Off Beat: Navy aviator's flight path was firmly rooted in family history

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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In the family photograph of the five Hall children, 11-year-old Harley is right in the middle. He's wearing a leather aviator's helmet, with the goggles pulled up on his forehead.

It hints to his future as a U.S. Navy commander and jet fighter pilot. It's also a reminder that Harley Hall, who was featured in a Jan. 27 story in The Columbian, wasn't the first aviator in the family.

That old-school flying helmet and goggles belonged to the kids' father, Vernon Hall.

"Dad flew mail planes in Nebraska," Gwen Hall Davis said.

That photo is part of a display in tribute to the pilot in the Harley H. Hall Building, an office building at 10000 N.E. Seventh Ave. The photo is also a tip of the cap, so to speak, to their father.

Harley Hall was shot down on the final day of Vietnam War hostilities in 1973, as told in our Jan. 27 story. Before that, he was commander of the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team for two years. And in that role, the 1955 Evergreen High graduate and 1957 Clark College alum gave his dad a much more public -- and louder -- salute.

The Blue Angels performed at several Pacific Northwest air shows in 1971 and '72, and her brother squeezed in an unscheduled display over Vancouver, Davis said.

Vernon Hall was approaching retirement at Vancouver's old Alcoa aluminum plant about then. "Boss" Hall, as the Blue Angels called their commander, led the team in a flyover near the plant.

"My dad was thrilled," the Vancouver woman said.

It wasn't just a fly-by, she continued. The team checked in with the control tower at Portland International Airport and got clearance for a straight-up climb to set up the flyover.

Her father died in 1993. But "I ran into a fellow not long ago who was working at Alcoa and he reminded me of the incident," she said. "He said that said they could hear (the F-4 Phantoms) coming. Some of them were out looking to see what all the racket was."

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.