Robert Hall Jr. hands over a red, white and blue Korean War Veterans Honor Roll certificate he obtained years ago at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“This is what they had on a good friend of mine that I knew very closely for a couple of years down in North Carolina and then we went to Korea on the same ship. We ended up in different regiments and he got killed two days before the end of the war,” the Scotia resident recalled.
The certificate bore not much more than the Marine’s name, rank, serial number, date of birth and date of death. On it was no real trace of the brave young man Hall once knew.
“This thing, how plain it is, it’s not right. It should be more. It should be more human, more explanatory, more something,” he said.
For close to 20 years, Hall has been worked to put photos and life stories with the name of each Schenectady County military member whose life was lost during the Korean War.
On a Tuesday in late April, the retired Mohonasen High School American history teacher leafed through a binder bulging with plastic sleeves. Each contained snippets from one life — photos, newspaper clippings, a hand-sketched drawing.
Hall started the research project at the request of fellow members of the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association. He was given a computer printout listing all of the Korean War veterans from New York state who were killed during the war or missing in action. He sifted out those from Schenectady County and got to work.
Hall searched editions of local papers from the 1950s and enlisted the assistance of late Gazette columnist and historian Larry Hart, who helped him get the word out about his quest. Readers started to contact him.
Hall has obtained photos of every Schenectady County military man and woman who died during the Korean War except for George Pappas of Schenectady, an Army corporal born in 1931 and was missing in action, presumed dead, Dec. 2, 1950.
He has information on every military member on his list, including Pappas.
He talks about those he’s researched as if they were old friends, sharing highlights of their lives from memory.
“This man, he was a paratrooper in Sicily, Italy and in Southern France in World War II,” he said, pointing to a certificate dedicated to Capt. Thomas William DeCoste. “Bronze star, a couple purple hearts, but he was a lifer in the sense that he stayed in the Army, and in Korea he got killed. . . . [He was] the kind of guy you’d really like to know.”
He flipped through his binder and found a page dedicated to Dow Franklin Hardy of Schenectady, born in 1930, died April 26, 1952.
“This kid was on a destroyer in the Atlantic Ocean when his ship was hit by an aircraft carrier and it broke the ship in two and a couple hundred sailors died, including this boy.”
Hall, who was a machine gunner in Korea with the Fifth Marine Regiment, said he prefers to keep himself out of the spotlight. He said his aim is tell the stories of fellow military people who did not live to tell them on their own.
He’s shared the information he’s collected with the Schenectady County Historical Society and the Schenectady County Public Library and has done educational programs for groups.
He’s now researching those from Broome County who died during the war.
Hall said he hopes his effort will remind people of the great sacrifice these military members made for their country and also that there was a Korean War.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of that, and that it was a tough one,” he said.