Colonel George Robert Hall, a Vietnam War veteran who endured one of the longest captivities as a POW in American history, has died after he lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease on February 16th.
“He was just a great American. He was just a strong, strong individual,” said his brother Sam Hall of Hattiesburg, a retired golfer. “You couldn’t survive seven and one-half years as a prisoner of war and 20 years with that disease and not be a strong person.” Colonel George Robert Hall graduated from Hattiesburg High School in 1948. He spent seven and a half years (from 1965 to 1973) as a prisoner of war to the North Vietnamese army. He was captured after his plane was shot down during a reconnaissance mission. Andrew Wiest, the director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for the Study of War and Society, said the time that Hall was held captive in Hanoi, including at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, ranks among the longest POW experiences in U.S. history.
Wiest told the Hattisburg American, ““His experience was about as prolonged and brutal as you can get.” Wiest has written several books on the subject of the Vietnam War. Sam Hall has stated that his brother usually weighed around 170 pounds, but during the time he was held captive, his weight dropped down to a mere 100 pounds. George Robert Hall spent the majority of his time in captivity in solitary confinement. His only form of communication was the use of a secretive tapping system in which he and the other prisoners used.
“He was one of those that I would compare to the World War II greatest generation,” said Ted Tibbett, chairman of the Hattiesburg veteran’s committee. “He was a true officer. He served and came back. He was in tremendous pain and came back and went to work.” Tibbet said that one of the largest contributions Hall made to Hattiesburg was his efforts in fund-raising for the Veterans’ Memorial Park located downtown.
“He raised thousands and thousands of dollars to build that park and he was chairman emeritus of that park to this day,” said Tibbett. Wiest grew up in Hattiesburg and he remembers when he was twelve years old when George Robert Hall was released from imprisonment. He recalls that there was an overflow crowd packed into the Southern Miss’s Bennet Auditorium to greet him.
“That kind of thing resonated,” Wiest said. “You knew it was something very out of the ordinary and something very much to be appreciated and honored.” George Robert Hall is survived by his wife, Pat Hall, along with their three children. In 2005, the couple co-wrote “Commitment to Honor,” a memoir of his POW experience.