EASTHAM — Harold Hall Jr., a 95-year-old World War II veteran and Eastham resident, feels he should receive a Purple Heart for the severe concussion he suffered in a reconnaissance mission during the Battle of Saipan in the Pacific. Hall did get a Bronze Star Medal for his heroism in combat but not the Purple Heart, which is given to service members who are wounded or killed in action.
“I think it would rectify an omission,” said Hall, who was joined by his daughter and close friends in his home last Thursday.
During the war, Hall was part of a U.S. Navy underwater demolition team known as UDT-5. The swimmers in the team, known as frogmen, were precursors to Navy SEALs.
On June 14, 1944, the Navy was in the process of bombing Saipan, then a Japanese colony north of Guam, leading up to its invasion. Hall and his team of frogmen, among other teams, were sent in to clear the beach — “to make sure landing craft could get to shore,” Hall said.
The men were dropped into the water about 500 yards out and were swimming toward shore when Japanese forces defending the island hit them with gun and mortar fire.
Hall said he remembers seeing bullets hit the water and sand while he was swimming. Then, in an instant, a mortar shell blew him out of the water.
He said he doesn’t remember much about the blast — just that he got back to his ship, the destroyer U.S.S. Gilmer.
“I was on deck, lying on a cot for about eight or nine days before I could move,” he said. “If I moved, I felt nauseous.”
The wounded frogman was one day away from being sent to a hospital ship when he rose from his cot and stayed with his team until the end of the war.
His story has been documented — it’s featured in the History Channel miniseries Complete History of the Navy SEALs and in the book The Naked Warriors: The Story of the U.S. Navy’s Frogmen, by Francis Douglas Fane and Don Moore.
Hall believes he wasn’t given a Purple Heart because the military didn’t know how to diagnose traumatic brain injuries during World War II.
“No one knew what the hell was going on,” Hall said. “Right now, I can still feel the buzz from the bomb.”
Hall grew up in Hingham and spent most of his life after the Navy working for General Electric in Western Mass. He has lived in the same house that he built in Eastham since 1984. Hall is also a craftsman and painter, and some of his paintings hang in the house.
“He’s a renaissance man,” said his friend Jerry Cerasale.
Hall’s daughter, Pam McCarty-Hall, and son, Steve Hall, along with a group of friends, are trying to get the Navy to properly honor his sacrifice.
The family, working with the Veterans Administration, sent an application for a correction of military records to the Navy that, if approved, would lead to Hall finally getting the Purple Heart.
The family heard from the Navy on May 21, 2019, that his application had been received. The letter stated that it could take 10 to 18 months before a decision is made. It has been 10 months.
“They do it in their time,” McCarty-Hall said. “We’re just hoping his time outlives their time.”
Hall is in generally good health for a man his age, but he went through bouts of pneumonia in the past year and was recently rehabbed for a hip injury he suffered in a fall in December.
Friends sent letters to U.S. Rep. William Keating, one in April 2019 and a second in January 2020, asking him to expedite Hall’s application.
Cerasale said that Keating has been working with U.S. senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren on the matter. Lauren McDermott, a spokesperson for Keating, told the Independent that they had established Congressional interest in the application in April and recently wrote another letter. The Navy has not yet responded.
McCarty-Hall said that, to initiate a correction of records, the Navy needs proof of Hall’s injury. That typically comes as a statement from the commanding officer or a fellow service member who witnessed the event. But Hall has outlived his commanding officer and all the men on his demolition team.
Shawney Carroll, the veterans’ services officer for the Outer Cape, said that Hall’s discharge papers don’t say that he sustained a concussion.
“They weren’t great with documenting injuries back then,” Carroll said.
“If it were anything else other than a concussion, he would have gotten it right then,” McCarty-Hall said of the Purple Heart.
Hall keeps his sense of humor about it all.
“If I’d have died, I would have gotten it,” he said with a laugh.