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James Norman Hall



The Indianapolis Star, November 3, 1917

Wartime Sidelights - American Flyers for France
by Paul Ayres Rockwell

Paris - The Medaille Militaire (Military Medal) is conferred upon Corporal James Hall, of the Lafayette Escadrille. An American citizen, invalided out of service after having been a machine-gunner in the British Army, re-enlisted as a pilot-aviator with the Lafayette Escadrille. From the moment of his arrival at the front he showed a splendid courage and the purest spirit of sacrifice. June 26, 1917, he attacked alone seven enemy aeroplanes, to the astonished admiration of the troops who watched the combat from the ground. Gravely wounded during the struggle, he succeeded in bringing his machine back into our lines. He lost consciousness while saying, "My only regret is that I was not a more experienced flyer, so that I could have destroyed several of them."

The present nomination carries with it the War Cross with palm. This citation in the order of the French Army was awarded Corporal James Norman Hall of Colfax, Ia., following the most remarkable experience in the history of the American Escadrille, one which indeed is unique in the annals of the French Aerial Corps.

Corporal Hall, who had been at the front as a flyer but a few days, was ordered to make a late afternoon sortie over the lines near Sissons with Lieuts Thaw, Lufbery and other experienced airmen. Hall was the last man to leave the aviation field, however, and arrived over the trenches alone. He scouted up and down the lines for a few minutes, enjoying the novelty of the scene and keeping an eye open for enemy 'planes. Some 4,000 meters below him a heavy bombardment, preparatory to a night attack, was going on. Small white clouds continually appearing around him indicated that he had attracted the attention of the boche anti-aircraft gunners, but that did not interest Hall. He was hunting a German aeroplane. He had gotten quite a way back into enemy territory when he saw, about 500 meters below him, a biplane enemy observation machine. Also he saw, flying at the same altitude as himself, a group of six boche 'aeroplanes de chasse. Hall spent about three seconds deciding what to do, then he dived straight down and attacked the biplane.

Immediately the six fighting planes came down after the daring American, and, at the same instant he began firing at the observation machine, they started circling around him and shooting him up. Hall realized that he was in a most dangerous predicament and maneuvered to fight his way out. A bullet cut his forehead, and, as he did a "renversement," another passed between his legs, grazing the thigh. Then a bullet struck him under the left shoulder blade, and passed cleanly through his chest, barely missing the heart. Hall lost consciousness and began falling. The fight had occurred two kilometers within the German lines and thousands of French poilus who were anxiously watching from their trenches were sure that the Nieuport was going to smash up in boche territory. But although Hall had fainted, his subconscious will made him keep tight hold on the controls of his airplane, which gradually straightened out and volplaned toward the French trenches. The machine got about 400 meters behind the friendly first line when Hall regained consciousness for an instant. Not knowing where he was he cut off his motor, turned round his machine, which, to the astonished agony of the watching Frenchmen, turned again in the direction of the enemy. Then Hall fainted for the second time.

The wounded aviator was hurried to a field hospital a few miles away. Three days later, Capt. Thenault, the French commander of the American flyers, went to the hospital and pinned the military medal and the war cross on Hall's breast. The latter received his merited decorations with characteristic modesty, saying: "I think you for this great honor, captain, but I have done nothing to deserve it." Later Hall was moved to the American Ambulance at Neuilly, and within three weeks from the day he was wounded was walking about in Paris, looking not at all like a man who had so recently gazed death in the face. When he was wounded reports were cabled to America that he had been killed and now Hall gets much amusement from reading the obituary notices friends clip from newspapers and send him.

Corporal James Norman Hall was in England on a pleasure trip in August, 1914. He at once enlisted in an English regiment and went to the front as a machine gunner. He spent fifteen months in the trenches of northern France, then was invalided from the service and returned home. He wrote a successful book about his experiences as a "Tommy," called "Kitchener's Mob." He came to Paris in August, 1916, and shortly after enlisted to fly for France. last mid-June he joined the Lafayette group on the Aisne front. On his first flight over the lines he attacked a German machine and, carried away by the ardor of the combat, almost collided with his adversary. The Boche pilot was so frightened by the impetuous onslaught that he did not attempt to fire at Hall but turned his machine nose downward and dived straight to the ground. It was on his second sortie that Hall was wounded.

~ source: The Indianapolis Star, November 3, 1917
~ transcribed and submitted by Sharyl Ferral http://iowaoldpress.com