South Mississippi remembers a true American hero - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

South Mississippi remembers a true American hero

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HATTIESBURG, MS (WLOX) -

A great American was laid to rest Friday. Colonel George Robert Hall, a Hattiesburg resident, passed away after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Hall was a survivor of a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam after he was shot down in 1965.

His first memory after regaining consciousness was being dragged through a North Vietnam village with a noose around his neck.

He would spend the next seven and a half years as a POW at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Back in 2007, I had the opportunity to sit down with Colonel Hall in his Hattiesburg home to talk about that time in his life.

"Well, it was bad. The first four years were physically very tough," Hall said in a very calm and measured tone.

"If somebody had told me when I was shot down that I would be there seven and a half years, I would have probably tried to commit suicide or something."

For the first 16 months, his family only knew he was missing in action. They had no idea if he was dead or alive.

Finally his family got word that he was alive, but was a prisoner of war in Hanoi.

His wife Pat said she was both elated and sad at the news.

"It was the unknown all over again, where was he, how was he being treated," Pat said.

One of Hall's fellow prisoners was John McCain. The men were often held in solitary confinement under brutal conditions.

"I used to sit in there and be so cold, no shoes, it was miserable," Hall said.

Often times he was shackled, but the prisoners found a way to communicate by tapping on the walls of their cells.

"You would be amazed at how much good it gives you, to tap on that wall to somebody on the other side. Knowing you are defeating the enemy who has not allowed you to communicate with the other prisoners."  

Sometimes those guards would hear the tapping, and they would torture the prisoners.

"Well, it hurt. It was painful. It was very painful."  

Every year, their captors would tell the prisoners they would be going home at Christmas time, but that never happened.

Then, more than 2,500 days after being taken captive, Colonel Hall and the others were finally free.

"The commanding officer of the prison camp gave us our instructions that we will leave in a military manner, hold our heads high and get the heck out of there, which we did."  

Then, several hours after being released, he had a chance to make the call he had wanted to make for so many years. That call was to his wife at 3 a.m.

"I said, ‘who is this?' I did not recognize his voice at all. He said, ‘you have lost your southern accent'," Pat told us with a big smile on her face.

The prisoners' first stop after flying out of Vietnam was the Philippines, where the streets were lined with people to greet them. For Colonel Hall and the others, it was an incredibly emotional time.

"I tell you, the tears just started to flow, and I cried. I just cried like a baby," Hall said.

Then, the journey he had waited so long to make, the flight back home. On a February night at Keesler Air Force Base, Hall stepped on American soil again. His wife and three young children were all there to greet him.

So many years later, as we sat in his Hattiesburg home, he still became emotional as he spoke of what it meant to be back in America.

"I would like to thank all the people of South Mississippi who prayed for me. I had a lot of them, and I hear from them all the time," Hall told us during that 2007 interview.

This week, this brave man lost his long battle with Parkinson's disease, but he will always be remembered for his gentlemanly manner, his courage and his faith.

Colonel George Robert Hall stood for all that is good about America. He truly was an American hero.

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