A “Freedom Tree” on the Oklahoma Baptist University campus was dedicated in 1973 to a Shawnee naval officer, all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action. Today, the tree remains a living memorial and tribute to those who have fought and died defending America’s freedoms, something fitting to remember this Memorial Day weekend.


By Kim Morava
kimberly.morava@news-star.com
A “Freedom Tree” on the Oklahoma Baptist University campus was dedicated in 1973 to a Shawnee naval officer, all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action. Today, the tree remains a living memorial and tribute to those who have fought and died defending America’s freedoms, something fitting to remember this Memorial Day weekend.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed May 30, 1868, to honor the nation’s Civil War casualties. Today, 141 years later, Monday also will be a day of remembrance for America’s fallen and to honor its veterans, with the many ceremonies planned.
In Shawnee, the American Legion will hold its annual ceremony 10 a.m. at Resthaven Cemetery. The Veterans of Foreign Wars will have a ceremony 11 a.m. at Fairview Cemetery.
As the nation pauses in remembrance, many may not always notice memorials or maybe they don’t know the stories behind the fallen heroes.
One such memorial on the OBU campus honors U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. James W. Hall, a 1952 Shawnee High School graduate who piloted a plane that was shot down during the Vietnam War.
His plane, an A-7A Corsair from the carrier USS America, disappeared over North Vietnam Oct. 28, 1972. Hall, 38 at the time, was listed as Missing in Action. He would remain listed as MIA for 27 years until DNA testing could identify his remains. He is now laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
His parents, Lena Elizabeth Hall and the late James R. “Jimmie” Hall, resided in Shawnee at the time of his disappearance.
They owned Jimmie Hall Welding on Harrison Street for many years.
In January 1974, his parents planted and dedicated the pin oak “Freedom Tree” near Raley Chapel with a bronze plaque at its base.
Although the original tree has reportedly been replaced once or twice over the years, the memorial plaque remains for all new and returning students, faculty and community members to see and pay tribute. The
plaque near the tree reads, “The Freedom Tree — With the vision of universal freedom for all mankind, this tree is dedicated to LCDR. James Hall and all Prisoners of War and Missing in Action, 1973.”
While it’s been there 35 years, many local residents have probably never seen it, but those who have may want to know more about Hall.
Shawnee resident Tom Brown, a 1951 SHS graduate who served four years in the U.S. Air Force, went to high school with Hall and his brother, retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Joel T. (Tommy) Hall, who now resides in Colorado. Brown said he didn’t know about Hall’s memorial plaque and tree at OBU.
James Hall lettered in basketball and football while at SHS. He later attended The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, and OBU records show he attended 13 hours of classes at OBU in the spring semester of 1957. He went on to attend the Northrop Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, Calif., where he obtained an aeronautical engineering degree. He later fulfilled his dream of becoming a Navy pilot.
When his plane disappeared, Hall had been in the Navy 14 years and was on his second tour-of-duty in Southeast Asia. He left behind his wife, Carole, also a 1952 SHS graduate, and their three children.
While his remains were returned to the United States in 1989, the identity of those remains were not confirmed with DNA testing until March 2000.
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Kim Morava may be reached at 214-3962.