Mike Hall, war hero, was found dead in a motel a few weeks ago.
The Dakota County coroner's office listed the cause of death as "undetermined." But Hall's wife and friends say he died because he couldn't live with his heroics.Hall, who was 39 when he died, received a Bronze Star for his actions in Vietnam. Three years ago, Gov. Rudy Perpich honored him and two other Vietnam veterans for their heroism.
Their wartime heroism, Perpich said, represented the heroism of so many who had gone to Vietnam. The three were introduced at a Twins baseball game and received loud cheers.
After the game, after the cheers, Hall got into his car, which had license plates that read: "NVA 386."
That number, 386, haunted him until his death. He was convinced he personally had killed 386 North Vietnamese soldiers during an attack Feb. 26, 1971. He was presented the Bronze Star for his actions during a battle on the following night.
When he returned from Vietnam he became a paramedic. His obsession, he confided to his longtime friend, Tom Schepers, was to save 386 lives as a penance for those he believed he had taken.
Schepers, another Vietnam vet, worked in the emergency room of Divine Redeemer Hospital in South St. Paul during the time that Hall worked as a paramedic at the hospital. He saw Hall daily. He saw through the laughter that so frequently sprang from Hall's bearlike body.
"I don't think he ever really wanted to be a paramedic," Schepers said. "I'd go for a run every day and I'd run by the garage where they keep the ambulances. I'd see Hallsy sitting there, and you just had the feeling he was in this huge shell. Every day, sitting there, waiting for the next call."
Until the last three years of his life, when alcohol and depression had beaten Hall badly, most people probably didn't know about the ghosts that followed him.
For years, in fact, Hall seemed to live the model life. He and his wife, Mary Jo, had three daughters and were active members of Christ the King Lutheran Church.
"He would laugh and we would smile and it was all wonderful," Mary Jo said. "He'd tell us about how beautiful we all were. What happened? Why? I keep asking those questions myself. I don't know the answers, but I was out at the VA hospital last week to talk with people who knew Mike. I walked in and I saw some of those men. It makes you ill what war has brought to so many people."
Her husband's emotional decline began three years ago, Mary Jo said.
Because of growing emotional instability, he lost his job in 1987, and the decline accelerated. Mary Jo and Mike were separated because of his growing instability. The last year of his life was filled with alcohol, antidepressants and long stays at the VA hospital and at the Veterans Home.
But the dream of putting all the pieces back together again never ended.
In the weeks before he died, there was hope that he would make it. He had been diagnosed 100 percent disabled because of post-traumatic stress disorder. With income again, Hall believed he finally would be able to take care of his family. In addition, he planned to return to his boyhood home, Albert Lea, and go to a vocational-tech school while working to reconstruct his emotional health.
But there were so many ghosts.
Go back to the night that his friends believe haunted his life.
He told Schepers that the North Vietnamese had attacked the hill that Hall's outfit was holding. Hall told Schepers that he had run to the weapon he had been trained to use, a twin 40-millimeter artillery piece known as a "Duster." The weapon was designed for use as an antiaircraft gun, but often was used against ground forces in Vietnam.
Following the action, the body count was taken, Hall told Schepers.
But, he told Schepers, what happened next caused him to tremble. His company commander told him that it was against Geneva Conventions to use the Duster against ground forces. He said that an air strike would be brought and that it would be reported that the 386 NVA had been killed by air attack.
In an effort to help his friend, Schepers attempted to find out if events had happened as Hall recalled them. But he was told by people at the Pentagon that there could be no checking on something that had happened so long ago.
"I think what really got to Hallsy was that body count," Schepers said. "Then, to have that question raised whether you did the right thing. It was awful for him - and it just got worse. It's bad enough for a rifleman to squeeze the trigger once.
"When you're shooting at somebody else, you're doing something that goes against everything you were brought up to believe in.
"As a soldier, you have to have your country behind you to sanction what you are doing. If it isn't backed up by that sanction, watch out. He did what he was trained to do, but suddenly, there wasn't that sanction."
There was a huge turnout for the Sept. 6 funeral of the war hero. There was a military salute from members of VFW Post 5555 in Richfield. There were ambulances in the funeral procession.
And from those closest to him, there was a huge sigh.
"He gave the gift of life to three beautiful daughters," Mary Jo said. "He gave the gift of life to so many he helped as a paramedic. Maybe now he can see that and he'll have peace."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)