Former Veteran of the Year Col. (Ret.) George Robert Hall salutes the POW flag with a tear in his eye during the 30th Annual Veterans Day Service at the Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center. Moore died Sunday at age 83. (Ryan Moore / Hattiesburg American)
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A Vietnam War veteran, who endured one of the longest captivities as a prisoner of war in American history, has died.
Retired Air Force Col. George Robert Hall succumbed Sunday to his 20-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 83.
“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.”
George Robert Hall, who graduated from Hattiesburg High School in 1948, spent 7 ½ years (from 1965 to 1973) as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese army, after his plane was shot down during a reconnaissance mission.
Andrew Wiest, director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for the Study of War and Society, said Hall’s time trapped in and around Hanoi, including at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, ranks among the longest POW experiences in U.S. history.
“His experience was about as prolonged and brutal as you can get,” said Wiest, who has written several books about the Vietnam War.
Sam Hall said his brother’s weight, normally 170 pounds, sunk to under 100 pounds as a result of the torture he endured.
George Robert Hall spent much of his captivity in solitary confinement, using a stealthy tap system on the prison walls to communicate with other prisoners.
“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.”
Tibbett said one of Hall’s biggest contributions to Hattiesburg was his fund-raising efforts for the Veterans’ Memorial Park 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, who grew up in Hattiesburg, remembers being about 12 when George Robert Hall was released from his captivity and returned to Hattiesburg.
An overflow crowd packed Southern Miss’s Bennett 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.