Dave Hall: ‘I don’t think you have time to be scared’
Dave Hall had a long military career which included flying bombing missions in Vietnam and carrying out leadership posts in the Air Force.
Hall, 71, grew up in Belfast, Maine, and graduated from Syracuse University.
He figured on becoming a forest ranger, but ended up in ROTC in college.
After graduation in 1970, he joined the Air Force and entered pilot training.
In the early ’70s, he was stationed at Castle Air Force Base, California and then Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.
By 1972, he was off to Vietnam where U.S. forces were fighting the Viet Cong.
“I was the youngest aircraft B-52 commander,” he said.
It was a time, Hall recalled, when much of the U.S. was divided, with some of those divisions created by an unpopular war.
“I was relatively apolitical,” he said.
Hall knew what he had to do, and it was to fly a B-52 carrying out bombing missions against the enemy.
He was part of the 1972 Christmas time bombing raid by the U.S. on North Vietnam ordered by President Nixon after peace talks between the two nations collapsed.
Hall was asked what his feelings were about those war days.
Was he frightened?
“I don’t think you have time to be scared,” he said. “I don’t think pilots are reflective. You compartmentalize.”
Hall said he and his plane crew were well trained and knew what they were doing.
There was indeed a certain “adrenaline rush” that came with the job.
“Do I want to do it again? No,” he said.
Hall ended up flying 80 missions, perilous journeys that began from air bases in Guam and Thailand.
He talked briefly of how the air war, in which he took part, was so much different than that experienced by U.S. ground troops which suffered great casualties.
“I didn’t have it as rough,” he said.
Once, while in the air his plane was hit by a surface air missile, but Hall was able to keep the plane flying.
“I had great crews. I think that was one of the things that carried me through,” he said. “I’m not terribly reflective, but when I think of all the people I served with … I lost good friends in training accidents. Some in war.”
After Vietnam, Hall led the life of an itinerant Air Force officer.
At Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, he was involved in air crew proficiency.
At Loring Air Force Base in his native state of Maine, he became a maintenance officer, and after that, a munitions officer for aircraft in Turkey.
Back at Loring, he was flying B-52s again, where he commanded an aircraft maintenance squadron.
Other positions included commanding the 337th Bomb Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, back to Barksdale where he served as assistant director of operations for the 8th Air Force, and later to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota where he was wing commander.
“I loved it,” he said of Ellsworth. “You had an opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”
Being involved in different aspects of the base, he said, was rewarding.
As Hall put it: “Flying is a skill, but being an officer is a career.”
Hall also served as vice commander and dean of students of the Air Command Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
During his 30-year career, he moved 31 times.
It was the kind of life that his wife and children learned to love.
In retirement, Hall took jobs leading up chamber of commerce groups.
“As a senior officer, you get to mingle with people downtown,” he said. “It was a good fit for five or six years. Then I got burned out on it.”
Eventually, he ended up at the airport in Selinsgrove doing in-flight instruction.
He now runs a flight school, DRH Pilot Services, at the Williamsport Regional Airport.
“I love it,” he said. “I’ve had some phenomenal students.”
Three of them, he noted, have going on to fly in the military.
He said it’s nice to help people reach their dreams.
Flying is in the family.
His son, Doug, was an Air Force pilot and now flies for United Airlines.
Katie, his daughter, married an Air Force pilot.
Looking back, he noted how times and attitudes about the military have since changed with people now thanking veterans for their service.
He thinks 9/11 had a lot of to do with it.
Of his career, he said, “It was a great experience and an opportunity to serve my country.”