“You turkey-birds stop running in the hallway!” Those were the first words I heard out of the mouth of Isaiah Hall.
Being a veteran teacher, “Ike” was one of my mentors when I arrived at Memphis Harding Academy. If you were on campus between 1966 and 1988, you will remember him wheeling up and down the ramp outside the Guidance Office. Perhaps what you do not know is how he ended up in that wheelchair.
One month and four days after D-Day, at dawn on July 10, 1944, eight men of the U.S. 121st Infantry, cautiously approached a field in rural occupied France. As the noise of battle increased, Pfc. Ike Hall ordered these men forward into the field. Still thirty miles short of their objective, the squad slowly crawled toward a thorny hedgerow. Stopping to take a break at the hedge, they waited for the 1st U.S. Tank Division to cut an opening in the vegetation.
While waiting for the tanks to arrive, Ike stood up to cross a narrow opening in the shrubbery. At that very moment, a German sniper aimed his Mauser at Ike’s crisscrossed bandoleers and fired a single shot. When the bullet entered his body, it severed his spinal cord, and he fell instantly to the ground.
Fortunately, the adversary’s bullet passed through the space between the ammunition, missing six grenades hanging from his fatigue jacket and four rifle-grenades protruding from his back pockets. If it would have made contact with these explosives, he would have been blown up, killing all those around.
Ike told me that this was the most terrifying time of his life. After administering first-aid, his friends crawled away leaving him on the battlefield. Able to move only his arms and head, he stirred occasionally to remain conscious; however, this movement proved to be dangerous. Thinking that he was communicating with other American soldiers, the unseen enemy started bombarding the hedgerow with grenades. The shrapnel fell short of his body, but the noise of the attack was deafening.
Finally, the tanks arrived. Ike’s wife, Frances Hall, described this frightful, yet wonderful moment,
“Between three and four hours later, Ike heard a tremendously heavy, rumbling sound mingled with the clatter of the treads, and the roaring noise of the exhaust from each vehicle’s twin engines. The tanks were coming! With the coming of the tanks, Ike had a new dread mingled with the feeling of relief that help was finally on the way. One lone man, lying in a shallow ditch beside a hedgerow was such a small object in such a large area. With their sights primarily on searching for the enemy, would they realize that he was there and that he was alive? During the hours he lay there, his blood had been seeping into his chest cavity causing him to begin experiencing some shortness of breath. His arms and neck had become weaker and he no longer could move even his head as easily as he had at first. As the tanks rumbled across the field, their machine guns spraying the hedgerows on either side, Ike knew he must get their attention. He began waving his helmet with both hands. Evidently the men in the nearest tank caught a glimpse of him or had perhaps been told to look for him, because as they came nearer to Ike, the tank suddenly veered aside, just missing him. The other tanks following in a staggered formation observed this veering to one side, and also veered away slightly. As Ike, lay there, dwarfed by the tanks all around him, the 30 and 60 caliber guns and cannons made a terrible noise above him.”
As the cumbersome tanks rolled past and through the hedgerow, infantry medics finally appeared to carry him to an aid-station. After receiving his first injection of morphine, Ike lost consciousness only to awaken to see bullet holes above his head. Before arriving in this tent, several patients had been killed when a German Luftwaffe pilot used the red cross as a target for his machine guns. “I’ve gone through all of this until now, and I’m going to die by the Germans strafing the hospital tent? I can’t even crawl away.”