World War II Army-Air Force veteran receives long-overdue medals
On August 16, 2014, just one day shy of the 70th anniversary of Staff Sgt. Paul Hallman Sr.’s 43rd bomb run, Paul was awarded long-overdue medals from that fateful day in August 1944.
Paul, a 92-year-old Army-Air Force flight engineer who served with the 454th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, Army-Air Force in 1944, recounted experiences from his final combat mission in Charlotte, N.C., where he humbly accepted the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Purple Heart, and Prisoner of War Medal.
Based in Italy at the time, Paul and his crew set out for his 43rd bomb run aiming for an oil refinery, which at the time was used by Hitler and the Nazis. Paul’s plane took a direct hit that blew the nose of the airplane off. While most of the crew managed to bail out, Paul and the radio operator, Staff Sgt. Alfred Peccia, stayed on board to help the pilot attempt to fly the burning plane back to their base in Italy.
While struggling to help keep the burning plane in flight, an oxygen tank next to Paul caught fire and exploded, burning Paul’s hands and face. Unable to see, Paul fell through the floor escape hatch, but was able to extinguish the flames before opening his chute. Immediately after landing in a cornfield, Paul was surrounded by German soldiers. Now captured, Paul was taken to a Romanian hospital where he was treated for his injuries and later freed by the Russian army and returned to U.S. forces in September 1944.
Anxious to return home, Paul did not opt to remain in the European theater to accept any awards, of which he was not even sure he would receive at the time. Years later, Paul learned that his awards had been approved, but he had no idea how to track them down.
Enter Maj. Gen. Leslie Purser. Purser met Paul at a local Veterans Day event while she was speaking with presiding North Carolina Governor, Pat McCrory. Paul approached the pair and commented that he was missing some medals and would like to know where he could find them. Purser reached out to the chief of the awards branch and was quickly able to locate the four medals Paul received in August.
Today, Paul calls Crescent Heights, an independent senior living community in Concord, N.C., home. An honored celebrity in the community, Paul said he was truly blessed by the presentation of his medals.
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