Gen. Jim Hall will be remembered as a true hero

On June 1, a very special person passed away by the name of James Carl Hall. Many people, especially those in Arapahoe County and Colorado Republican politics, knew him as General Jim, for he was a Brigadier General (Ret.) in the United States Air Force.

His death earlier this month was not unexpected, but the sad reality of his passing has given way to many beautiful memories by those who came to pay their respects at Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Church in Foxfield on June 6.

Monsignor Ed Buelt officiated the funeral mass in the large, high-ceiling church replete with large wooden beams and stained glass. It was gorgeous setting for a lovely man who inspired many.

His life was lovingly recounted by Monsignor Buelt. Arapahoe County GOP activist Mort Marks delivered a eulogy full of historical, political, and personal anecdotes and meaningful tributes.

There were a lot of genuinely moving things said about Gen. Jim that day, as there will be in the future.

In 2010, Gen. Hall was honored by many friends and admirers at the release party of the book he penned called Parachuting for Gold in Old Mexico. It was an autobiographical account of his remarkable life and we were privileged to have attended the event and chronicled it in the newspaper. We are re-publishing it below in order to share Jim’s life with our readers again.

Jim is survived by his wife, Georgeann, and two children, Jim Jr. [aka “Eagle”] and Jennifer.

Burial with full Air Force honors was held at Fort Logan National Cemetery. Memorial contributions in lieu of flowers are suggested to the Hall Family Memorial Fund, c/o Navy Federal Credit Union.

Local war hero continues to provide life lessons

BY JODY HOPE STROGOFF
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
FEB. 12, 2010

“We’re in the presence of a true American hero tonight, with the greatest of the greatest generation,” former Gov. Bill Owens told the large crowd gathered at the Cool River Café one recent evening in late January.

“This is the story of Jim Hall.”

Friends, family members, elected officials, members of the military and well-wishers erupted into applause as the man of the hour sat at a table in one corner of the room signing copies of his recently released book, Parachuting for Gold in Old Mexico.

Gen. Jim Hall autographs books he wrote about his life during a special reception in Arapahoe County in early 2010.

“This is a very special night to honor a very special person and his family,” Owens said to the hushed crowd.

He should know.

It was during Owens’ 1998 race for Colorado governor that the idea of this book emerged.

As the former governor recounts in the foreword to the book, “Jim helped me during the early days of that campaign not only as a friend and mentor, but also as my volunteer driver, helping me get to Colorado’s 63 counties, across its mountain passes and lonely plains. He would drive while I would work next to him, preparing speeches, reading research and making calls to the next town on our itinerary.

“Often, after the last event of the day, as we’d be heading back to our homes in Aurora, I would ask Jim about his amazing life — sometimes about B-29s over Japan, or training U-2 pilots to eject, or Chuck Yeager or his experiences with Ché or Castro — his time in Hollywood — the list and stories would go on and on.”

“There’s a reason why we’re free as Americans and it’s because of men like General Hall,” former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, left, said about his longtime friend back in 2010.

Jim would never tell these stories unprompted, but would reminisce, Owens said, upon request as the time and miles passed by.

Owens suggested back in 1998 that Jim pen a memoir, outlining his life through the stories which tie together so much of America’s history of these last 60 years.

Even after his election in 1998, Owens kept encouraging Hall to write his book.

“He’d drop by my office in the Capitol, or stop by the Executive Residence and the first thing I’d ask him was, ‘How’s the book coming?’”

In 2006, Jim contracted MRSA, a potentially fatal “staph” infection while in the hospital for an operation to repair some of the injuries incurred during his early parachuting days in Mexico. As Owens pointed out, Jim underwent years-long treatment with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, suffering severe weight loss and amputations and spending three years in nursing homes including, at the last, a Veterans’ home, when eventually his doctors gave up on him, expecting him to die.

“Jim survived — he was not ready to die — and he finally decided to write what I had suggested to him over a decade ago while we drove together through Colorado’s night — a book on his life filled with amazing, dramatic experiences... as a WWII airman, as a mining engineer in Mexico and as a pioneer working with the military in developing new techniques in the science of parachuting.”

The result, Owens proudly explained at the book signing event, was Parachuting for Gold in Old Mexico about Hall’s early life, his family, flying in the war and his life in Mexico.

“It is a wonderful account of a ‘life well-lived,” of how a poor boy born in the hardscrabble hills of rural Pennsylvania went on to accomplish so much, all the while living a life that would seem to be fictional — except that it is all true,” Owens added.

The book describes Hall’s parachuting days into the high sierras and deep canyons in the central region of Mexico where the lost gold mines of the Spanish Conquistadors are located. It also tells what happened when Jim and his parachuting dog Ace jumped into a village of terrified native people; and the experience of a hair-raising parachute jump into the teeth of a hurricane in Guatemala.

“Jim wrote this book late at night and while he rehabilitated in the hospitals. With the help of Judith Briles and her team we were able to get it out the door. The result,” Owens explained, is the story of what this gentleman did, a general in the Colorado Air National Guard, who enlisted in the Second World War, flew many combat missions over Japan, stayed in the military through a 30-year career, and served our country.

“There’s a reason why we’re free as Americans and it’s because of men like General Hall,” Owens said as applause rang through the large room filled with Hall’s family, friends, elected officials and dignitaries.

After Owens’ tribute to General Hall, he asked an American hero in the making — Army ranger and friend Sean Tonner — to make some remarks. Tonner parachuted into Panama when the United States overthrew General Noriega, and was literally one of the first Americans into Kuwait during Desert Storm, Owens reminded.

“I was a sergeant — an enlisted — and introducing a general is a little out of my league,” Tonner said. “And I only have 28 jumps and Jim’s sitting there at I don’t know how many thousands of jumps under his belt...

“General Hall is just a class act,” Tonner said.

“I finished the book two nights ago. If half of it’s true, you’re one of the craziest guys I have ever met!” Tonner added as he looked at the General. “I’ve had some wild nights in Mexico but nothing like some of the stuff that you read later in the book...

“And I didn’t know that Jim was an expert gold miner and geologist,” Tonner went on. “Just reading this snippet of the book — and I know this is only a piece of his life — it’s just very rich. After you read it, you’ll probably feel a little inadequate that we haven’t lived completely up to Jim’s level.”

Hall was overcome with emotions as he listened to the accolades bestowed upon him by Owens and Tonner.

Bill Owens, Hall said, is the “greatest public servant Colorado has ever had, and hopefully he’ll be president of the United States one of these days.”

Likewise, Hall said, he considers Tonner, a fellow airborne guy, as someone “who knows of what he speaks” and Hall said he was humbled to be in both their presence.

Hall also paid tribute to his “long suffering” wife Georgann, whom he said had read a couple chapters of the book and jokingly asked him, ‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me about this before we got married?’

“And I said, ‘While I was doing this, you were only in fourth grade and you just wouldn’t understand!’”

“It was through Georgann that Jim and I became the best of friends,” Owens recounted in his foreword to the book.

“Since Jim was in the military, he was limited from working in politics, but — from the sidelines — he was a constant source of advice and counsel as I moved up the ladder in state government.

“I could not have done this without Jim and Georgann by my side,” Owens wrote in his preface to the book. “They advised me on issues, strategy, personalities and policies, all the while doing the tough work of organizing, building and cajoling through hundreds of meetings, conventions, assemblies and caucuses. What Jim, as a close personal advisor, gave to me most, however, was a maturity and common sense, which he had in deep reservoir, filled as it was by a lifetime of experiences and drama often requiring great courage.”