Local WWII veteran guest of France at D-Day 70th anniversary

Local WWII veteran guest of France at D-Day 70th anniversary

Shirley Hall was certain when she answered the phone on May 29 that it was a prank call, so she did what anyone would. She hung up. When it rang again, Shirley listened but did not believe what she heard.

“I said ‘…are you kidding me? Is this a hoax?’ But it wasn’t a prank phone call at all. It was the French Embassy calling to invite Bob and me to Paris for the D-Day 70th Anniversary. We were both in shock,” she said.

Their amazing story began when Bob, 91, saw an article in the May VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) magazine inviting World War II (WWII) veterans to apply for an all-expenses paid trip to France to observe ceremonies in Paris and Normandy.

The Halls mailed their application with a letter from Bob explaining that he was a WWII veteran with the U.S. Army Infantry in the Asiatic-Pacific when the war ended and although not part of the Normandy invasion, he wanted to see where the war ended and to honor his fallen comrades.

“They contacted us to ask for additional information and our passport numbers. Bob didn’t even have a passport and we only had 11 days to get him one,” Shirley, 84, said.

Soon after that the French government approved their documents and confirmed their selection to attend the ceremonies.

“I said, ‘Shirley, how would you like to go to Paris with me?” Bob recalled. “Shirley started to cry, she was so happy.”

Honored along every mile
The couple boarded Delta Airlines on June 3, bound for Atlanta and on to Charles de Gaulle Airport, France. Beginning with the shuttle driver in long-term parking, everyone wanted a photo taken with the WW II veteran and his wife.

“A Delta Airline stewardess was on that shuttle too. When we told her about our trip she was so interested. We couldn’t believe it when we boarded and the announcements were made, she was one of the attendants and told our story to everyone on board and they all clapped for us,” Bob said.

“In Atlanta they upgraded us to first class for the overseas flight and announced our story again. When we reached France they asked us to wait…the French captains and crew wanted a photo taken with us,” Bob recalled. “That was the first time we heard the French say, ‘Merci, Merci’ (thank you) as they crossed their hearts…it happened everywhere we went when they saw U.S. military insignia on our caps or jackets. They got very emotional.”

Bob Hall returned to France 70 years later

Bob Hall returned to France 70 years later

Upon arrival the Halls traveled by private car to their hotel, then followed a three-hour tour of Paris. On June 5 they went to the Palais-Bourbon, a palace and seat of the French National Assembly. It was all gilt, gold and crystal chandeliers just like something out of Hollywood, they said. The Halls and other veterans walked a red carpet to be honored at a grand luncheon where they received bronze plaques from French President of the National Assembly Claude Bartolone and medals from U.S. Congress members in attendance.

On June 6, the 70th D-Day Anniversary, they left Paris at 3 a.m. to travel two hours by train to Caen and by bus to Sword Beach where world leaders gathered to speak, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth and French President Francois Hollande. Thousands attended the public events, with veterans ranging in age from their late 80s to 100 years old.

“It was amazing to see the crowds…they booed Russian President Vladimir Putin. There was a re-enactment of the battles, with a 21-gun salute, cannons and a jet flyover with red, white and blue plumes of smoke,” Bob said. “We were thankful to be there…the trip of a lifetime. I’ll never forget standing on that beach where so many died. It’s mind-boggling what our men did. We owe so much to them.”

Bob and Shirley Hall

Bob and Shirley Hall

Tradition of service goes on
Bob was married to his late wife Elizabeth “Dolly” Lanier Lynch for 42 years. Her well-known father, Walter C. Lynch, was The Jacksonville Journal Sports Editor for 25 years. The couple had four children, now nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Shirley has five children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren from a previous marriage. Following his military service, Bob returned to Jacksonville and spent 32 years in civil service at Jacksonville Naval Air Station before his 1979 retirement. He and Shirley married in 1993.

He is a Bronze Star Medal recipient, a life member of VFW Post 7909 and American Legion Post 137. He fishes every chance he gets and cooks his catch. He volunteers with Shirley every month at the Lake City VA Medical Center. They also volunteered many years for the Veterans Administration Medical Clinic on Eighth Street. Bob takes pride in the fact that a tradition of military service is carried on by grandson Jason R. Burford, U.S. Army sergeant, 10th Mountain Division, Ft. Drum, NY, who has served two tours in Afghanistan.

Bob Hall, back row center, with fellow veterans and French children

Bob Hall, back row center, with fellow veterans and French children

Shirley was a teacher’s aide at Lakeshore Elementary and Nathan B. Forrest High School [now Westside High School]. She is a member of VFW Post 7909 Ladies Auxiliary, attends yoga and volunteers at Signature Nursing Home, Community Hospice (Ramona Blvd.) and All Saints Nursing Home (Blanding Blvd.).

The couple – who say that whatever they do, they do together – look forward to attending a reunion of veterans met during their trip. The reunion will be held summer 2015 in New Orleans. Bob encourages veterans to record their wartime memories for the U.S. Library of Congress, Veterans History Project, as he has done. Local contact and information: www.VHPfirstcoast.org or call (904) 407-6956.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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