August 12, 1915 (Beijing, China) – February 20, 1945; 29 years old
Last local address: 185 East Avenue, Norwalk (1930 census; 14 years old)
Enlisted September 8, 1941 from Norwalk
Service number: O-1114150
Unit: 2677th Regiment, Office of Strategic Services (OSS = Precursor to the CIA)
Born to Ray O. Hall (1891-1951) and Gertrude Cliff Goodspeed Hall Morrill (1881-1964). Stepfather, Milton D. Morrill (1875-1964). One stepbrother, Brewster Morrill (1920-1991).
Awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit (citations below), and the Purple Heart Medal.
Andover Phillips Academy (high school) in Massachusetts; Class of ’34
From The Hartford Courant Magazine, Sunday, March 3, 1946
BURIED LETTER BARES HERO’S MISSION
“Just in case any of you ever travel to Naples or thereabouts in the future, don’t be afraid to mention my name. It’s known from one end of the Alps to the other.” A Connecticut Yankee who had parachuted 250 miles behind German lines in Italy on “Mission Mercury Eagle,” to cut enemy supply lines and organize partisan warfare, wrote that to his family on Halloween in 1944. His mission had been successful, but he modestly added that his fame among the people of the Italian Alps was “far out of proportion to what I’ve been able to do.” The exploits of Captain Roderick S.G. Hall remained guarded secrets until disclosed here at the war crimes trial of four Nazi officers accused of killing him after he had been taken prisoner. “This job hasn’t been world-shaking and may never be recorded even in Army records”, the captain wrote. “But I’ve told you about it so that you will know.”
The captain became his own historian. His 3,500-word letter, written in an Alpine hideout, was read into the record at the war crimes trial before an American military commission. The presiding officer, Colonel Herbert V. Scanlon ordered the original letter sent to the captain’s mother, Mrs. Gertrude G. Merrill of 185 East Avenue, South Norwalk, Connecticut. The captain had given the letter to a trusted Italian Partisan family with instruction that it be delivered to his mother after the war. His Partisan friends buried the letter in a bottle in their front yard, where it remained until the Allies liberated Northern Italy. The letter, written nearly two months before his capture by the Nazis said:
“Dear Mother and family,
Your last letters, all written in July and August, arrived in a bunch by parachute! The heavy cases of arms and explosives and supplies came floating down silently through the night, and among them was a package (with its own ‘chute) that carried all the news from home. At Ovasta, a medieval hamlet lodged on a shelf overlooking the river and ringed round by gigantic spears and peaks of the Carnic Alps, we had our ‘base’ headquarters. I was at the base very little, spending my time in long swings, by trail, or motorcycle, or bicycle, or climbing rope, deep into the zones crawling with Germans but where unarmed groups of patriots waited for help. So, my returns to ‘base’ were always occasions for mutual celebration; it was good to get back to a bed and hot food, after sleeping in hay barns or caves and eating mushrooms and cold cornmeal, with an occasional squirrel thrown in. The days went very fast then. At ‘base’ there was corn on the cob, and American radio programs, and “Smitty’ (Major Lloyd C. Smith, State College, PA) had arranged a deal with a prewar ice cream freezer in Ovaro, so we had ice cream now and then – all we had to do was to climb down 1500 to the valley floor and then climb up again. But I’m getting way ahead of things. You know how long I’d worked on this Alps thing – well, I finally sold it to GHQ. We put together a team of five. Once inside German-occupied territory, we were entirely on our own, as autonomous as soldiers of fortune in a Chinese war or banana republic revolution. But I guess General Devers and General Alexander had faith in us because they okayed the deal, 100 percent. Finally, on the night of August 1, we gathered under the wing of a big four-motored Lancaster at Brindisi airport. We had on ‘strip-tease’ suits against the cold at 10,000 feet and looked like Eskimos. We nearly did not make it as the pilot could not find the right pattern of ground fires in the right place. Jerry was, aside from shooting at us with flak, apparently lighting a few signals to decoy us. I landed between two wicked spots of limestone, doing a couple of back somersaults down a gully into some saplings. I cut my way out of the chute and got out my automatic. For 20 minutes there wasn’t a sound. Then I made for a low, bare hillock nearby, and in a little while the others came up. It was 2 a.m. By noon we had some contact with some local partisans. We felt that we had been granted a miracle. The whole operation was in full sight of Nazi observation towers in the plain below. It took the Nazis a week to start chasing us. On August 12 I started out alone for the “Cadore’, made contact with the Partisans around San Stefano, and started work. Cortina alone had 1000 picked troops to guard 5000 wounded Nazis in the hotels and hospitals there. I traveled back and forth and ‘round about all over the area, always in uniform, often 500 yards from Nazi garrisons or walking past their front doors at night. By the end of September, I had been able to get an organization of 500 men on its feet, dispatch reams of important intelligence to GHQ blow out the standard gauge railroad from Venice and the electric railroad through Cortina to Austria, and 11 highway bridges, effectively blocking all routes through the Alps north of Venice. Mr. Nazi was proportionately furious, the more so when we attacked three garrisons, taking around 187 prisoners. I got a message back to ‘base’ requesting a drop. The plane came, two weeks later, in the middle of a Nazi drive on Partisans around Cortina, so we didn’t get the drop, being unable to light signal fires. We climbed up in the rock of the precipices for five straight days and watched the Nazis hunting for us in the forests below. We couldn’t do anything, having no guns. But they never really saw us. Then I got crushing news: The 14,000 troops at Tolmezzo had overrun Carnia from the south, while 3,000 Nazis brought in from Austria, attacked the North. Smitty and the rest were caught between the two forces, and I haven’t heard a whisper about them since – more than three weeks. I feel sure he must have gotten through and escaped toward Yugoslavia, that being one of our exit plans before we started. But for three weeks now I’ve been the only Allied officer in the whole Alps. Not that the time has been wasted. I managed to get contact with certain people in Bolzano and perfected a plan for blowing out one of the tunnels on the railroad through the Brenner; sent the explosives off to them disguised as crates of jam last week! Then, too, I managed to sign up a couple of electrical engineers and we worked out a scheme for crippling the entire telephone and telegraph net in the Alps here – important because of the Alpine fortifications Jerry is working so feverishly on. At present, I am in the tiny hamlet of Andrich, part of the community of Vallada, whiling the hours away reading Ivanhoe. The fine Italian family here with whom I’m staying will mail this after the war. How I’ll get out, I don’t know, although I wish I could give you some assurance.”
The captain’s luck ran out in December. He was captured and taken to Bolzano, Italy, where the SS chief, Major August Schiffer, had been itching to get his hands on him. Schiffer had the captain tortured in the basement “machine room” at SS headquarters and then brutally hanged him with a clothesline tied to a steam pipe. The captain lies buried in an American military cemetery in Northern Italy.
– Associated Press
January 9, 1946 – trial against SS Officer August Schiffer starts in Naples. Seven charges of murder to include Captain Hall. A statement from Schiffer is read in which he said he ordered the slaying of all seven and took full responsibility. The other three Nazi officers on trial pleaded innocent. Those murdered besides Captain Hall, Lieutenants George W. Hammond of Newman, GA; Charles Parker of Middledale, CT; Hardy D. Narion of Kenly, NC; and Staff Sergeant Medard R. Tafoya of Yola, CA — all Americans, and a British major and corporal. (Baltimore Sun, 1/10/46)
January 15, 1946 – SS Major August Schiffer, SS Underofficer Albert Storz, and SS Lieutenant Henrich Andergassen found guilty of murder of all 7 allied troops including Captain Hall. German Gendarme Hans Butz was convicted of the same crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. (Deadwood [SD] Pioneer-Times, 1/17/46)
July 13, 1946 – Scaffolds were being made ready for the hanging Monday of three German SS officers convicted of atrocities in connection with the slaying of 7 Allied soldiers. (Harrisburg [PA] Telegraph, 7/13/46)
July 26, 1946 – All three SS officers found guilty of murder were hanged today in Livorno Italy. (Miami News, 7/26/1946)
Citation to accompany the award of the Army Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
(The DSC is the Army equivalent of the Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard Cross)
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Roderick S. G. Hall (O-1114150), Captain (Corps of Engineers), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company D, 2677th Regiment, Office of Strategic Services, in action from 2 August 1944 to 27 January 1945, in Italy. Volunteering for a special mission into enemy-occupied territory, Captain Hall parachuted into the region southeast of the Brenner Pass on 2 August 1944 for the purpose of disrupting enemy communications routes. Remaining as a lone allied officer in this mountainous area and repeatedly exposing himself to capture by an enemy constantly seeking him, he interrupted communications, collected and relayed intelligence information, demolished enemy installations and facilities, and organized and operated with partisan bands intent on inflicting the utmost damage to the hostile occupying forces. Constantly eluding capture and frequently exposed to the severe winter weather, he was reported to have been wounded twice and to have seriously frozen his feet during his gallant missions. Captain Hall’s intrepid actions, personal bravery, and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army. Department of the Army, General Orders No. 85 (September 25, 1951)
Citation to accompany the award of the Legion of Merit
(awarded for “superior or exceptionally meritorious service”)
For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services in Italy from 2 August 1944 to 27 January 1945, Captain Hall was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit.
“Volunteering for a special mission into enemy occupied territory, for the purpose of interrupting enemy communication routes, Captain Hall parachuted into the region southeast of the Brenner Pass on August 1944 and remained there, as a lone allied officer, interrupting communications, collecting intelligence, and operating with partisans, during the course of which he was reported to have been twice wounded and to have frozen both feet, during severe winter weather, in high mountains. On January 7, 1945, while on his way to blow up the electric transformer station at Cortina d’Ampezzo and to interrupt the railway, he was captured by the enemy and subsequently died at the concentration camp on 20 February 1945. His unselfish devotion to duty and his unflinching courage in refusing to leave an area in which the enemy was seeking him, while he believed he could still damage the enemy, and in undertaking an extremely hazardous operation alone, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States.”
Plaque in Montegal, Italy honoring OSS achievements during World War II
Commune di Limana ANPI Belluno
To the valiant
Allied Military Missions OSS: Tacoma, Aztec, Eagle
SOE: Simia, Fra
in the province of Belluno
75th Anniversary of Liberation
Details of the missions mentioned
Located on the outside of a building which makes up Malga Montegal (an agriturismo) where the OSS operations were headquartered; just under the roof overhang. An inscribed polished marble plaque.
The plaque was placed on the 75th Anniversary(December 2019) of OSS Operational Group (OG) TACOMA’s jump into DZ AZURE in Valmorel, Italy. They flew in a Halifax bomber piloted by a Polish aircrew. Their mission was to help Steven Hall (Operation Eagle) destroy the Brenner Pass and other Partisan support operations.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the modern CIA, conducted numerous operations behind enemy lines in Italy in WW2. The plaque remembers three missions in Northeastern Italy conducted by Operation Groups Tacoma; Aztec and Eagle. Operation Groups of the OSS in WW2 were the modern-day precursor to our Current Special Forces teams. These missions all operated in close coordination with Italian Partisan units.
SOE were British missions of the Special Operation Executive (SOE).
Engagement: From December 26, 1944, until May 24, 1945
Captain Howard W. Chappell, mission leader
T/5 Salvadore Fabrega, weapons specialist
Cpl. Oliver Silsby, radio operator
Staff Sergeant Eugene Delaini, weapons specialist
Staff Sergeant Charles Ciccone, demolitions specialist
T/3 Eric Burchardt, medical corpsman
It was an assignment to organize the partisans to block the German Army’s vital supply and escape routes from northern Italy to Austria and Germany through the passes in the Alpine and Dolomite Mountains and also to support Operation Group Eagle.
Mission: To work with the Alpini partisans in the Belluno area of northeast Italy blocking communication between Germany and Italy.
Capt Joseph J. Benucci, Mission Leader
1st Sgt Ignazio Cangelosi
Sgt Sebastian Gianfriddo, radio operator
Leader: Roderick Stephen “Steve” Hall.
Mission: From the CIA History Website:
America’s history is rich with stories about courageous men and women who have gone above and beyond to protect their nation. The story of Office of Strategic Services officer Roderick Stephen Hall and the Brenner Pass assignment is one of the most amazing and inspiring stories. Steve survived for six months in the Italian and Austrian Alps while planning sabotage missions targeting Nazi supply routes.
OSS Book of Honor at CIA Headquarters
Captain Hall is buried at Florence American Cemetery; Via Cassia S.N.
50023 Tavarnuzze (Florence), Impruneta, Italy; Plot D, Row 10, Grave 525. Photo provided by cemetery staff.