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A hero comes home

Waynesville native Fred Hall enlisted in the Air Force in 1967. Julia Hall Coffey photo Waynesville native Fred Hall enlisted in the Air Force in 1967. Julia Hall Coffey photo

America reckons with its legacy in Vietnam, one soldier at a time


Throughout his life, Frederick Mervyn Hall was enveloped in the kind of love that for his wife, his parents, his classmates and his hometown didn’t end on a mountainside in Vietnam all those years ago. 

Fred was a good kid from a cozy community who went to war for freedom and democracy but didn’t return. He never got the chance to create a life for himself, to have a career, to start a family, to grow old with them. He was only 25.

Like thousands of his generation, he was more than just a name carved on some monument somewhere. He was a loving husband, a devoted son, a dear friend, a talented musician, a cultured scholar, a dependable military officer — a hero.

After being listed as missing in action for more than 54 years, Fred now comes home to tributes not bestowed on all of his Vietnam-era comrades; it was a complex conflict between world powers fighting over abstract notions, and many Americans who inherited its legacy still struggle with it.

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Next month, Western North Carolina will get to show Fred, and the world, what it truly means when a hero comes home.

 Fred was born on June 6, 1943, the only child of Robert “Birdie” Hall, a Champion Paper employee who had emigrated from Dublin, Ireland, and Irene “Reeney” Galloway, a Waynesville native who worked as a nurse at the old Haywood hospital beginning in the 1930s. Fred was the apple of their eye. 

They lived in a happy little two-bedroom house up on Keller Street in Waynesville. During the chilly Western North Carolina winters, warm air from the basement furnace blew up through vents in the floor, where young Fred would huddle while getting dressed for school.

His mother, a real “Betty Crocker” type, was always in the kitchen preparing multiple formal meals and desserts and pots of tea each day, and also making young Fred his favorite breakfast, buttered toast with crispy melted brown sugar on top.

Waynesville was a sleepy mountain town then, with less than half the population it has today; the newly-created Great Smoky Mountains National Park was still in its infancy, and tourism hadn’t yet astroturfed the rural Appalachian character of the place, leaving it much as it had been for the previous half-century — densely wooded misty mountain peaks looming low over a tidy downtown surrounded by cool mountain streams and rolling pastures rich with cattle.

Grandma Minnie Jenkins Galloway and grandpa George Galloway lived just up the hill from the Halls. George smoked hams from the hogs he’d raised and slaughtered and would grow corn, gourds and a little tobacco.

Fred would often sit in their garden, pulling spring onions right out of the ground and eating them.

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Fred loved the water, and worked as a lifeguard at the Waynesville Recreation Center during college. Julia Hall Coffey photo

A handsome, blue-eyed, blond-haired boy, Fred was a budding instrumentalist who took his love of music with him to Waynesville Township High School in the late 1950s.

“He was a great kid,” said Chip Killian, a prominent Haywood County attorney and one of Fred’s best friends from childhood. “Just a straight up nice kid, straight-arrow type of kid. Good student. Played flute in the band.”

In 1957, Fred earned a certificate of achievement from the school because, as a member of the junior band, he maintained an “A” average and was voted outstanding in his section. He sang as a tenor in the school’s chorus, made all-state band and was involved with several other school clubs.

Fred and his friends were clean-cut, all-American boys. About as wild as they got was staying up until the wee hours of the night playing bridge, Fred’s doting mother plying them with tea and sandwiches.

Offered a full-ride to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for music, Fred turned it down, deciding he wanted to study business there instead.

In his senior yearbook photo, Fred — clad in a white shirt, white tuxedo jacket and black bow tie — offers a mischievous smile while gazing intently at some far-off horizon. Below his photo is a quote.

“More people than ever before are graduated,” he wrote, “but not educated.”

 By the mid-1950s, when Fred was in high school, the Southeast Asian region of Indochina now known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam had been a French colony for more than 60 years but for a brief Japanese interregnum near the close of World War II.

The French regained control quickly after Japan’s defeat and soon faced a communist insurgency led by Ho Chi Minh, a nationalist revolutionary. With assistance from two other communist regimes, China and the Soviet Union, Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, seated at Hanoi in the north. The United States and Great Britain instead recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam, centered at Saigon in the south.

Advisors from the United States became involved in 1950. France ended its military involvement in May 1954 after its garrison at Dien Bien Phu was overrun by communist insurgents.

When the peace agreement was signed two months later, Vietnam had been partitioned over the protestations of the South Vietnamese delegation and against the wishes of Minh, who wanted to continue the fight.

The fight would unofficially continue through the late 1950s as the North and the South, with the support of their allies, each carried out activities aimed at destabilizing the other.

President John F. Kennedy, meanwhile, began his first term focusing on communist expansion that had taken place during the earliest days of the Cold War, but it wasn’t going very well.

In April 1961, Kennedy’s invasion of Cuba by U.S.-sponsored exiles at the Bay of Pigs failed. Less than four months later, construction began on the Berlin Wall.

“Once the United States put its support behind the South Vietnam regime after the French-Indochina War, I think it became an issue of credibility that if a United States ally had fallen to communism, that was going to have an impact on U.S. credibility and prestige that would undermine larger Cold War contests,” said Greg Daddis, director of the Center for War and Society at San Diego State University and the U.S.S. Midway Chair in modern U.S. military history there.

Daddis holds a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, a master’s degree from Villanova University and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He retired as a colonel from the Army after 26 years of service, wrote several books about the Vietnam War and served as an advisor on Ken Burns’ 2017 documentary.  

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“There was concern that it could create this ‘domino effect’ that would undermine the U.S. position in Southeast Asia, and then close off that entire part of the world for the United States, which would limit their access to raw materials and trade markets,” Daddis said. “I think there certainly was an economic component, but I really do think that a lot of it had to do with this fear of expanding communism.”

Kennedy told The New York Times that he wanted to “draw a line in the sand” against communist expansion and that Vietnam was the place to do it. The year before Kennedy began his term, U.S. military presence in Vietnam was rather modest with just 900 advisors. But in 1961, when Fred left Waynesville for college in Chapel Hill, that number grew to more than 3,200. 

The next year, as Fred began the first of his two summers working as a lifeguard at the old Waynesville Recreation Center, Kennedy more than tripled the number of troops to 11,000.

Fred headed back to Chapel Hill in 1963, two months before Kennedy was assassinated. Troop totals in Vietnam approached 20,000.

Before returning to Chapel Hill in 1964, Fred spent a week visiting the World’s Fair in New York City. The motto of the fair, for which Kennedy had broken ground in 1962, was “peace through understanding.” 

As Fred sampled New York’s big-city life and the cultural offerings of World’s Fair exhibitors from Greece to Pakistan, U.S. involvement in Vietnam was escalating.

In 1965, Fred spent the summer getting some work experience as a night auditor in Kittery Point, Maine, at a 200-year-old resort called Sparhawk Hall. That year, when 3,500 Marines landed at Da Nang, the U.S. ground war in Vietnam began in earnest. Troop levels exploded to more than 180,000.

Da Nang marked a significant departure from Kennedy’s supposition that South Vietnam could mostly take care of itself and signaled the beginning of hands-on American involvement in the conflict.

When Fred finally graduated from UNC with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1966 there were 385,000 American troops in Southeast Asia.

By 1967 there were more than 485,000 troops on the ground.

Fred decided he wanted to be among them.

In February 1967 he enlisted in the Air Force.

A July 5, 1967, brief in the Waynesville Mountaineer, Haywood County’s oldest newspaper, says Hall was commissioned a second lieutenant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, on June 30 after completing basic training at nearby Randolph Air Force Base.

Soon, he would report to navigator school at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California.

His mother said in a subsequent interview that even though Fred could have avoided serving due to his status as an only son, he felt that doing so would dishonor his country and his friends.

“I think most Americans, even those who were drafted or volunteered, felt that they were following in their fathers’ footsteps, the World War II generation that had fought for democracy and freedom abroad,” Daddis said.

As the war dragged on, those assumptions began to draw more and more scrutiny. Is U.S. national security really at risk? In South Vietnam, of all places? Is this a nation-state committed to democracy? If it’s not, why are we fighting on their behalf?

“Most folks will tell you that 1968 is this tipping point where public opinion starts to shift gradually away from trusting the government and believing in these kinds of Cold War assumptions,” Daddis said.

Right around that time, Hall was stationed in Arizona at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, living in a nearby apartment complex called the Spartan Arms on North Alvernon Way in Tucson.

It was there he met a University of Arizona art student named Julia Jean Keith, a Texan crowned Miss Houston in 1965.

The apartment complex had a pool, where nearly all the residents formed a close bond. They would all gather there in the evenings, grilling, swimming or just socializing. Fred would bring his guitar down and play folk songs popular at the time, or hymns, as others sang along. They all went on complex-sponsored outings, like to the dog track. Sometimes, they attended church together.

Fred and Julia immediately became best friends. She couldn’t even remember their “first date” because they’d been so close since their first meeting that the transition from friends to soulmates was less of an event than it was a natural evolution.

“He latched onto me, and he was crazy about me,” she said. “And I was crazy about him.”

They were married in Tucson on Dec. 18, 1968, while Hall was still stationed at Davis-Monthan. He moved into her tiny apartment in the complex where they first met.

By this time, U.S. presence had reached its high in terms of sheer numbers with more than 536,000 military personnel involved in the conflict. Nearly 37,000 had already died.   

Fred, recently promoted, brought Julia to Waynesville later that winter, where they visited with his parents.

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In 1968 Fred married Julia Jean Keith, a tomboy Texan who was Miss Houston in 1965. Julia Hall Coffey photo 

Another brief in the Mountaineer, published on Feb. 19, 1969, indicated that after the visit Hall and his wife returned to his duty station at Davis-Monthan. The brief closed with an ominous portent for the newlyweds.

“He is scheduled to leave at the end of the month for duty in Vietnam.”

They’d been married all of two months.

The last time Julia ever saw Fred Hall was at the airport. The last thing he said to her was, “I love you.”

“It was so horrible,” she said. “You can’t even imagine how traumatic it was. It would be nice to think I was looking nice and was composed. I was anything but. It was horrendous. It was like they had pulled your guts out. It was the fear of never seeing him again.”

She relocated to Houston to stay with family while Hall was deployed, but she did keep in touch with him through periodic phone calls and letters when he was briefly stationed in the Philippines.

In early April 1969 Julia mailed an Easter card to her husband, who simultaneously mailed one to her. When she opened the card he’d sent, she was astonished to see that despite being half a world apart, they’d both chosen the exact same card.


 On April 12, 1969, Maj. Ernest Leo DeSoto, a San Francisco native, climbed into the pilot’s seat of his McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom sitting on the tarmac at Da Nang Airbase, near the South China Sea in the northern part of South Vietnam.

The Phantom was quite possibly the apex of Vietnam-era combat jet technology, with a top speed of more than 1,400 miles per hour. It could handle fighter-bomber and interceptor roles with equal skill, carried a variety of weapons and was a more-than-capable adversary for its Soviet-era MiG opponents. It had two engines and two seats.

Into the rear seat climbed Hall, the navigator.

DeSoto and Hall departed the airbase that day with another aircraft from the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron, which had been conducting operations in Vietnam since 1965.

Accounts differ — the Department of Defense says it was a strike mission but Julia said the jets were scrambled to assist an unarmed forward air control aircraft that had come under fire in Quàng Nam Province, just to the southwest of the airbase.

The mission ended up being canceled en route. As the jets turned for home through heavy cloud cover, the lead aircraft’s pilot saw DeSoto and Hall enter a cloud bank. When he looked back, their aircraft was gone. It had flown into a mountain.

An immediate air search conducted by the lead pilot showed no signs the crew had survived. Another airborne search and rescue mission ensued, locating the crash site but not the crew. Due to hostile activity near the wreckage, a ground investigation was not possible.

“The doorbell rang at my parents’ home,” Julia said. “There were two formally dressed Air Force officers standing there. They came in, and we sat in the living room.”

They told her that the love of her life was gone. Not coming home. Not dead. Just gone.

Torn apart by war, Fred and Julia had known each other for less than two years.

 After Fred’s disappearance, there wasn’t much in the way of information coming out of Vietnam about his fate. Waynesville mourned but held out hope and never forgot him.

“We always wondered, was he still alive or not?” Fred’s pal, Killian, said.  “We didn’t know if he was dead. We thought he probably was, but the monument up here in front of the courthouse shows him as ‘missing in action.’ There are 21 names on there but only one MIA, Frederick Mervyn Hall.”

Julia tried to move on as best she could, working as a dental hygienist and teacher at a Christian school in Texas, but Fred was never far from her mind. Indeed, she said her entire life had been infused with his presence.

Photos of Fred lined the hallways of her home. She kept that old guitar he used to play by the pool at the Spartan Arms on North Alvernon Way in Tucson. She still has the carved wooden fruit and bowl set he sent her from the Philippines, and the woven bamboo tray with the map of Vietnam on it, and the Easter card.

Over the first few years of the 1970s, the conflict continued to devolve into a bloody stalemate. By early 1972 U.S. ground forces were well into the process of withdrawing, leaving mostly air support and artillery.

In January 1973 Julia was in Paris, France, during the negotiation of the Paris Peace Accords that ultimately led to the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam after more than 58,000 American military personnel had died.

The U.S. had initially listed around 2,500 soldiers as missing in action. The Paris Peace Accords resulted in Operation Homecoming and the return of 591 prisoners of war. Hall was not among them.

Eight months later, Julia and her mother visited Waynesville on their way back from the fifth annual meeting of the National League of Families of Missing in Action in Southeast Asia at the Statler Hilton in Washington, D.C.

The League, as it’s called, was founded by the wife of Navy Commander James Stockdale. Stockdale was shot down in 1965 and became the most senior Navy officer imprisoned in North Vietnam over nearly eight years.

The League’s iconic flag, a stark black-and-white depiction of a man with his head slightly bowed as an armed guard in a tower looms over his shoulder, is its most visible symbol, but the nonprofit’s work to obtain the release of prisoners and fully document the missing will be its lasting legacy.

“Especially in the era of an all-volunteer military, those who serve our country have the right to be able to count on the fact that we, the American people, will do everything possible to account for them and return them home to their family,” said Ann Mills Griffith, chair of the League.

Like Hall, Griffith’s brother, Jim Mills, was a back seater in a Phantom who went missing in 1966 after crashing into the South China Sea. Mills was identified in 2018 and interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 2019. Griffith recalls her family’s uncertainty during the intervening years.

There was still considerable uncertainty in Waynesville over the fate of Hall, who had been promoted to captain while missing. In 1974, every local government in Haywood County, including Canton, Clyde, Hazelwood, Waynesville and the county itself, joined together to proclaim Oct. 11-18 “Fred Hall week,” calling it a week of prayer and concern.

“Captain Fred M. Hall is an outstanding product of Haywood County, having lived his entire life here, impressing all those who knew him with his high moral fiber, devotion to God, love of his family and friends, willingness to help others in times of need and love for these mountains of Western North Carolina,” the proclamation reads in part.

The local Kiwanis put out flags in Waynesville and Maggie Valley. The Jaycees did the same in Canton. A memorial service was held at First Presbyterian Church, where Fred’s parents, still living in that little house on Keller Street, had prayed for his return all that time.

Four years later, on Feb. 9, 1978, Hall was declared killed in action. Days after, another memorial service was held at First Presbyterian.

“Vietnam was a sad and frustrating experience that continues to grieve so many American families and has crippled or destroyed the lives of so many of our fine young men,” his parents wrote a month later.

Despite the declaration, his parents told reporter Bill Studenc in 1985 that they still hadn’t given up hope. Fred’s father, Birdie, would pass away that same year, never knowing what had happened to his only son.

The problem was, at the height of the Cold War, there still wasn’t a lot of information coming to the U.S. from Vietnam on the 1,200 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen listed as missing.

“We weren’t really on good terms at that time,” said Grant Coates, national chair for the Vietnam Veterans of America POW/MIA committee who served in the Army from 1968 through 1974 and was in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 as part of a five-man dog team that tracked enemy fighters.

But the chilly relations between the two bitter enemies were about to thaw, thanks in large part to a historic VVA effort called the Veterans Initiative Program that began in 1993 — after Fred’s mother told another reporter that she was still holding out hope, and before the normalization of official relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

“We reached out to the Vietnamese veterans and in essence we said, ‘We killed your friends.  Don’t you want them back? Because we want our missing back. So, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to reach out to our veteran community and we’re going to ask them if they have any items that might have been taken from the battlefield, or if they have information on the location of burial sites. We will give that to you, so that you can go find your missing fellow soldiers,’” Coates explained. “We felt that this was a way to create a positive atmosphere with the Vietnamese veterans.”

At the close of the war, Coates said, the Vietnamese listed more than 300,000 of their own people as missing. Since the VVA program’s inception, U.S. veterans have provided at least 305 pieces of information — artifacts, documents, even memories — that helped the Vietnamese draw down their missing to around 200,000. Recently, a diary taken from a Vietnamese soldier during the 1967 Battle of Dak To was returned to the soldier’s niece and nephew.

The intent of the program was to produce some reciprocation on the part of the Vietnamese.

“We reach out to our people and ask if they have an item to give it back, or give us a story as to where they found it,” Coates said. “And maybe that will help start the trail of our missing being recovered. Anything that does come back, we refer right over to DPAA.”

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Founded in 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is an agency within the Department of Defense that is responsible for recovering American military personnel from conflicts as distant as World War II and as recent as the Gulf War. Contemporary cases are handled by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System while the DPAA functions as more of a cold-case unit.

Dr. Gregory Berg, who’s been with the DPAA since 1999, is a case manager; of the thousand-odd cases in the DPAA system at any one time there are few Berg hasn’t touched in some way.

In 1995, shortly after the VVA Veterans Initiative Program began, Hall’s crash site was rediscovered in the Giang District of Quang Nam Province near the Laotian border and mere minutes from the airbase DeSoto and Hall departed.

Vietnamese and American search teams, including the DPAA, conducted a number of investigative and recovery efforts over the intervening 25 years until in March 2021, a Vietnamese team was able to gather material evidence and possible osseous remains.

“We have spent about the last decade or so working in partnership with the Vietnamese government to establish Vietnamese excavation teams that prosecute and excavate sites for us in Vietnam, in areas that typically we aren’t allowed to go to and/or areas that are deemed too hazardous or too difficult to get into by our typical methods,” Berg said.

Hall’s crash site was on a “really, really steep hill,” says Berg. The Vietnamese team searched a 400 square-meter area and gathered evidence that established the identity of the aircraft, which in turn tied DeSoto and Hall to the site.

The team also found two bone fragments.

In these types of cases, all of the evidence is then subjected to a joint forensic review process, where the U.S. and the Vietnamese come together to determine the likelihood of the remains being from a U.S. loss, as opposed to a local loss.

Berg just so happened to be in Vietnam as part of the joint forensic review process for DeSoto and Hall.

“We looked at those together, and we decided that those two pieces of bone had a high likelihood of being one of the two U.S. aviators aboard that aircraft,” said Berg. “They were repatriated to the United States at that point.”

From there, the DPAA attempts to make a definitive identification of the remains, based on the case information that accompanies them.

“One of our shortest identifications ever, I think, was like four days, probably about 10 or 15 years ago,” Berg said. “But some cases can take 25 or 30 years. It all depends on the type of information that you have at hand.”

Advances in DNA technology make identification possible in cases where, even 20 years ago, it wouldn’t have been. Fragments as small as a fingernail can now yield important results.

“In this particular instance, this case was relatively straightforward,” Berg said. “It came in and had two solid pieces of bone that were eligible for DNA testing.”

Three separate DNA tests were performed on the remains.

“In this case, we just got incredibly, incredibly lucky,” Berg said. “Both fragments went to opposite individuals. It was just really kind of amazing, and happenstance.”

Unknowingly, the Vietnamese search team had provided identifiable remains for both DeSoto and Hall. The entire process took less than two years.

DeSoto, promoted to colonel while missing, was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery on June 30.

“He was a great guy and he believed in what he was doing,” his wife, Joyce, said. “He loved to fly, and he loved being an American, that was his life.”

Berg remarked that in the case of Hall, the DNA results were exceptionally strong. The remains, he said, are 2.75 trillion times more likely to be Hall’s than anyone else’s. DeSoto’s results weren’t as strong, but were still irrefutable.

“I’m very proud of this one,” Berg said.

Part of the DPAA’s mandate stipulates that next of kin be notified within 48 hours of a positive identification, which for Hall happened on March 23.

For Julia, receiving the news was like removing a scab.

“I just was thinking that I would get married and have children and that I had always loved North Carolina,” she said. “Fred was a joy in my heart and has always been, and I’m sorry that we did not have a chance to have the life that we both dreamt of.”


On Oct. 8, almost 49 years to the day since “Fred Hall week,” Frederick Mervyn Hall will return to Waynesville for the last time, and for the first time in nearly 55 years.

Waynesville’s Historic Preservation Committee will present to the Town Council a resolution declaring that week “Fred Hall week.” 

Civic organizations, community groups, veterans associations and people from across the region will line Waynesville’s Main Street to welcome Fred home as he arrives via motorcade from Greenville Spartanburg International Airport. 

Not every Vietnam veteran — living or deceased — was welcomed home the way Fred will be.

Macon County native Tom McNish spent more than six years in brutal Vietnamese prisons, some of them with late U.S. Sen. John McCain, after being blasted out of his F-105 Thunderchief in 1966. McNish described his astonishment at learning how some returning veterans had been treated before he was released during Operation Homecoming in 1973.

“They come home from serving their country, putting their life on the line and they come back to a country where they’ve got to take their uniform off before they go out in public,” he told Blue Ridge Public Radio in 2018. “They get spit on, they get yelled at, they’re called baby killers. It’s just absolutely atrocious.”

Greg Daddis, who served in both operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, explained why.

“I think it’s an example of the larger frustrations over policy,” he said. “And I think for those Americans who felt that the policy had gone awry, returning soldiers were visible representations of that policy and they kind of lashed out against them.”

Ann Mills Griffith, chair of the League, cites the poor treatment of some Vietnam veterans as one of the reasons for her continuing work. 

“The loudest voices are often the ones that get the most attention. That’s true in today’s world, as well. So even if it’s a minority voice, a comparatively small number to the larger American body politic, that’s what happens. And that’s what happened in those days,” she said. “A lot of what you’re seeing has been my way of apology to Vietnam veterans, to be welcomed back home.”

One of the positives to come from the Vietnam War, McNish said, was the reflection years later that there’s a difference between the policy and the people entrusted to carry it out in the field.

“[What] we have learned from that experience is that you don’t blame the soldier for the war,” he said. “You see soldiers ... today, walking proudly in public in their uniforms and being told ‘Thank you for your service.’ That, to me, is a great blessing.”

On Oct. 10, Hall will be laid to rest with full military honors in Waynesville’s historic Green Hill Cemetery, not far from his father, Birdie, and his mother, Reeney, who died in 2007.

“I thought long and hard,” Julia said. “I thought that I would like for him to be at Arlington [National Cemetery] to honor him, but in my heart, I thought I would like for him to be with his mother and his daddy.”

It will also be the first time in five decades that Julia has been able to draw near to him.

“My last occasion with Fred at the airport was so traumatic. I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again,” she said, choking back tears. “This is his homecoming. That’s what all this is about. It’s all about Fred and who he is and how he made a difference in the world. Now he’s coming home to be laid to rest with his mom and dad, and me.”

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Fred and Julia, shown here in Tucson, Arizona, had been married for less than three months when he was deployed to Vietnam. Julia Hall Coffey photo

Earlier this year Killian and funeral home owner Wells Greeley secured permission from the town to conduct a rare double-deep burial in Green Hill. Fred will be interred first, and when it comes time for Julia to join him there, she will.

“I love him and I’ve missed him,” she wept. “I say, ‘What if? What would our lives have been?’ There was no end to the story. But it’s God’s plan, and He knows best. And I accept it.”

All this time, Julia said her faith sustained her and promised her a joyful reunion with Fred, and with Birdie and Reeney and Minnie and George. Even today, Julia can see clearly in her mind her own version of what it truly means when a hero — when her hero — comes home.

“I’m standing on the balcony of my apartment at the Spartan Arms on North Alvernon Way in Tucson,” she said. “And I’m watching the Phantom jets fly across the sky, coming into Davis-Monthan to land, and for Fred to get out of the plane and come home for dinner.”

Fred Hall’s life

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June 6, 1943 — Frederick Mervyn Hall is born in Haywood County.

May 27, 1957 — Hall receives an award from Waynesville Township High School. As a member of junior band, he had an A average and was voted as outstanding in his section.

May 23, 1962 — Hall goes to work as a lifeguard at the Waynesville Recreation Center.  

Sept. 12, 1963 — Hall leaves for his junior year at UNC, where he will serve as a freshman counselor.

Sept. 10, 1964 — Hall begins his senior year at UNC in the school of business administration after spending a week at the World’s Fair in New York City before coming home. Over the summer, he worked at the Highlander Railroad in Maggie Valley.

Sept. 15, 1965 — Hall returns to Chapel Hill after working as a night auditor at historic Sparhawk Hall in Kittery Point, Maine.

May 1966 — Hall graduates from UNC with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

February 1967 — Hall enlists in the Air Force.

June 30, 1967 — Hall is commissioned a second lieutenant at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, and will soon report to Sacramento, California’s Mather Air Force Base for navigator school.

Dec. 18, 1968 — Hall marries Julia Jean Keith, a native of Houston, in Tucson, Arizona. Keith was a student at the University of Arizona and the 1965 Miss Houston, while Hall was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

Feb. 19, 1969 — Newly promoted, Hall and his wife return to Tucson after visiting his parents in Waynesville. Later that month, Hall deployed for duty in Vietnam. 

April 12, 1969 — Hall and his pilot fail to return from a mission in Quàng Nam Province.

Aug. 8, 1973 — Julia and her mother visit Hall’s parents in Waynesville after attending the fifth annual meeting of the National League of Families of Missing in Action in Southeast Asia at the Statler Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Oct. 2, 1974 — All local governments in Haywood County recognize Oct. 11-18 as Fred Hall Week. The Waynesville Jaycees “adopt” Fred Hall to raise awareness campaign and pressure the U.S. government to send search and rescue teams into enemy territory to account for prisoners and the missing. Kiwanis puts out flags in Waynesville and Maggie Valley for Fred Hall Week. 

Oct. 11, 1974 — First Presbyterian holds a memorial service for Hall. 

Oct. 23, 1974 — Hall’s parents, Birdie and Reeney, thank the community in a letter to the editor.

Feb. 9, 1978 — Capt. Hall is declared killed in action.

Feb. 19, 1978 — Another memorial service is held for Hall at First Presbyterian.

March 1, 1985 — Hall’s parents say they’re still waiting, and still hoping. Hall’s father, Birdie, dies later that year.

Jan. 11, 1993 — Hall’s mother says she hasn’t given up hope for her son.

May 1995 — A joint field activity team locates Hall’s crash site.

July 1996 — A search of the crash site is conducted to recover evidence.

1998-2020 — A number of investigation and recovery efforts are conducted, including by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

Dec. 4, 2007 — Hall’s mother, Reeney, passes away.

March 2021 — Another search of the crash site recovers possible human remains.

November 2021 — Hall’s remains are repatriated to the custody of the DPAA.

March 23, 2023 — The DPAA declares both Hall and his pilot DeSoto accounted for, after making positive identifications of their remains.

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