William C. Hall, 75, wartime Marine who waited 53 years for Purple Heart

May 27, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William C. Hall, a World War II Marine who was awarded a Purple Heart in 1998 for wounds he had received 53 years earlier during the invasion of Iwo Jima, died Monday of a heart attack at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin. He was 75 and lived in Ocean City.

Mr. Hall was a 19-year-old Marine rifleman when he went ashore on Feb. 22, 1945, with the 21st Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, at Iwo Jima, two days after the amphibious landing had begun.

Mr. Hall was wounded two days after the famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.

"They were shelling the area. We were getting supplies off the boat and loading casualties," Mr. Hall said in a 1998 newspaper interview. "It was nighttime about 11, and we heard the shells coming.

"I turned around and saw a wave coming and it was like somebody smacked me in the jaw. I landed in the water and swam back to land. That's when they treated me."

"We all dove for a shell hole or anyplace we could take cover, in case another one might be coming," said John Hall, no relation, who had joined the Marines with Mr. Hall in 1944. "Bill had been hit by shell fragments in the mouth, the side of his face and the back of his shoulder," he said in the same article.

Even though Mr. Hall was entitled to the Purple Heart, officials denied the award because records did not verify his having been wounded by shrapnel during the attack.

"After the battle, our commander said they had misplaced most of our records, but they said if we could find our corpsmen to verify that we had been treated, then we would be OK," said Mr. Hall in the interview.

"Unfortunately, my corpsman was killed, and I didn't know who the doctor was who treated me," he said.

In 1994, while dining in an Ocean City restaurant, a patron saw Mr. Hall's Marine Corps insignia and after listening to his story, encouraged him to try to get his Purple Heart.

"I had to go to a doctor to verify my scar tissue. But I needed an eyewitness, which I didn't have. So I gave up again," said Mr. Hall in the interview.

It was while attending an Iwo Jima reunion in Mobile, Ala., a few years later that he met John Hall, who had been an eyewitness and was able to provide the necessary verification.

"His wounds came from an incoming shell that exploded within a few feet of him," John Hall said.

It was only after John Hall sent a letter to Maryland Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest that William Hall's wounds could be verified, which then made William Hall eligible for the decoration.

On June 23, 1998, as the Marine Band played and an honor guard stood at attention, Mr. Hall was presented his Purple Heart by the commanding officer of the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, at a ceremony held at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va.

"If I had to live my life over, I'd do the same thing, even if I didn't make it," Mr. Hall told the LaFollette Press, his hometown paper in Speedwell, Tenn., in a 1998 interview.

The former Joppatowne resident, who had lived in Ocean City since 1986, was born in Speedwell. After graduating from high school in Tennessee, he moved to Baltimore.

Mr. Hall was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1947 with the rank of sergeant, and went to work for the American Can Co. in Canton. He was supervisor of the engineering department when he retired in 1986.

Mr. Hall was a member of VFW Post 8296 and was active with the 1st Marine Corps Detachment, Delaware Chapter, of the Marine Corps League. He was especially interested in the organization's Toys for Tots campaign, which collects toys for needy children at Christmas.

His first marriage, to Nancy Hubers, ended in divorce.

Services with full military honors will be held at 3 p.m. June 7 at Arlington National Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife of 33 years, the former Ruth Kearney; two sons, Bruce E. Hall of Essex and Donald E. Hall of Phoenix, Ariz.; a daughter, Patricia H. Cottone of Malvern, Pa.; three sisters, Eula Dunn of Dundalk, Charlene Maddox of Speedwell, and Florence Basso of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.

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