Grade School, Ellis, grade school, Hays High and then I went into the Navy.

JOHANNES: And you went into the Navy, what, what the highest rank you achieved in the Navy?

HALL: Baker, third class petty officer.

JOHANNES: And where did you serve?

HALL: In the Pacific.

JOHANNES: Were you drafted or did you enlist?

HALL: I enlisted.

JOHANNES: Okay, so you have an enlistment number instead of a draftee number for your dog tags?

HALL: Don't remember.

JOHANNES: Don't remember. Why did you pick the Navy?

HALL: Well, I'd seen a lot of pictures of the Army and I though maybe it'd be a lot nicer to get on a ship. It'd be kinda, food's better, living quarters are better, and if I get my feet wet, then I don't have to worry about the rest of it.

JOHANNES: You don't swim?

HALL: Oh yeah.

JOHANNES: Oh you swim. Okay. Where did you take your basic training?

HALL: Farragut, Idaho. Camp /Walden/.

JOHANNES: Okay do you remember anything in particular about basic training?

HALL: Scared to death.

JOHANNES: What was it like for somebody who was raised in Kansas to step on a ship the first time?

HALL: Something new, real new. You kinda look at a big ship. Ours was a small flat top and you pull up beside a big flat top and you kinda wondered if the little one ought to grow a little bit.

JOHANNES: What ship were you on?

HALL: Was on the USS /Montesebi/ U104 during World War Two. And after the war, why, I was occupation of Japan.

JOHANNES: Did you and your ship see combat?

HALL: We was right on the edge of everything. We was a supply ship for the big boys. We had aircraft on our ship and when they'd lose two or three of them we'd send a pilot and a aircraft over. They wanted to look, they wanted us real bad, the gooks.

JOHANNES: So were you targeted then?

HALL: We, we, saw the enemy airplanes once in a while.

JOHANNES: What about submarines?

HALL: Oh yeah we saw one followed us all the way from New Hebrides, Australia, all the way up to, almost to Guam. It was a submarine that had already shot its torpedoes, didn't have anything to shoot at us but it wanted to keep track of us and after we found out what it was all about. It was a submarine that carried two airplanes, which a lot of people didn't believe.

JOHANNES: I didn't know that.

HALL: I've got pictures, I've got pictures of them.

JOHANNES: We'll scan those, no I'm also one of those, I didn't know that submarines carried airplanes.

HALL: This submarine carried three.

JOHANNES: Must have been very big submarines?

HALL: Pretty good size. `Course the airplanes weren't that big either, the float type.

JOHANNES: Did you encounter fire?

HALL: Huh?

JOHANNES: Did your ship, was it under fire?

HALL: No, they just wanted, they knew better than to get too close to us because we had fighter planes. And we keep track of them, they keep track of us, `bout what it amounted to. Kinda hair-raising once in a while.

JOHANNES: Okay, what were some of the most memorable experiences you had?

HALL: Well one time a mine floated right beside the ship. I happened to see it. It was about four feet or five feet away from the ship, on the starboard side. If it had hit it, why, I wouldn't be here.

JOHANNES: And so did the Captain just avoid it or…

HALL: It was just, one of those things that just floated right beside the ship and he, the tin can that was following us exploded it with rifle fire. We were lucky.

JOHANNES: And what was your assignment or job on the ship?

HALL: I started out as a gunner on the forty millimeter and I's also a gunner on the twenty millimeter and then I was a transferred to /Airdales/ which is B-1, B-2, handled aircraft. We took care of the airplanes, put them from, if we wanted to re-spot them, we re-spotted them to the catapult whatever the case might be. We stared them up, I think it was every other morning we started some of them up, get the oil out of the cylinders. I remember the first time, I, I started up the left and right mag and I couldn't tell which was left or which was right. It backfired.

JOHANNES: That must have scared you.

HALL: A little bit.

JOHANNES: How was your ship re-supplied? You said you sent aircraft to the bigger ships as they lost them out. How were you re-supplied?

HALL: How were we? We, we'd pull into places like Pearl, some of the places we'd already taken over, say Guam and little places, the Admiralty Islands and places like that. Or we'd go down into Australia and pick up a bunch of airplanes or we'd go to Pearl and pick them up. That's the way we'd do that.

JOHANNES: Okay you said one of the reasons you joined the Navy was you thought it would be better accommodations than the Army, being a foot soldier. What kind of accommodations did you have?

HALL: Was always dry. It was real nice. We had bunks, we had a show every night or every other night, we had pretty good meals.

JOHANNES: What kind of food did you have?

HALL: Oh, eggs, lotta eggs, powdered eggs, then at a later date, why I ended up being a baker, a third class baker. Couldn't boil water but I was a baker.

JOHANNES: So how was your bread?

HALL: Well I've been know, I've been known to make a thousand loaves of bread without any salt in it. <laughs>

JOHANNES: Were they hard?

HALL: No they ate it. Had a lot of weevils in it but that was fresh meat.

JOHANNES: It's hard to keep the flour and stuff fresh on ship?

HALL: Yeah.

JOHANNES: How did you stay in touch with your family when you were out on the ship?

HALL: Well that was kinda hard, we'd be out maybe six months at a time, refuel or re-supply by one of the other supply ships. If we had a lot of aircraft and they didn't lose so many why we stayed out with the fleet, oh, maybe six months at a time because that's the allowed.

JOHANNES: I forgot to ask you how old you were when you joined the Navy?

HALL: `Bout, oh boy, you would have asked that.

JOHANNES: I didn't mean it to be a trick question.

HALL: I was still going to high school, that would make it about seventeen, sixteen.

JOHANNES: So you were seventeen when you went in.

HALL: Yeah.

JOHANNES: Were you supposed to be eighteen?

HALL: No, we Dad signed the release. The reason for that was Dad was on the County Commissioners and also on the draft board. And we figured since he was on the draft board and if I got off, everybody would think that he got me off so I joined the Navy. It worked pretty good that way.

JOHANNES: So you were single so you were trying to keep in contact with your parents?

HALL: Oh yeah. Usually by letters and they would go through the letters, make sure we didn't send anything, where we were going or where we'd been. Dad said once in a while he'd get a letter, about four or five letters, but he could only see about half of it.

JOHANNES: Did you know, did they mark it out?

HALL: Got some black ink, marked it out.

JOHANNES: Did you get any awards or citations in the service?

HALL: Oh I got a bunch of medals, like Asiatic Pacific, Bronze Star, Battle Star and Victory medals, and, oh, I can't remember all of them, quite a few.

JOHANNES: What kind of pressure or stress did you feel being away from home, seventeen?

HALL: I didn't notice it very much, I was kind of a loner anyway. I made friends with Bill and we kinda stuck together, we were in the same division, so we made out pretty well.

JOHANNES: How many men were there on your ship?

HALL: About anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand. We was a small carrier.

JOHANNES: How many were on a large one, do you know?

HALL: On the big ones? Anywhere from three thou, I supposed close to five thousand on a big carrier. Small town.

JOHANNES: And you said you had a movie almost every night?

HALL: Yeah we had some every night, or maybe every third night, depending on what the whether was and what our condition was and how close we were to the enemy. That made a difference.

JOHANNES: You didn't worry, you knew the one sub was following you so you didn't worry about them hearing you? Or did you?

HALL: Well when he was following us we kinda stayed on alert. Half of us would see a show and the other half would be on watch.

JOHANNES: What other kinds of things did you do for entertainment?

HALL: Oh we played basketball, did a lot of wrestling and learn how to, oh, like your karate and stuff like that, that's all we had to do sometimes.

JOHANNES: When you went to port to re-supply, were you given shore leave?

HALL: Yeah, we had, we didn't have shore leave, we had overnight stays and stuff like that. Of course when we'd come into the States then we'd get thirty day leaves if we had enough time.

JOHANNES: Did you have enough time while you were in the service to come home?

HALL: No, I think I had about four, well four years, five years.

JOHANNES: Were you able to get home?

HALL: Oh yeah. I hitchhiked faster than I could ride a bus or a train, what have you. I remember one day they told me I had thirty day leave so I tried to get a train out and I couldn't, not for two weeks, so I tried a bus and that was out too so I called up a friend of mine over in Almena and asked him if he had anything going out and he said he had one going to Vegas. I said put me on it and I flew to Vegas and then I hitchhiked. And never cash a government check in Vegas they give you silver so.

JOHANNES: So you had silver dollars in your pocket hitchhiking. How far is it from Las Vegas to Hays, two thousand miles?

HALL: No it wouldn't be that far. Three, three, six, about a thousand. Little over a thousand I suppose.

JOHANNES: How long did it take you to hitchhike that?

HALL: Two days.

JOHANNES: You got a lot of rides.

HALL: I got a trucker. <laughs> I got a trucker the first time and I got me a salesman and had some on it and he always had his foot stuck through the floorboard and I slept.

JOHANNES: That's nice, it's nice to know that people gave rides to the service men.

HALL: Yeah.

JOHANNES: How did you feel about the officers that were over you?

HALL: I got along with them, didn't have any trouble with them at all. Most of them were pretty good.

JOHANNES: You think maybe, I don't know, was part of that the environment of a ship or just had good officers?

HALL: No we just had pretty good officers. Everybody got along pretty well and when we got up to, off the regular occupied Japan, why we was up about three, four hundred miles off the coast of Japan and getting ready to occupy it, take it over. And they were, the fleet was up there, maybe two fleets and the Army was up there, and was getting ready to move in on Japan and then that's when Admiral Byrd came up. Oh boy, Admiral Byrd came aboard ship that was quite a deal. He come aboard in a TBM and I was operational, I had spotting aircraft and he come aboard just in civilian khakis and what have you, he said, ``Son take that bag over on the bridge.'' And I said, `` I'm busy you take it over yourself.''

JOHANNES: How did he react to that?

HALL: Huh?

JOHANNES: How did he react to that?

HALL: He said, `` Okay.'' <laughs> And then after I found out I was talking to an Admiral, I'd liked to have a heart attack.

JOHANNES: Did you…

HALL: I got his signature too.

JOHANNES: Did you keep any journals or diaries?

HALL: Hm?

JOHANNES: Did you keep any journals or diaries?

HALL: No, just pictures.

JOHANNES: Did you just stay in the, where were you in Japan when they occupied Japan.

HALL: I was in /Uguski/, Japan most of the time, that was my base and I toured, Tokyo, /Yokohama/, /Kamigura/, and I went on up to where they dropped the atomic bomb, time or two and got pictures of those and I traveled all that area.

JOHANNES: What was it like going into Japan?

HALL: Was kinda unique, most of those people, had they didn't have cars like we had, they had charcoal burners they'd burn charcoal to get the gas off to run their engines, start with those charcoal burners. They had a charcoal stove on the back of the car or truck and they kept fire in, kept the charcoal give off gas and that's what run the engines. Period.

JOHANNES: How did Japanese people react to the American sailors and soldiers?

HALL: Most of `em weren't very easy to get along with. We fed a lot of them through the galley when I was bake shop I had a division of my own, and a group, of a bunch Japanese boys and they did all the baking for me. I just supervised it. They were real good at it. And then I had those boys, one or two when we'd go on a sightseeing trip, I'd go up to Tokyo or /Kamigura/ or /Sasabo/, whatever the case might be. It was kind of interesting, I got pictures of them.

JOHANNES: Okay, that was pretty serious going in and occupying a country but do you remember any humorous events, either on ship or in port anywhere. That you want to tell us about?

HALL: All right now. Yeah we had a one of, when we crossed the equator we had a ship back, pollywog initiation for all of us pollywogs, which that was me. I got pictures of that too. It's a, they initiate all the guys that haven't been across the equator. That was quite an initiation.

JOHANNES: Do you want to tell us about it?

HALL: Well that's about it. The pictures I think would probably tell you more about it than I can.

JOHANNES: Did you make any lasting friendships in the service?

HALL: Oh yeah, yeah, they're all gone now. Bill/Wanton/ out of San Dimas, and then there was Sammy at south of Wichita, /Dulchow/ out of /Kimona/ and a few like that there, I kept track of them pretty well, but Bill is the only one I really kept real close track of. And then I had one by the name of Kenny /Milner/, his Dad had a Ford dealership out there, out at San Dimas. That's where when I'd go out to California, that's where I had my base. We'd drive out there, why that's where we stayed. We'd go up to Disneyland there, most all the places like that.

JOHANNES: Did your ship have reunions?

HALL: Yeah we had one two years, three years ago at Fort Worth. I think there was about sixty of us showed up.

JOHANNES: That's not too bad for a reunion.

HALL: That's pretty good. Considering most of those guys on that ship were older people.

JOHANNES: That's right, you're a young veteran.

HALL: <laughs>

JOHANNES: Did you ever use the GI bill for anything?

HALL: Oh yeah, I went to college on the GI Bill. California. Ventura Junior College.

JOHANNES: How did you meet your wife? Go to something different.

HALL: Well that's quite a deal. Kelly Schumacher was the Sheriff here at, maybe you knew him?

JOHANNES: I know the name.

HALL: I knew him pretty well and he was a Democrat and of course I was a Republican and they had a /Docking/, going for politicians and they had a big get together at VFW and Kelley said `` Why don't you come over and have dinner with us?'' So I went over and had, met /Docking/ and being a Republican why I fit right in. And they had a guy there that was come in from Norton and he wanted a way to get back to Norton, so Kelly asked ``Bob, do you want to go to Norton?'' ``Well,'' I said, `` I'll go but I want someone to go with me. Keep me awake on the way back.'' ``Oh,'' he said, `` We can fix that.'' So, yeah, my wife was standing right there, and she says, he said `` Nella you want to go with Bob, go up to Norton?'' ``Sure.'' That's when I met my wife.

JOHANNES: When did you get married?

HALL: When was I married?

JOHANNES: Yeah what year did you guys get married?

HALL: That's eighteen years ago, eighteen, nineteen. Yeah it'll be eighteen this July.

JOHANNES: Okay you said after the war you went to college in California. How did you end up back in Kansas?

HALL: We had a cattle ranch, Dad and Mom, and I come back during the war, I'd take my leave and I'd come back to `em. I remember when I come one time, the German soldiers that were POWs were here at the Experiment Station, they were out shocking feed at the ranch. And of course I was in the Navy uniform I fit right in with them and Marshall /Canner/ was the foreman at that time and he could talk just a little German. They had a high and a low and he could understand part of it and they were pretty good soldiers. One of them could play a piano, evidently he was a concert pianist, and he played the piano. We got, during the noon hour he'd come in and play the piano for Mom and everybody sit around and listen. It was quite interesting and they didn't know what a rattlesnake was so we has to show them what a rattlesnake was.

JOHANNES: I'm surprised they didn't find some shocking feed.

HALL: Yeah, they were playing with him. They were playing with a rattler, was only about that long, Marshall, I told Marshall, I said, `` You better tell those guys that that's not to be played with. `` So he finally got it across that that's a snake that you don't play with. We got along pretty good.

JOHANNES: Would you, is there anything you'd like to tell us about yourself or your family or anything that we've missed on your, I mean this isn't very much time for as many years as you were in the Navy but….

HALL: Oh I've got a lot of pictures and stuff like that, ships we used to, we had to loose quite a few aircraft for landing. That aircraft carrier was only four hundred and eighty feet long and the landing airplanes on it, they took them off too. Once in a while we had a mishap and we'd have a garbage mix-up at the far end. Got pictures of that too.

JOHANNES: Then you worked at the ranch when you came back?

HALL: Oh yeah.

JOHANNES: What was it like growing up on a ranch? That's a lot of people's, a lot people that's their dream and stuff, be out on a ranch.

HALL: Oh we had raised about two or three hundred head of cattle all the time and had wheat, cut alfalfa, and feed for the cattle. We worked cattle. Kept us busy, but kind of interesting work. It was nice work except when a blizzard come up, then it wasn't so good and we had prairie fires we got to fight once in a while. But it was pretty good. The ranch was found in 1876.

JOHANNES: Did they homestead it?

HALL: Yeah, they homesteaded it. Granddad did. He knew, oh, Buffalo Bill and they met Buffalo Bill here at Hays and they met some of the dignitaries. Of course they weren't dignitaries in those days, they was just cowboys.

JOHANNES: And for a while they used the ranch it was like a fishing and camping for local people?

HALL: Yeah I turned that, into Sweetwater Recreational Area for about two years.

JOHANNES: And what years were those?

HALL: Oh boy, I can't tell you.

JOHANNES: Okay `cause there was a big drive in Kansas to do that starting in the 1920s and I didn't know what time period that was, but it was after you came back it happened? After you were out of service?

HALL: Oh, what was that again?

JOHANNES: Was that after you were out of service, it was after the 1940s.

HALL: In the 50s when I had the Sweetwater Recreation. I had people coming in from France and England and Spain. I had people come in from all over the place. I have that documented too, some place.

JOHANNES: Is there anything that you want to say that hasn't been said?

HALL: I spent a couple of years, or, months in the hospital at /Yukuska/. I had infectious mono and /Hammlan/ fever. I finally got to spend about six months at the hospital up there in /Yukuska/ right at the end of World War Two.

JOHANNES: Was that how you ended your Navy career was in the hospital there?

HALL: That was in my Korean deal.

JOHANNES: So you did both wars?

HALL: Yeah. I was on a tin can, or a destroyer in Korea.

JOHANNES: Why don't you go ahead and tell us about that.

HALL: Oh we just run then down the coast and shot at them occasionally and that was about it. Then I caught infectious mono and that fever.

JOHANNES: Did you have shore leave while you in Korea?

HALL: No I didn't get shore leave at all I was. We had shore leave at /Yukuska/, quite a little bit. We'd go up to the gaming club and tear it up a little bit then go home.

JOHANNES: And how long were you in the service? Were you still in the Navy or did you get out in between World War Two?

HALL: I got out in between and then went back in.

JOHANNES: How long were you in for Korea?

HALL: Korea? Oh about two years. The only reason for that they, I was in the National Guard and I went to the meeting one night and they said we was gonna start packing up our stuff, putting it on the loading dock for the trains to pick up and then we were getting ready to go to Korea and I started thinking about Korea and I thought it's a cold country. I thought then the Navy sounds a lot better so I called up some people I knew, fleet PAC and I got permission for them to tell the commander here that they needed me in the Navy worse than they did in the Army. I liked that. Went back to a nice warm bunk and then the guys didn't go. That's what made me mad. They called it off. So I spent two years anyway. It was alright. I was over to Hiroshima a time or two, took pictures of Hiroshima, where they dropped off the atomic bomb. And then I got to see some of the people that was in that bombing when I was in the hospital. They had the upper deck and they were upstairs, up in the upper deck and I was down in the lower deck. And I got to see them every once in a while. They were in pretty bad shape. Then I got pictures which I have here, most everything I have pictures of, like the submarines.

JOHANNES: Okay. I know doing these interviews, I have seen some pictures of what Tokyo looked like after it was firebombed and you said you were in Tokyo too?

HALL: Yeah I got pictures of that too.

JOHANNES: How did that compare to the atomic bomb.

HALL: Well in certain places it was just rubble. Those places, you've got to remember those buildings weren't made like our buildings. They're made out of wood and bamboo and what have you. I know I had an occasion to go up to a moneylender's for dinner a time or two and I fell through the floor. I stood up and put my feet together and went right through the floor. Of course they were smaller and a lot lighter than I was.

JOHANNES: I hope it wasn't a very far drop.

HALL: Naw, it was about ten feet. That's far enough. Kinda tripped me up I thought I was going to go all the way down. <laughs>

JOHANNES: Do you belong to American Legion or the VFW?

HALL: Huh?

JOHANNES: Do you belong to either the American Legion or the VFW?

HALL: I belong to the DAV and the VFW, life members, and I go to the American Legion once in a while.

JOHANNES: And you participate in their activities?

HALL: Not much, I kind of stay away from those.

JOHANNES: Having been in the, two wars, do you think that that has influenced the way you see the world today?

HALL: I don't think so, I think they're going to have another war here one of these days the way it looks. Just the way things are shaping up and the way those people act. I could be wrong, which I hope.

JOHANNES: Well, if you could think of anything else you want to add that's fine, if not…

HALL: I don't think so.

JOHANNES: Thank you very much.

HALL: Yeah. <Scene changes to HALL showing pictures in a photo album>These are Boot camp, Farragut Idaho, the naval training station I was stationed in. And …

JOHANNES: Idaho seems like a strange place for boot camp for the Navy.

HALL: They had a big lake up there.

JOHANNES: Okay, I maybe should have asked that because I was wondering Idaho? I think of Idaho as mountains.

HALL: Someplace in here we had a, a, we picked up a, right at the end of World War Two, it was during the war, a, Japs had killed this kid's folks and they were dignitaries and they had chased him all over China trying to get a hold of him and he ended up in, I got it here someplace, well, someplace in here, but I can't find it right now,

JOHANNES: We'll start through it and …

HALL: MATS, M-A-T-S Military Air Transport, when I was in the hospital and it was kind of interesting. One of the times that was kind of interesting…

JOHANNES: That's a dirigible!

HALL: Yeah, we landed one on a carrier. I've got pictures.

JOHANNES: Turn the camera on!

CAMERAMAN: It's running, I know when to run it.

HALL: We landed a blimp on a carrier and I got the pictures, first it was a picture in the paper and then of course this classified picture I kind of acquired.

JOHANNES: We won't ask you how. Did you have a camera?

HALL: No, we weren't allowed cameras.

JOHANNES: Cause some of them had cameras.

HALL: I had a friend was the Navy photographer, I got a lot of pictures that way. <Tape fades out>

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