World War II veteran tours exhibits, shares stories during 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum visit
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 4, 2019) -- Moving from one exhibit to another at the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum, Howard Hall saw a few reminders from his time in service more than 70 years ago.
Sometimes this would prompt the 99-year-old World War II veteran to share a story or two with his family members and Sepp Scanlin, museum director, during his visit Jan. 29 to Fort Drum.
Hall was drafted in the U.S. Army in 1943, and he left his job at Sealright Company in Fulton, New York, for 14 weeks of basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“First time in 40 years they had snow down there,” said Hall, a lifelong Oswego resident. “Some of those guys had never seen snow before.”
Hall said that he made good friends with a Soldier during basic training who struggled to pass the physical.
“He went to Europe when I went to the South Pacific, but we were good buddies,” he said. “They would tell you not to get too well-acquainted with the guy next to you – don’t make good friends – but you can’t help it.”
He also received three months of infantry training at Fort Ord, California, before shipping out to the Pacific theater. Hall served as a truck driver for Headquarters Company, 32nd Infantry Division, and he is still proud of his unit, known as the “Red Arrow Division.”
“More days in combat than any other division during the war,” he said.
Hall said that his job was moving hundreds of gallons of water from treatment plants to the front lines.
“They told me that it was a seven-day-a-week operation, but you don’t have to stand in any formations, so I took the job,” he said. “I was all over the islands, but I don’t think anyone even knew who I was. I don’t even remember my first sergeant’s name.”
While deployed in the Philippines, Hall was fortunate enough to meet a few service members from his hometown.
“One time, I was stuck in the water and I got out of my truck and went to the guy ahead of me,” Hall said. “I rapped on the door to say ‘gimme a tow out of this mud,’ and it was the guy down the street from where I lived. I think there was five guys that I met from home in one month.”
Hall brought a scrapbook to the museum filled with newspaper clippings and photos that he had taken during his deployment that captures his time in the Philippines, New Guinea and Japan.
“I had one of those box cameras, and I would stuff it in the bottom of my duffel and kept it covered up,” he said. “It never got damaged. We would send the film down to the Air Force on the coast of New Guinea, and they would develop it and send it back quick.”
Not everything he photographed made it back home, though.
“Everything was censored and you couldn’t take any pictures of any military equipment or vehicles, but I was taking lots of pictures of people,” Hall said. “I sent one home, and it was censored. The next week I sent it home in another letter, and I got it back again. Three times it came back. The next thing I knew, the captain wanted to see me up in headquarters.”
The officer explained that the self-portrait of Hall was fine, just not the body of water in the background.
“That was the only lake in New Guinea, and he told me if that letter was ever intercepted by the enemy then they would know right where we were,” Hall said.
Hall also brought a second scrapbook with him that told the story of his younger brother’s Army service. He still has the letters and photos that his brother Bob mailed home while training with the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, Colorado.
“I remember my brother telling me that they would ski on the weekends, and the MPs (military police) were all over the place writing up guys who were speeding on skis,” he said. “Eighty miles an hour downhill, and they were written up, because you belong to the Army and if you wind up in the hospital because of an accident, they lose good help that way.”
Hall said that his brother wanted to be a ski instructor when he returned home, but, unfortunately, that did not happen. The young private transferred to another unit – the Americal Division (23rd Infantry Division) – and was killed in combat on the island of Cebu, Philippines.
During the museum tour, Scanlin was able to show the family some of the equipment that their relative would have trained with as a ski trooper. He also provided some historical context to some of Hall’s stories.
“Often the family lore and legend that people understand is factual at the local level, but they don’t have the background to understand the larger forces at play,” Scanlin said. “In this case, the visit was particularly poignant in that not only was he able to share his personal experiences with the 32nd Infantry Division, but he shared memories of his brother who trained at Camp Hale.”
Scanlin said that he enjoys meeting visitors with an interest in military history, but it takes on a greater significance when that person is a WWII veteran. Given the restrictions to entering post and the small museum staff, he said that they make every effort to host these veterans and their families.
“It is our local version of an honor flight,” Scanlin said.
Hall said that he wanted to visit Fort Drum after he had spoken with Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division Band when they performed in Fulton.
“We tried to get on post once before, but we couldn’t get through security,” he said. “This was nice, though, getting to see all of this for the first time.”
Howard Hall, a 99-year-old World War II veteran and lifelong resident of Oswego County, met with Sepp Scanlin, 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum director, on Jan. 29, with members of his family for a tour of the museum. He brought photo albums that documented his own deployment in the Pacific Theater, as well as that of his younger brother, who trained with the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, Colorado, and was killed in combat on the island of Cebu, Philippines.