tv Oral Histories CSPAN April 11, 2015 5:06pm-5:41pm EDT
until i got to be commander, that way my wife would get to call me commander, but i did not get to stay that long and i doubt she would have called me commander if i had. >> being in the navy, when did you in list -- a list? rep. hall: i joined in december 1942. they had had some of the major battles by that time, and actually i started out at the university of texas in roberts hall. we were stationed there, so i guess that was flight press. we went from there to memphis for another flight prep, and athens georgia. that was kind of like a boot camp. we were stationed there at the university of georgia. 20 of us were picked up, though from austin, texas, and sent to texas christian university on a
-- well, it was an experiment, an experiment that did not work. they wanted us to start out flying 260-horsepower vehicles rather than cubs which were 45-horsepower, and there's a major difference. the flying part did not bother us, but they made the mistake of putting 20 red-blooded american boys in jarvis hall of tcu, the girls dormitory. back in 1943, that did not work. everyone else forgets, but i can tell that i played football for texas christian university. time goes on, after a few more, i might have been all confidence. truth is i never did get in the ballgame.
we broke kid of arms and a fractured cheekbone, and the navy pulled us out. -- we broke two arms and a fractured cheekbone, and the navy pulled us out. did not get to finish. it was an interesting program. they dropped the qualifications for navy pilots to have a college degree after the battle of midway. they dated -- they needed pilots. they took me in, obviously. i had a very poor background in high school and every educational institution i've ever been to. i always thought everything over 70 was wasted, to tell you the truth. they said in high school that if i made the highest of all who failed, my mother was always proud of me. not all that bad.
you know you find somebody that encourages you and makes you think you could he somebody, ink you could achieve, a role model. it are to be your parents ideally. usually, it's a pastor or teacher. -- it ought to be your parents ideally. for me, it was a teacher. that's your role model, and i found that, and it was a history teacher at my high school. i called her and told her last year -- i put it on my schedule to call her quarterly, and i thanked her for years and years. she was a great lady.
>> if you were in the navy and you went through school, did you go through any other kind of training before you went to combat? rep. hall: no, we were in the navy, and we graduated into:. there, they decided if you were going to fly fighters or torpedo bombers. of course, i wanted to fly big engines because i wanted to have something to do when the war was over, fly private airlines. i asked for big engines, they gave me fighters. all the guys that asked for fighters got big engines. i don't know if i would do it again if i had to do it over again. we were sent to daytona beach. you can imagine taking two kids from rockwall county, black land, cotton and corn, sending us down to white beaches.
something we would have never have done but for the war. i found out that catholics were good people and republicans should not be chunked away from the party. don't think we had hardly any in rockwall county, but you learn to love everybody, learned that there's a lot of good in everybody. you cannot pick your friends you know? you are assigned a group, and you work with them. >> how did that work? >> it was great. it worked fine. i, frankly was so overmatched in that program. i have a poor background. i have a high school education. not from high school, by the way. it was not highland park or tyler. we were a little bitty small school, and i was not a good student in a small pool --
school, probably but for the fact that we had major losses we got to needing pilots desperately, and they lowered the qualifications. i got in, but i didn't have really an opportunity to enjoy it like i would have. i had just outworked everybody else because i was competing with high school graduates phd's, people like that. we trained from daytona beach. we were stationed there. i should have bought 100 acres of land there, but i didn't have any money. we enjoyed it there and always said we would go back there to live. grandchildren, children, where your folks are. we trained there and i believe i went from there out to an aircraft carrier. >> do you remember the name of the carrier? rep. hall: yes, i'll think of it
in a little bit. it was one of the earlier -- ranger. cb ranger. we were on it for a couple of weeks, i guess, and we would go back some time to time but that's where we landed. first, we practiced touch and go landings on the ground on an area the length of a carrier and they would show if you were hitting the first wire, number two wire. i think there's seven to nine wires, and you have a hook on the back of the plane. unless you are terribly unlucky you will not jump nine hoax. but the barrier cable is there and it will keep you there, and sometimes it will stop you but it was different, new. but landing on a carrier is not nearly as difficult as you would think it is. people say it's a little matchbox. the truth is a carrier is a huge ship. an aircraft carrier is huge.
some of the larger ones have 5000 people avoid them. it's like it's a bigger town and i grew up in and the carrier is going about 28 or 30 knots, sometimes 83 or 34, into the wind -- sometimes 33 or 34, into the wind. that 65 miles an hour. you landed about 80 knots, 85 knots, so you are only going maybe 30 or 40 miles an hour when you land, and you have a hydraulic hook that catches a hydraulic cable and pulls you back. it's an easy landing, easier really than landing on a normal runway after you have done it for a long, long time. as a matter of fact, we had people who would leave the carrier and go to an island and when they hit the carrier, they relaxed.
it is overly emphasize the danger of landing on a carrier. it's really not a tough thing to do. >> did you make a lot of friends that you stayed with? rep. hall: yes, they are friends for life. seems like my whole life of meeting people and liking them and i like people -- i really like people. i hated to leave my friends, but my father was a pipe liner. we build pipelines across the country. i started the first grade in texas. i went to the second grade in springfield, illinois. went to the third grade and cold water, kansas. i would meet people really good friends, and then we would leave. that happened all during my life
, and after i got back to rockwall, graduated high school, i pipelined, and i would meet people. the pipeline job would be over i would go back to texas, they would go back to california or wherever they were from, and then the war came along, and i joined in, and i had the cadets that i lived with for 60 or 90 days at a base, and then they would be sent somewhere else. it's a matter of meeting them liking them, leaving them. the same thing happened during the war. you were stationed with guys. my wingman were my best men. my marriage in pensacola the day we got our wings -- we were -- they were all my best men. they went different directions some of them got killed, some died. the war was over, i came back, went to school. you graduate, they all go back to their hometown.
seems like my whole life has been a life of meeting people, really liking them, and then leaving them. if i had to do it all over, i would keep better records of what their permanent addresses were. it was a good life and an interesting life, but i was ready for the end when the war was over, and i had enough points to get out pretty quick so i came back home, and i came back to the pipeline to work. >> on talking about the war, there's some specific questions i would like to ask you on that. did you ever -- were you in combat? rep. hall: no one ever shot at me that i ever knew about. we were late getting out there. i was on a little aircraft carrier when they dropped the bomb, and i knew then the war was going to be over pretty
quick. we were at barbers point hawaii and if anyone got killed on the carrier, we were in to the carrier, and we would stay until they got a permanent replacement in the states. i was on five or six different carriers. they get away from me, but small carriers. never for any length of time. i had very few permanent new stations. >> and you liked it? rep. hall: pretty well. we flew vectors and at night we would fly on a torpedo bomber, and the torpedo bomber had the -- the exhaust was red-hot. that's all i could see a lot of nights. i would fly on that.
we would shoot our guns, and they would shake, rattle and lie down there. they would ask if we dropped the bomb, and then pull back up. some of the time i thought i saw something down there, but most of the time i didn't. later, i decided we were really just getting rid of armor and hardware and munitions to keep them until they got back to the states and flood the market. a lot of times i doubt that there was anything down there but i did not know because we could not see, and i stayed right on the torpedo bomber. that was the type of plane president bush was on, and they had radar on the torpedo bomber. i was flying a bomber. we did not have radar. we lit that torpedo bomber, we might have a hard time getting back into an aircraft carrier. we ran between midway and barbers point, and between
barbers point and guam. there were no active japanese aircraft carriers in that area all the time i was there. i know that, but we thought we were dropping on subs. i'm not sure we did. a splash is when you should done a japanese airplane and they fall in the water. she introduced me as having made splashes, and you cannot leave that hanging out there. i did not want to in various her, but i said i thank her for a real good introduction, but i really do not have any splashes. not like henry grady, the gray civil war author -- i killed as many of them as they did of me.
she stood up and asked if i shot down one japanese airplane, and i said i didn't, and she asked if i saw one, and i ought to give her a little something and is said i did. just what i did. i was just putting her on. i said i reached in my pocket, pulled out my magnum, had to do a 180 and had to get the heck out of there. she said you didn't. i said i did. she asked why, and i said the war had been over about three months and i was afraid that guy did not know it. i later told her i was kidding. we had some accidents. i lost buddies. we had a plane fly into our formation one time killed three of them. but you get close to those people. they are like brothers to you. i still have them, and i stay in
touch with them 55 years later. they are diminishing. but there's so many funny things. the day we were sworn in as the best. we had a handsome boy from houston who had black, curly hair, sideburns down here, and the barber asked if he wanted to keep the sideburns and he said could i? he said yeah, cold your hand -- hold your hand right here. he could catch him and keep them if he wanted. so many funny things like that happened during the war because we were in another world. but, really, the navy was good to me and taught me about people and gave me -- you know, we came back to when degeneration. -- the wounded generation. when he did in education, and the g.i. bill gave us a chance to go to school. i could not have gone to school, but i went back to running a bulldozer after the war was
over, and that's quite a come down. i have these friends that go back 50 five years. we flew together and lived together. i go back to the day that we were inducted and sworn in. the very first thing they did for us was give us all a haircut. one guy there had black, curly hair, beautiful hair, handsome guy. old navy barber, hardened guide. -- guy. he said do you want to keep the sideburns? he says could i? he was going to let him shave the sideburns and keep them right there. it was another world for us and different. when we came back to civilian life that also was different because i went back to what i was doing before i left, and that was working on the pipeline. i was running the bulldozer out in shamrock, texas. a snowball hit me in the rear. it was just snowing out there
all the time. i was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. my wife said -- i can work as fast as anybody, and she said why don't you go to school and do something with the g.i. bill? i agreed to, and i said i think we ought to. and we went to austin. i was prelaw. i said i wasn't interested in prelaw. i don't want to be a pre-lawyer, i want to be a lawyer. they worked with me and showed where i have five hours of physics at tcu. i'm not sure what that was. celestial navigation. they gave me that. i got about 30 hours from the university of georgia for the time i was there.
a lot of times, i would go to school at night on my own because i knew is going to have a hard time getting to go to college. my mother planned for me to help my brother get to school -- my older brother -- and for him to help me get through school and then both of us to help my sister. i helped him through north texas. were came on, we both went to the service. we helped send my sister through school, and i was the only one did not get a fair deal out of it. but i had the g.i. bill. we went down there, and they worked up to where i had about 45 or 50 or 60 hours. it was from the navy training, and we were at universities all that time. i entered the university of texas, stayed there for a couple of semesters. my wife informed me i was about to have life thrust upon me. we had to come back to rock wall, live there commute to smu law school, but from rock wall
to smu, i was there a lot quicker than some of the boys from oak cliff. it worked out ok. i graduated from smu. >> going back, you said you did not really know what you were doing. [indiscernible] rep. hall: i had enough points to get out. i don't remember if it took 50 points. i had about 58. i was eligible. not having school not having college, i knew if i stayed in the navy, the first cutback would get me. it just did not make sense to do that. it made sense if i wanted a navy career to go get a college degree and go back to the navy. but i got the chance to go to
school, got the chance to go to law school. i always intended to be in politics, though. my uncles were both sheriffs from local county until about 1941 when we all went off to the service. i decided then that i was going to be in politics, i was going to run for sheriff when the war was over because my dad lost his car during the war. they pulled our car off, and there i was, skinny. i wasn't anything to look at. i just decided that whatever i'd it, i was going to do something that you had to have a car. at nine or 10 or 11 years old or 14, i decided to come back and run for sheriff because my uncles knew they had to have a car and i wanted a job where i had to have a car. it wasn't that i hated
lawbreakers and wanted law and order -- i wanted a job where i would have a car so i intended to come back and run for sheriff, so i got a chance to get a law degree. i came back and ran for county judge in my home county while i was still in law school, just to get my name around. be careful what you run for, you might get elected. i got elected and had to finish law school. i was 24 then, one of the youngest judges in the state and people come in -- i was 24 and i looked 19. people would see me and i would say i'm ralph hall, and they would say i want to see your dad. i had a woman at baylor hospital tell me one time -- i was on my way, and they had me page and she asked if i was judge hauled.
i said i was, and she said she was going to tell the judge i was the safest one out here. mr. raburn died, and our state senator ran for congress, and i ran for his place. then when our congressman decided to quit, iran for congressman. i have had very good breaks all my life. people that help me and people that i care about -- that's what makes it easy. people have been overly good to me. collects when you were in the military, where did your wife stay? rep. hall: she went back to texas. she stayed with me on the west coast until we shipped out. >> how long were you gone at one time? rep. hall: a matter of months.
for 72 weeks, we trained. from the time we had been struck to an airplane and go back on board a carrier, the navy did a good job of training us. i never thought about the danger. all i thought about was what a powerful airplane i had that i was strapped to and what it cost and how careful i had to be with it and the devastation that it could do. we were all disappointed that we were not in the mainline, but as i look back on it now, i have great admiration for the guys that really far the battles and had the dogfights and got shot down. i doubt that i ever killed anybody, and that's a good feeling. >> at the time you were there, there was nothing there. rep. hall: i looked for the japanese. i could have shot their rear end off if i could have found them.
i did not see any. they just were not there. >> they were headed toward okinawa. that's what happened. rep. hall: when they dropped the bomb -- it's a terrible thing to drop on people, but that saved my life, i'm sure, more than likely because we were trained for the battle of japan. we would have lost another 100,000 americans. they would have defended their land. they were great warriors. we were trained for rocket fire and things like that. >> when did you find out about the bomb? rep. hall: i guess it was the next day after they dropped it because we were on an aircraft carrier. >> [indiscernible] rep. hall: i'm sure we were, but
i do not remember if there was or not. we knew, and it was devastating. it had killed 79,000 people or something like that. i knew that japan could not withstand that. i did not know enough about the japanese mind -- at the beginning of the war, we hated hirothito. he was a botanist, a young boy who was 26 years old. by virtue of his birth, he was the emperor of japan. interested in growing flowers and things like that. he knew nothing about the war. yamamoto said when they bombed pearl harbor, he had been in america, trained and schooled in america. he knew the american mind, and he made one of the great sayings
in the history of the world, i guess, when he said, "i fear we've awakened the sleeping tiger," and that's exactly what they did. they roused our country, and they came forward. you got to looking for his service you can get into. >> some were going to canada to get into the war. rep. hall: that's right. i had a neighbor across the street that went to canada and wound up there before we had ever gotten into the war. there was a feeling of wanting revenge for the things that hitler had done to the other countries and mussolini. much hatred. >> when you do the bomb had dropped, what was the chain of
action? rep. hall: three or four days later, they dropped a second one on nagasaki, and then they started suing for peace. it was pretty obvious that the war was going to be over then. it was over shortly after that. the strange thing is that there's probably remnants of the japanese army still in the philippines or some areas of the wild parts of those islands down there that do not know that the war is over. they found them 20 years ago so it's not impossible that they are there now. they would be 80 years old. they immediately started trying to get us to go back to the states. anybody that wanted out could get out. others were going over occupying japan. i didn't want to do that.
i wanted to get on back and get on with my life. >> and you had a choice? rep. hall: yes. i chose to come back. they sent us back. we wrote the carrier back. the carrier did not come back. i was never permanently attached to any carrier. i didn't have permanent orders ever. we would go aboard and stay until they got their people back from the states. we were never permanent anywhere. i don't remember -- isn't that strange? came home to the united states, came into san francisco under the golden gate bridge, called my wife. we were there for two, three, or
four days. of course, i could not wait to get home. >> [indiscernible] rep. hall: she worked all that time. she worked on the defense plan. i did not like the idea she was in the dark room producing film and things like that, but i could not stand the idea of someone going into the dark room with her. she was beautiful -- still is. i always had the most beautiful wife of any of the squadron parties. really a great person. when we got married, she was going to be a missionary. i have been her mission. i did my part pretty well. she's beautiful, great woman. gave me three sons. it's been a good life. 58 years we've been married.
>> [indiscernible] rep. hall: one of my oldest sons was in the guard, but he never was called up. my other sons were too young. at one time, my middle son got a new politics. he ran for district judge two years ago in rockwall county, smallest county in texas. with me running for reelection to congress on the democratic ticket, he was on the republican ticket. which primary do you think my wife voted in? [laughter] the guy running against me could have said, "his own wife did not vote for him." he got elected, and he's doing a good job, but none of my boys have an interest in politics. they have seen is a hard life. it's not good for a family. if you go when i went -- i was 50, i guess. 55 50 six, 57, 58, something
like that. there's just no real good time to go to washington, but you can do a real service. i've enjoyed what i've done. it's hard to leave. but i'm nearing that time. >> you probably have a good perspective of world war ii and what you learned there. >> once again, i left the navy and left my buddies, came to law school, left law school, left my buddies. county judge in texas, got voted back to private life. you know, it's been a life of meeting people, liking them, and leaving them. >> and it did not just start with the war. rep. hall: started early.
>> this has been a very interesting interview, and i appreciate you talking to me about it. this experiment -- not experiment, this program we are in. >> join american history tv this coming tuesday, april 14, four live coverage marking the 150th anniversary of president lincoln's assassination. on april 14, 1865, actor john wilkes booth shot president lincoln at ford's theater as he sat with his wife, mary, watching the play "our american cousin." the president was carried across 10 street to the peterson house where he died the next morning. we will be live from 10 street where ford's theater will re-create the overnight vigil for president lincoln. more than 150 living historians in period costumes will keep a candlelight watch on the street and get first-person -- give
first-person accounts. president lincoln's assassination, 150 years later. tuesday night, april 14, beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern. sunday, april 19, here on american history tv on c-span3. >> next, we visit the national portrait gallery in washington d.c., with historian and curator jim barber who gives us an in-depth look at one of the oil paintings of ira aldridge, an early 19th-century african american actor. he was born free in new york in 1807 and became famous in after -- in europe after being unable to find work in america. this program is part of a series called "face to face" about important players in the struggle for justice in american history. ian cooke: hello and welcome. i am ian cooke of the national portrait gallery.