Native Alabama man and Vietnam veteran Richard Hall knows what it’s like to be injured in the line of duty and left to fend for himself as a damaged civilian.
Hall fudged his birth certificate and joined the military when he was 16 years old. As one of 10 children growing up on the farm, eight of whom joined the military and five who saw combat, he knew there was only one way of making a living away from the land so the military was a natural choice.
In spite of his love for music, Hall had planned to be career military.
He did two tours in Vietnam as an Army infantryman and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) when his company was ambushed. He was honorably discharged and sent home. He was never the same but Hall says, “I never regret one moment of being in the military. Once a soldier, always a soldier, that’s what they say.”
Still, Hall lost permanent hearing on one side and was sidelined by a severe case of PTSD that coupled with his TBI made for some difficult times.
“We were treated bad when we came back,” Hall shared of his return to civilian life in the mid-70s. “But I held my head up. For years I kept my awards and decorations in a box but now I have them on display for everyone to see.”
Hall married, settled in Oakdale and raised a son who played for the Oakdale Mustangs. He created a successful business that’s now run by his son, but one day he was struck out of the blue — nearly 20 years after he’d spent time dodging ambushes by the Viet Cong — with a debilitating resurgence of his PTSD.
“I could not walk out my front door. I spent a year in my house. Useless. Unable to do a thing. I couldn’t even sit on my back porch. It was too real, the ambushes. It all came back to me,” Hall said.
A fellow retired veteran heard of Hall’s plight and helped him find the light in a world that had suddenly turned dark.
That act of kindness sparked a passion inside Hall that has changed his life.
“The suicide rate for veterans with TBI and PTSD is around 35 percent and it’s 100 percent preventable,” Hall said, his eyes flashing. “One hundred percent.”
Hall is part of an organization called Vets Helping Vets. It is not a non-profit and it doesn’t take donations but this group of veterans manages to make things happen when the wheels of bureaucracy get tangled in red tape.
“We’re self-supportive,” Hall said proudly. “And we work under the radar.’
Hall’s passion for helping veterans lost in the shuffle has prompted him to donate every single penny of his music royalties from his independent label to the cause.
In fact, he never even sees the money first.
“It goes straight direct deposit into the Vets Helping Vets account and that’s just the way I want it,” Hall said.
Seeing as music helped bring Hall back from the brink of despair, it seems fitting that he would use music to help others as well.
After his bout with PTSD sidelined him as part of his healing process, he rediscovered his love of music. One Christmas morning he awoke to find a Martin HD-28 guitar — the Ferrari of guitars — just waiting for him.
“It’s the sports car of guitars,” Hall said. “I picked up that guitar and started playing again and writing music.”
Gary Bradshaw of Western Hearts Promotions in Glendale, Arizona heard Hall’s music and immediately agreed to produce his music.
Hall’s single, Old Soldiers, hit No. 2 in the New Music Weekly charts, which was quite a coup for an independent label.
“To get into the top 10 as an independent is huge. It went like crazy,” Hall said.
Now Hall gets mail from as far away as Brussels.
“I was asked to perform in Brazil but I had to turn them down. I told them I don’t even drive as far as Modesto,” he joked. “But it was nice of them to ask.”
But none of that truly matters to Hall; he’s simply tickled that people are enjoying his music and the proceeds are going toward helping those who truly need the help.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “I don’t believe in all that celebrity stuff. I’m just me. It’s just part of my heritage (Choctaw Native American) to give back.”
Hall keeps a photo album filled with photos and thank you notes from people who’ve been touched by his influence through the Vets Helping Vets organization. He points at a newspaper clipping of one particular story that still humbles him each time he revisits it.
“This,” he said, “is what it’s about. Giving people their lives back.”
To download a copy of Hall’s music, go to http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/old-soldiers-single/id418721871