Thomas F. Hall started his life as a poor boy from a small town in Oklahoma, but he rose to become an Assistant Secretary of Defense in Washington, D.C.
What happened in between was recounted by the two-star admiral, pilot and Vietnam War veteran before more than 50 students in the high school’s media center the afternoon of January 5. Most of them were Junior ROTC cadets.
His message: seemingly minor choices in one’s life can be the difference between life and death, or love and loss. He talked about some of the close calls he’s had while flying, but also how his decision to join the Navy led to his 48-year marriage.
“Every morning look in the mirror, stare at yourself and say, ‘What are my choices?’” Mr. Hall, 72, told the group. “And how can my choices make the difference between me living and dying.”
He repeated the mantra more than once during the hour-and-a-half encounter, which ended with a question-and-answer session that impressed the visitor.
“You guys have better questions than most of the adults I speak to,” said Mr. Hall, who now works as a consultant for a handful of companies.
On one harrowing training mission flown out of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in June 1964, Mr. Hall was a passenger on a plane that stalled, flipped upside down and crashed into a local airport.
When the windshield of the plane blew out, shards of glass pummeled the young recruit’s head and he was covered in aviation fuel. Fortunately, Mr. Hall said, he’d lowered his visor and strapped himself into a seat. Had he not taken those two actions, he wouldn’t have been able to eject and escape the crash with only two bruised knees.
“The other people weren’t that fortunate,” Mr. Hall continued. “But that day wasn’t a day I was supposed to die. That was a day I made the choice of strapping in. So I lived by the choice I made. Had I been sitting out in the aisle, it’d be someone else talking to you today.”
Mr. Hall retired from the Navy after 38 years and served in the Bush administration as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs beginning in 2002 through the first 100 days of the Obama administration.
For further coverage of the admiral’s discussion with students, see this week’s print edition or subscribe to the e-edition.