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War readied him for FBI career

Stories about your retired neighbors and their previous careers

Know how to spot an FBI agent?

"His glasses, passes, tie and fly," said Jesse Hall, pointing at various articles of his clothing to illustrate.

Nowadays, Hall jokes about the military mentality and stereotypical look of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents during the 1960s. But back then, he took his career seriously.

"There was a "Don't shoot G-man, I surrender' type of feeling in the criminal world," said Hall, 76, whose upbringing and military service helped prepare him for the rigorous life of an FBI agent.

Hall grew up in Mebane, N.C., a town of 2,800 people in the north-central part of the state. His father, Jesse Clyde Hall, was mayor of the small town for 20 years and ran the family's wholesale grocery.

Hall's mother, Mary Wilson Jones, raised him and his brother, William B. Hall, 79.

In 1935, forced out of business by the Depression, the family moved to Halifax, Va. Hall, then 15, attended Halifax High School. His father took a job as a clerk in a grocery store where he had worked when he was 12 years old.

Hall admired his father's resolve but wanted more for himself.

From 1937 to 1940, Hall attended Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va., where he majored in business administration. It was there he met Mary Kennedy, his wife of 52 years.

They were in the same French class.

"He was tutoring me and I made a better grade than he did," teased Mrs. Hall, 78.

In 1940, Hall joined the Army Air Corps with hopes of becoming a fighter pilot. But he "washed out" in aviation training.

"He couldn't land the plane. He was at the top of his class other than that," said Mrs. Hall, who was a member of the first class of women to be trained as naval officers.

Hall was later chosen for officer training at the Command and General Staff School in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and eventually directed a navigation school for return combat navigators in Galveston, Texas. He also saw overseas combat in World War II.

At 23, he earned the rank of major.

In 1943, on a trip back to the states, Hall married his college sweetheart in Brooklyn, N.Y. The couple honeymooned in Oklahoma. He had mailed her an engagement ring from overseas. She had the postman put it on her finger.

Four years, 11 months and six hours after joining the military, Hall returned home to a pregnant wife, two children and a troubled society.

"They wondered what type of monsters would come back from World War II," Hall said. "We weren't monsters. We were just young men who grew up too fast."

In 1945, Hall returned to college to get his degree.

"I was like an old man. I opened my door and baby bottles fell out," Hall recalled fondly.

Meanwhile, he went to work as a clerk for the FBI, which was then competing for military-trained personnel.

In 1946, the Department of Justice chose Hall for Special Agents Training School in Quantico, Va., and Washington, D.C. _ but only after an extensive background check that included friends and family.

There could be no criminal wrongdoing, bankruptcies, subversive activity or mental illness.

"My father had been dead since I was a child, and they checked him out," Mrs. Hall said.

Hall's starting salary was $4,149.60. "That was good money," he said.

But the FBI's grueling training regimen and intense discipline caused many candidates to drop out.

"It was like being back in the service," Hall said. "You take a group of men from various backgrounds and all walks of life and in six weeks you've got to put them into one mold."

Hall stuck it out.

As an agent, he initially worked under the supervision of administrative personnel. Later he worked as a general investigator under senior agents, who initiated new agents by sending them on a "road trip."

"That's where (a new agent) goes out by himself trembling and shaking," Hall said.

In his 24 years as an FBI agent, Hall worked on cases involving bankruptcy, espionage, background clearances, surveillance and thefts.

But not all cases were serious. He once was called to Robert Kennedy's house, where the Kennedy children had lost their pet seal. Agents scoured the area for hours before spotting the seal hiding in shrubbery.

In the late '60s, Hall was in charge of keeping tabs on George Lincoln Rockwell, a leader of the American Nazi movement. A member of the Communist Party, Rockwell was later assassinated by one of his own soldiers.

Hall is most proud of his part in helping enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in public places.

Hall recalled how black people were not allowed to use the restrooms and water fountains at a train station in Alexandria, Va. There were signs that read "whites only."

At first, Hall tried to reason with the station's manager, to no avail. He won't say how or why, but the signs came down.

"Well, lo and behold, I went to the station one morning and the signs were gone," he said, mischievously laughing.

He added: "We avoided any contact or violence."

In 1970, Hall retired as a senior agent with the FBI, taking with him top secret information from a number of cases. He and Mrs. Hall moved to Cape Cod, Mass., where they lived for 13 years.

In 1983, the couple moved to Spring Hill and warmer weather.

These days, Hall's biggest challenge is coping as a deaf man in a world that thrives on verbal communication. Years of combat and target practice claimed Hall's hearing but not his spunk.

It is not surprising for a man who was once invited to meet legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover but declined. He didn't want to call attention to himself, he said.

_ If you know someone whose life or career would make an interesting story, contact Kim Gilmore at 848-1432 or send e-mail to You can also write her at 3233 Commercial Way, Suite 101, Spring Hill, FL 34606.