Saluting Jim Hall: a community treasure

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Jim Hall speaks at the 2008 Memorial Day service. File photo.

In Granby, the American Legion Pancake Breakfast is synonymous with the opening day of fishing season—a maple-syrup-covered tradition anglers and breakfast lovers anticipate all year. On the second Saturday of April, you’ll find Jim Hall at the grill flipping the hundreds of pancakes served at the main fundraiser for the Shannon-Shattuck Post 182.

The cadence of parade drums sets the pace as the Memorial Day Parade steps off from Geissler’s parking lot. It’s another treasured Granby tradition sponsored by the American Legion, and its Adjutant James O. Hall has led the Legion color guard every year for over five decades.

Hall is 86 years old, still fit with a military bearing; he’s active and sharp with an engaging smile, hearty laugh, and wry sense of humor. But this year, he’ll forego marching in order to man the Legion’s BBQ grill and serve hotdogs and burgers on the Green when the parade disbands. After years of organizing the parade, he’s turned the parade’s management over to the Post Commander Ken Rafoss and fellow Legionnaires.

His 53-year tenure as Adjutant of the Shannon-Shattuck Post has been guided by patriotism, dedication to his community, volunteerism, and belief in the core values of the American Legion. He was recently recognized as the longest serving American Legion Adjutant in the United States—an impressive accomplishment that bookmarks the lifetime membership awarded in 2002 for his years of service.

Hall, a Korean War Veteran (1953-1960), served in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion of the Navy Seabees after completing required U.S. Marine training. He was attached to a mobile unit that built radar stations on South Atlantic islands. The installations tracked rockets launched from Cape Canaveral in the earliest stages of the NASA space program.

The Eisenhower White House was his next assignment as a member of a three-man detail that included an Army soldier, a Marine and Jim representing the Navy. Working alongside the Army radio communications officer and keeper of the presidential radio, Hall headed the power contingent that accompanied the radio— and the President— everywhere. The Marine of the threesome was the designated “last man standing” between President Eisenhower and attackers if his Secret Service detail members were killed or incapacitated.

Six additional Marines and Hall schlepped the steel-cased portable generators that kept the President in communication with the world. The radio, cumbersome forerunner to cell phones, and the nine men who kept it operational, followed the President whenever he left with a readily available landline.

The unit’s operational base was the newly renamed Camp David. Among other duties, Hall occasionally screened a popular movie for the President and Mamie and manned the controls for the ring of security spotlights, third of four layers of protection surrounding the compound. Hall came to know his Commander in Chief quite well.

At the end of his enlistment—and White House assignment, Eisenhower asked Hall if he planned to reenlist. Hall, a noncom chief petty officer, replied he wasn’t planning to stay in service. He was returning to Connecticut and Peg his fiancé. Eisenhower offered him a commission if he’d reenlist and on the spot, directed an aide to have Hall commissioned a warrant officer.

The surprise promotion didn’t change Peg’s mind; “The Sea Bees or me,” Hall recalls. He retired from his new commission, returned to Connecticut, and tucked his dress blues in the closet. He and Peg married in 1960 and settled in Hartland before moving to Granby, where it didn’t take long for him to join Shannon-Shattuck Post #182.

In the early ‘60s, Hall and fellow post members woke at the crack of dawn on Memorial Day. He pulled his dress uniform out of the closet, put on his white service cap, and joined the post’s color guard, rifle and marching units for parades in Tariffville, East Granby and Hartland.

The group returned to town for a 2 p.m. tribute to Granby men lost in every war since the Revolution. It was a simple, one band event that lasted less than two hours. From the South Church parking lot to the high school auditorium for a program, it returned to lay handmade floral wreaths on the Civil War and WWI monuments, and to the cemetery where youngsters laid lilac bouquets on flag-marked graves. The parade disbanded on the Green.

In 1968, newly appointed Adjutant Hall and the Legion decided to make some changes. Step-off was rescheduled to 10 a.m. The new Granby Memorial High School band, floats, fire engines, scouts, Little League, and other community organizations joined the familiar march route to the school and cemetery. Wreaths were laid at the Civil War and WWI monuments—and more recently, at the Legion-sponsored obelisk honoring WWII, Korea, Vietnam Vets, and War on Terror. Disbandment at the Green became another Granby tradition, a community cookout and band concert.

Hall is proud of Post 182’s commitment to its mission and the community. It’s not just Memorial Day, Veterans Day and 911 Remembrances, but also the members with trade skills who volunteer to help veterans and families having financial difficulty, the scholarships it funds for GMHS graduates, and providing financial assistance for vets, non-vets, and their families when they experience hardship. It’s members who place flags on veterans’ graves in town cemeteries and maintain the Veteran Memorials. All are examples of the post’s ongoing outreach to the community.

His commitment to the Legion is just one facet of the man. He and Peg raised three children in Granby—Jimmy, Jennifer, and Sarah. Jimmy’s untimely death in 2005 is still a painful loss. Jennifer and Sarah married and live close enough for the elder Halls to enjoy and spoil their grandchildren.

Hall had a long and successful career at Met Life. For 38 years he gave the company his all as a salesman, and then as a Field Sales Manager and trainer,  until he realized he missed face-to-face customer sales. He returned to the sales force. In each of the next 18 years he qualified as a Million Dollar Roundtable (MDRT) life insurance agent. His gregarious personality and commitment to the duty at hand paid off in his work—and for Granby.

Today he’s active in his church, the American Legion, helping Peg with her beloved gardens and sharing fun times with their children and grands. With a chuckle, he’ll tell you that he owes Peg big time; “She’s put up with me for over 60 years!” If this means she willingly shared him with this town, we owe Peg big time too. Granby surely owes Jim gratitude for his years of service and unstinting commitment to Granby. Thank you, Jim!

Hall leads the parade at the 2019 event. Photo by Peter Dinella