World War II veteran Ralph “Barney” Hall knows what it is like to live a life of service.
The 92-year-old Sequim resident left high school to join the U.S. Navy at about 16, and after the war he had a 26-year career as a fireman in West Seattle.
Hall, wearing a cap that read “WWII Veteran USS Frazier DD 607” and holding a thick wooden walking stick with intricate curves and shapes much like a real branch, told twisting and turning tales leading up to and during his military service from a cozy sitting room chair at Sequim’s Avamere Olympic Rehabilitation Center.
Hall was born in Chelan and later moved with his family to Seattle. His father, a barber by trade, had been “on his feet his whole life,” and eventually his family had to live off of welfare checks. Hall’s parents never owned a car or bought booze, he said.
“I had a very good mother and father,” Hall said of his humble beginnings.
Hall said he lived most of his life near Lake Washington, where he had many great experiences growing up, and bought property in Sequim off Chicken Coop Road in his later years.
It was about 75 years ago when Hall, who was at work delivering pies in Seattle ferry, he heard about the attack at Pearl Harbor, said Kathy Butler, one of Hall’s two daughters. That’s when her father decided to skip high school and join the war effort.
Hall was aboard ship two weeks after the USS Frazier — a 1,600-ton destroyer with 4-by-5 inch/38-caliber guns — was commissioned.
“It was a good ship and good crew,” Hall said.
“We didn’t get any of the big battles like Iwo Jima or anything like that because we were a little too small,” he said, but noted that the USS Frazier sailed everywhere from Bremerton to Tokyo to New Zealand.
During the war, Hall said the USS Frazier attacked several islands in the Pacific where Japanese soldiers fired at passing ships.
“We’d go in and lay a few shells on them guys,” Hall said.
Hall and company took part in the Battle of Tarawa (Nov. 20-23, 1943), the first American offensive in the critical central Pacific region where nearly 6,400 Japanese, Koreans and Americans died in the fighting. The American invasion force was the largest yet assembled for a single operation in the Pacific, consisting of 17 aircraft carriers, 12 battleships, eight heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, 66 destroyers and 36 transport ships.
He said the battleship had to be 15 miles away to fire at it and noted that many people were lost due to the large rocks the Japanese put in near the shore causing men to be dislodged from ships and shot at.
Hall said one of his more interesting experiences was during the Battle of Tarawa on Nov. 22, when one of his sister ships got a contact on a Japanese submarine.
“We were tracking it and depth bombing it at our convenience where we could get at it,” he said.
All of a sudden, the submarine surfaced.
“We couldn’t shoot at them, so captain says ‘Stand by for a ram,’” and Hall explained how they turned and hit the submarine.
He was a No. 2 gun in the forward part of the ship and said he could see they had hit the submarine with as many as a half-dozen Japanese soldiers trying to escape capture. U.S. soldiers managed to capture a couple of the men that had tried to escape.
Hall’s first USS Frazier reunion was after the war in Bremerton and years later he attended a second reunion in Seattle. One of the Japanese men they captured from the submarine attack in 1943 was flown in from Tokyo to Seattle. Hall said the man owned a couple taxi cabs in Tokyo and was ecstatic to be there.
Somewhere in his “debris,” Hall said, he has a note from a television station in Seattle that gave a small transcription of the soldiers’ meeting.
Hall said he has had two good women in his life.
He married his first wife, Mildred Cumle, in April of 1950. Mildred, whose first husband Johnny Hansen was killed in a fishing accident in Alaska in 1949, lived across the street from Hall and his parents in West Seattle.
She had a daughter named Kathy — now Kathy Butler — and a couple of years later, in 1952, the Halls welcomed another daughter, Jenny Hall (Steelquist) into the world.
Hall said Mildred had a health condition that made it hard for them to live together, and that eventually she moved in an assisted living home on Bainbridge Island, where she died in 1999.
“She was a good woman,” he said. “We had a good life.”
After war service, Hall worked as a fireman at West Seattle’s Station 32 for 26 years. When he retired from the fire service in 1973, he bought property on Chicken Coop Road in Sequim.
Hall met his second wife, Marian Platt, a cookbook author and a food columnist for the Sequim Gazette for many years.
Her husband died right around the same time Hall’s first wife died. Hall said Platt couldn’t get married because she would lose a great pension, but that they had a minister perform a small ceremony at Hall’s house on Chicken Coop Road.
Hall said they got along great together, enjoying travels to Europe.
Platt died in 2012 and is survived by two children, Dave Platt and Sue Cohn.
Now Hall enjoys the company and conversation of fellow residents at Avamere.
“I enjoy people,” he said.
“You got to learn to listen, and listen to learn.”
Butler lives in Iowa with her husband where she teaches TM (Transcendental) Meditation.
Hall’s other daughter Jenny was an artist, singer and an art teacher at Port Angeles High School for many years and married local author Bob Steelquist; Jenny died in 2013. She is survived by her father, husband Bob and two sons, Peter and Daniel Steelquist.
“It’s been a good life,” Hall said.