Biography and History

Born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, Hall was the only child of William August Hall and Sarah “Sallie” Jewett (Adams) Hall. His parents exposed him to travel at an early age--an affinity that was to be both vocation and avocation for the rest of his life.

Following his Princeton graduation in 1920, Hall and his mother drove their Packard automobile on a 45,000 mile odyssey around the world. Several of Hall's articles describing that trip were published by the National Geographic Magazine and the events of the journey are documented in Journey to the End of an Era (1947) and in Bird of Time (1949).

At the outbreak of World War I Hall was in France. He volunteered his services to the British Expeditionary Forces and before the entrance of the United States into the war, fought with the French, Belgian and English armies.

At the instigation of Col. William “Billy” Mitchell he transferred to the U.S. Army in 1917, where he worked closely with Mitchell on the formation of the U.S. Air Corps. He believed, as did Mitchell, in the need to build a superior defensive air power. In 1918 Hall was cited for organizing the first American Escadrille for night reconnaissance. He was wounded twice, four times decorated by three different countries and was cited ten times for gallant and distinguished service. His decorations include the Croix de Guerre with Palm from both France and Belgium, and the D.S.O. from Great Britain. He and Mitchell are among only six men honored by an Act of Congress with the rank Military Aviator.

After the war Hall spent three years in London as Assistant Military Attache for Aviation. In 1922 he met and married Josephine Wells Johnson, the daughter of Racine, Wisconsin banker Otis W. Johnson, who had been a field nurse during the war. After their marriage in Paris, the couple left for Persia where Hall joined Arthur Chester Millspaugh's staff as a provincial administrator for the American Financial Mission. During his five years with the Mission, Hall served as Administrator of Finances for East Persia (the provinces of Khorasan, Seistan and Ghayenat), as Acting Treasurer-General of the delegation, and as Administrator of Finances for South Persia (Fars and the Southern Ports). In those positions he was responsible for monitoring activities of the nomadic tribes, taxation, road and railroad construction, investigation of opium traffic for the League of Nations, and the administration of the Anglo-Persian oil fields in Khuzistan.

Following his Persian experience Hall worked as Vice President in charge of European and Asiatic Affairs for the Curtiss-Wright Aeroplane Export Co. While there, he established an airline for the Turkish government, oversaw the reequipping of the Netherlands Air Force, and demonstrated aircraft in twenty countries.

Hall's civilian career spanned the years 1933-1940, when he worked for the Export-Import Bank, Washington, D.C.; as a special advisor on foreign trade for the President; for Sears and for the Diesel Division of Caterpillar Co., and as Chief of the Foreign Economic Section of the Civil Aeronautics Authority.

With another war in Europe imminent, Hall again sought military involvement. He was recommissioned a Lieutenant Commander, United States Naval Reserve in 1939, and when Pearl Harbor was attacked, was serving as a naval attache in Istanbul. He resigned his naval commission in 1942 to accept a commission as Lt. Colonel in the Army Air Corps. By 1943 he served as Chief of Staff of the 9th Air Force. A shattered knee at the Normandy landing ended his military career, which covered both world wars and branches of the service.

After the war Hall authored two autobiographical books filled with picaresque characters and remarkable adventures. In 1951 Walter Bedell Smith, then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sent Hall to Indochina as Chief of a special mission attached to the Ambassador to Vietnam and Cambodia. In 1955, Hall reflected that events in Vietnam would ‘inevitably affect the concern of America in world evolution,’ (Correspondence, Aug 19, 1955).

Colonel and Mrs. Hall retired to “La Grangeotte,” their 14th- century residence in Vezelay, France. He was an active member of La Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a French wine-tasting society and continued writing on a wide variety of subjects. Included in his papers is a draft of a book on the 12th century pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain--a thousand mile journey which Hall traced by jeep, some 50 years after his Princeton graduation.

Hall died in the Veterans Administration Hospital in New York City, on November 23, 1962.

Source: From the finding aid for MC159

  • Melvin A. Hall Papers. 1895-1972 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC159

    Melvin A. Hall's renaissance career as adventurer, aviator, soldier, agent, financial administrator and author spanned four and a half decades, and is well represented in this collection. The materials include: diaries; personal and business correspondence; official documents, reports and correspondence from his tenure with the American Financial Mission in Persia; copies of his published writings, including drafts of his books Journey to the End of an Era and Bird of Time; articles, reviews, speeches and military intelligence reports; copies of unpublished writings; subject files containing background and research notes; information on his medals, awards and commendations; diaries and correspondence from Hall's father, William Augustus Hall, Hall's wife Josephine Johnson Hall, a World War I field nurse; and photographs and scrapbooks.