WWII serviceman laid to rest
Web Posted: 12/16/2005 11:02 AM CST
Express-News Staff Writer
In his last letter in 1942 to his widowed father, Navy Seaman 2nd Class Dee Hall wrote that he'd just received a promotion and he'd be sending money home to help support his younger siblings.
Soon afterward, the 18-year-old Hall was reported missing in action.
Lee Gordon accepts a flag from the casket of her brother, Seaman 2nd Class Dee Hall, who was killed June 14, 1942. He died when his Navy PBY-5 Catalina was shot down during by Japanese forces in the Aleutian Islands. Hall was buried Thursday in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
He was one of seven crewmen aboard a Navy PBY-5 that crashed June 14, 1942, on Kiska Island, Alaska, just eight days after the Japanese captured the island.
More than six decades later, the crash site and sailors' remains were discovered.
It took a few more years before scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command identified the Navy men.
Hall was the first to be buried.
On Thursday, sisters Lee Gordon of Floresville and Wynema Miller of San Antonio, brother Frank Hall of La Vernia and other family members gathered at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery for his funeral.
Unable to attend were James C. Hall of McKinney, at 88 the oldest surviving brother; and two sisters, Lois Duggan of Canyon Lake and Myrl Wood of Texarkana.
Gordon said the family never considered he would be found.
"We're so happy and grateful that he's finally able to come home 63 years after his death. It's like a hero's return," she said. "Our military doesn't forget and that's important for families to know."
Gordon said the family is especially gratified that the military didn't quit looking for their brother and the other members of the downed crew.
Her son, Keith Gordon, took his twin 12-year-old daughters, Shelby and Kelsey, out of the seventh grade at Floresville Middle School so that they could attend the service.
"I thought it was important that they see this," he said.
"We all grew up hearing about him being KIA and it's nice to have him back."
Hall, born in 1924 in Oklahoma, was one of 10 children.
Their mother died in childbirth in 1936.
Their father, Lloyd Hall, a farmer turned produce manager for a grocery store, raised the children in the Rio Grande Valley.
A happy-go-lucky teen, Hall loved golf and was a good player, Gordon said.
He often caddied at the club where his brother James was a pro.
It was James Hall who signed the paperwork necessary so that Dee, 17, could join the Navy.
A year later, a telegram arrived with the news that Dee was missing.
The Pentagon said Hall's plane took off on June 14, 1942, from Kodiak Island, Alaska, to attack Japanese targets in Kiska Harbor.
Anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese and poor weather combined to send the plane crashing on the island.
The wreckage was discovered on Kiska Volcano after U.S. forces wrested the island from the Japanese in August 1943.
"The remains of the crew were buried in a common grave marked 'Seven U.S.N. Airmen' with a wooden marker," said Larry Greer, spokesman for the Department of Defense's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington.
Attempts to locate the grave after the war were unsuccessful.
It wasn't until 2002 that the wreckage was discovered.
A military team excavated the crash site in August 2003 and found debris from the plane and "crew-related items," Greer said.
The wooden marker and the remains buried 60 years earlier were also found.
"I'm really impressed that even after 63 years, the military takes care of their own," Keith Gordon said.
Fair winds and following seas bro.
POWs, hundreds of others turn out to mourn Adm. Lawrence
By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer
Twenty-four former prisoners of war who endured the infamous Hanoi Hilton came to the Naval Academy Chapel yesterday to bid farewell to the man they called one of the toughest, most intelligent officers ever to wear a uniform.
USNA photo by Ken Mierzejewski
During the funeral of Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, U.S. Sen. John S. McCain and other former prisoners of war spoke of his bravery and strength that kept them going during the 6 years of imprisonment during the Vietnam War.
The stories they shared with a crowd of about 1,000 mourners bore out the legend of Navy Vice Adm. William Porter Lawrence, a six-year POW, member of the Naval Academy's Class of 1951 and its superintendent from 1978 to 1981.
He died in his sleep on Dec. 2 at his Crownsville home. He was 75. Two weeks before his death, Adm. Lawrence finished writing his memoirs, which will be published in September by the Naval Institute Press under the title "Tennessee Patriot: The Bill Lawrence Story," co-authored by Rosario Rausa.
Adm. Lawrence's prison comrades and other prominent citizens said during the funeral at the Naval Academy Chapel yesterday that his was an indomitable spirit that could not be defeated.
Adm. Lawrence was held captive in North Vietnam from 1967 until he was freed as part of a prisonerexchange in March 1973. With the rank of commander, he was one of the senior officers at the prison, and resisted all interrogation efforts and worked to gather intelligence about the enemy.
"He inspired us into being things we were not capable of doing," said U.S. Sen. John McCain, a POW from 1967 until 1973 who later attended the National War College with Adm. Lawrence. "He led us with compassion, he led us with understanding .... He seemed to know in some incredible way that some of us were not as strong as he, and when we failed, he picked us up.
"Billy Lawrence had the most unique sensitivity about leading people than anyone we have ever known," said Mr. McCain, R-Arizona.
Retired Capt. Edwin A. Shuman III of Annapolis, another former POW who spoke at the service, shared a tale that bore this out.
Adm. Lawrence had a reputation for never asking for leniency for himself but there came a time, Capt. Shuman said, when some POWs were in poor health and malnourished. Their captors offered them special food, but they didn't know whether to accept it.
"Eat the food," Adm. Lawrence told them.
"You just had to do everything you could to keep yourself in good health," he said in an interview with The Capital in July. "And even though the food was lousy, you had to force yourself to eat it all."
While he encouraged his men to get needed care, Adm. Lawrence never asked the enemy for quarter, and often made a point of annoying his captors, Capt. Shuman said.
Adm. Lawrence wrote of his experience as a captive, "The flesh was literally stripped from my ankles from writhing in the irons. I still carry the cigarette burns on my arms which are the result of a torture session."
Retired Navy Capt. Jim Bell of Alexandria, Va., Class of 1954 and a POW for 7½ years, endured bitter cold to attend his old hero's burial at the Naval Academy Cemetery yesterday.
"They would kick the hell out of him and he would bounce right back," Capt. Bell said at the grave side. "They did their best to break down our leadership chain, but he was our commander. He exercised control over the buildings in his area. I respected the devil out of him."
Adm. Lawrence was born Jan. 13, 1930, in Nashville.
His fourth-grade teacher in 1939, Adelaide Davis, told the audience yesterday that "Billy Lawrence was a cute little blue-eyed, blond boy. He was a leader even then." Mrs. Davis laughed when reciting a poem the boy wrote for her class.
"I saw a fly on the wall. I said little fly, Aren't you afraid you will fall. He looked at me a minute and then blinked his eye, Then he shifted into second and then into high."
While a POW, Adm. Lawrence composed what would become the state poem of Tennessee.
"And o'er the world as I may roam,
No place exceeds my boyhood home.
And oh how much I long to see
My native land, my Tennessee."
"Somewhere along the way Billy had some better tutelage than I gave him," Mrs. Davis said as the audience laughed.
While a midshipman, Adm. Lawrence served as class president and was brigade commander, the top leadership post a midshipman can have at the academy.
He graduated eighth in his class. He and another midshipman, Ross Perot, Class of 1953, teamed up to write an "honor concept," the school's honor code. Mr. Perot would go on to run for president twice. Mr. Perot yesterday used terms such as "brilliant," "fearless," "gentle" and "integrity" in describing his old friend.
As a young officer, Adm. Lawrence was a jet test pilot at Patuxent Naval Air Station, helping develop the F-4 Phantom. He trained to become an astronaut, but a mild heart defect kept him out of the space program.
But that didn't keep him from becoming the first Navy pilot to fly at Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound.
His daughter, Navy Capt. Wendy B. Lawrence, Class of 1981, picked up the mantle some years later by becoming an astronaut. She flew most recently as a crew member on the space shuttle Discovery during its voyage in July.
Then-Cmdr. William Lawrence was leader of Fighter Squadron 143, nicknamed "The Pukin' Dogs," aboard the USS Constellation when, on June 28, 1967, his F-4 Phantom was shot down over Nam Dinh, North Vietnam. He was held prisoner until March 4, 1973.
Adm. Lawrence's first wife, Anne, obtained a divorce after he had been held captive for five years. He later remarried, and Diane Lawrence became known around the Annapolis area for civic and charitable work.
The Lawrence family declined to talk with the media, but his son William P. Lawrence Jr. spoke briefly at the service.
"The most amazing thing about my dad was he accomplished all of these things while being the most devoted family man to ever live," Mr. Lawrence said.
In 1978, with the rank of rear admiral, Adm. Lawrence became the academy's 49th superintendent.
In August 1980, he was promoted to the rank of vice admiral. After leaving the superintendent post, Adm. Lawrence served as commander of the U.S. Third Fleet based in Pearl Harbor.
Retired Capt. Jack Fellowes, a POW and Mr. McCain's cellmate for three years in Vietnam, this week described Adm. Lawrence as "one of the people-oriented types who knew everybody."
He said that one of Adm. Lawrence's favorite tricks to play on the North Vietnamese was to smile and appear happy - that tormented them and they, in turn, would beat Adm. Lawrence or throw him into a small cell.
"He was just a friendly guy," Capt. Fellowes said. "But he was an outstanding leader, who led by example ... and could laugh at anything."
Welcome home, Sailor.