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Southern Baptist family of Navy pilot, listed MIA 27 years, finds closure

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–Carole Hall has waited 27 years for her Navy pilot husband, Cmdr. James Wayne Hall, to come home from Vietnam. The war officially ended 25 years ago this month. Jim is home now, though not the way Carole secretly had hoped while she courageously persevered for nearly three decades, raising their three children and welcoming two grandchildren into the world.

Carole finally was able to lay his bones — and her dreams — to rest April 7 in Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors, after DNA testing positively identified her husband’s remains among those turned over to U.S. officials by the Vietnamese.

“I know what’s in that box because I have a picture of what’s in that box. It’s a box of bones,” Hall said. Yet as she laid red roses on his casket and stood with her three now-grown children — Julie, who had just turned 15 when her father died; Jeff, who was 11; and John, who was 10 — she could not hold back her tears, for “it was the closest I’ve been to Jim in 27 years.”

CNN’s “World News Today” carried a feature on Hall the evening of April 7.

Originally from Oklahoma, the Halls moved to Jacksonville, Fla., for Jim’s first assignment. They faithfully attended First Baptist Church in Jacksonville and served in several areas of lay leadership, including the music ministry and home visitation.

Carole’s visitation partner was Shirley Lindsay, wife of her pastor, the late Homer Lindsay Jr. “She was my Sunday school teacher and I was the outreach leader. We backed all over Jacksonville,” Hall said, remembering the times they got lost together trying to find a church prospect’s home.

Cmdr. Hall was an A-7 pilot when he was shot down. He was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam, in Squadron VA-86 aboard the aircraft carrier America.

On Oct. 28, 1972, Carole Hall saw a military vehicle pull into her driveway. “Nothing prepares you for that,” she said, although military spouses realize there is always the possibility of news coming back that their loved one has been killed in action, become a prisoner of war or been declared missing in action.

“I was thinking, ‘Maybe Jim was just shot down, but he’s been rescued, or he’s been injured, but he’s OK,'” Carole recalled. But for her, the letters MIA were all she and the children had.

That afternoon as she went for a walk by herself, “The Lord gave me 2 Timothy 1:7, ‘For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind.'” She said she discussed with the Lord “things he already knew,” such as, while believing she was a pretty good mother, “I thought I’d make a really lousy dad.” She told God she was just going to trust him to help her and to keep her healthy.

In 1974, she heard the POWs were being released and sent home. She was told to “just watch the TV” to see if her husband might get off one of the airplanes. She and the children watched intently every time there was word of another group flying back to the States, but they never saw him.

The next year, three years after receiving the MIA notice about her husband, she felt a need to get a new start. She said she prayed earnestly about what to do. “I felt like we should get closer to family because what Mr. and Mrs. Hall would have of Jim would be in their grandchildren,” Carole said.

She literally studied the possibilities, all around the United States, then, “The Lord led us to choose Colorado,” she said. She finally selected Colorado Springs because of the military facilities available and because “at that time it wasn’t too large!” They did not know anyone in the whole state, let alone their new neighborhood.

“She is an incredible woman of virtue,” said her pastor, Jay Badry. As soon as they got settled, she took the children to find a new church home, First Southern Baptist Church of Colorado Springs. All along, Badry said, Hall faithfully has served not only her local church and state Baptist convention as a pianist, but also as a Bible study leader in the Precept courses, an intensive study for laypeople. “She has taught literally hundreds of women,” despite her own personal pain, and “raised three wonderful children on her own to mature adults,” Badry said.

There were some dark and difficult times, and it wasn’t easy, Hall admitted, “but I never was fearful.” She said she always knew she was never alone, for God was with her.

“I walked on in faith, and I knew that God may be the only one who knew where Jim was,” she said. “My prayer was that Jim met the Lord in the air.”

She credits her “precious relationship with the Lord” for carrying her through the years. “He’s always been so very real to me and so very much a part of my life,” she said. “Having that strong faith to lean on has held me up.”

“She never pitied herself,” Badry emphasized. “She is a very mature woman spiritually. She is a woman who has huge faith in the Lord and lives that faith out in ministry to others on a daily basis. That’s what has held her together all these years in the face of this adversity.”

Upon hearing the news of the positive DNA match, Badry went to his deacons and other church leaders and said, “If [the apostle] James tells us the true and undefiled religion is to minister to the widows and orphans in their distress, then this is what we’re about.” He encouraged those who had the ability to attend the memorial service and stand by Carole Hall and her family on April 7.

Thinking only about 10 relatives and friends would be able to be there for the service, Hall was joyfully amazed when she saw more than 100 people gathered from across the country, including not only about a dozen relatives, but also at least 24 people from her church, First Southern Baptist Church of Colorado Springs; Sam Cotter, interim executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention, on behalf of all Southern Baptists in Colorado; and, most surprisingly, at least 25 of Cmdr. Hall’s former squadron mates. Until this time the shipmates of VA-86 had never been able to get together for any type of reunion because of their heartfelt pain over “this unfinished business,” one shipmate told Badry.

“Navy is family,” Carole Hall said. “There is a real sense of community. It’s a close-knit group,” especially those who serve together on carriers, she said.

As the family and friends of Cmdr. Hall stood amid the breathtaking view of nearly a quarter million graves of Americans buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Carole Hall somberly yet proudly watched as the horse-drawn caisson made its way to the burial site. As she listened to the sharply jolting sounds of the 21-gun salute, then the mournful sounds of the trumpeter’s military taps, she clutched to her heart the flag that so recently had clung to her husband’s coffin.

“I don’t take this privilege lightly at all,” she said, feeling compassion for the more than 2,000 American families whose loved ones are still listed as “missing in action.”

Navy jets flew overhead in the missing-man formation. But Carole Hall now knows exactly where her dear husband has been all these years, safe in the arms of Jesus.

(BP) photos available by calling the office of the First Southern Baptist Church, Colorado Springs, Colo., at (719) 633-4625.

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  • Debbie Moore