FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Not long after John and Sarah Hall buried their first son in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery, they had a heart-to-heart talk with their second.
Joseph Hall, known to family and friends as Joe, was 10 at the time, the youngest of the couple’s four children.
“We sat Joe down and said, ‘You will not go into the Army,’ and he said, ‘OK,’” recalled his father, a retired lieutenant colonel who served 28 years in the Army, then 11 years as a defense contractor.
But the Halls, whose relatives have fought in almost every American conflict since the Revolutionary War, came to realize there was little they could do in the face of destiny.
“Joe Hall’s always been his own man and followed his own path,” his mother said. “You really couldn’t sway him.”
He enlisted as soon as he graduated from James Monroe High School in Virginia. Then, he volunteered for combat duty when his unit was unexpectedly deployed to Syria.
Joe Hall, 21, earned the coveted combat infantry badge in the Middle East before he was old enough to buy a beer in America.
Proud as both parents are of their son’s service, the fear they lived with during his deployment was paralyzing.
“It was horrible,” his mother said about days without contact and sleepless nights when the what-ifs popped into her head.
She and her husband already knew the meaning of ultimate sacrifice.
Their oldest son, 1st Lt. Benjamin Hall, was platoon leader of an airborne brigade combat team based in Italy. For a year, the Army Rangers had trained for combat in Iraq and spent months studying terrain and tribes, towns and provinces.
Then, for what John Hall described as political reasons, the unit was sent to Afghanistan instead because the higher-ups deemed it wasn’t getting the necessary attention.
Benjamin Hall, 24, found himself in the Taliban stronghold of the Kunar province in July 2007. His operating base was under attack, and the young officer went outside the barrier to get a better line of sight and to call in air support.
“A guy fired a rocket at him, and that was it,” his father said quietly.
Over the years, soldiers who served with Ben Hall have visited his parents, who live in Spotsylvania County. They’ve shared stories of things he did for them—the way he put himself in harm’s way to protect them—and how they strive to honor his memory.
“When you die so young like that,” his mother said, “you leave this legacy that inspires such a wide range of people that you wouldn’t have if you had lived another 50 years.”
When it was clear to the Halls that their younger son would join the Army, they tried to steer him into military police work or criminal investigation, both areas in which he had expressed interest. Neither would do for the GI Joe and Eagle Scout who wanted to be in the infantry.
Like his older brother, he initially trained for Iraq. That’s where most of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Polk ended up, but a small group was assigned to Syria in fall 2017. Later that year, Pentagon officials acknowledged having almost 2,000 troops in the country and that forces wouldn’t be withdrawn until the newest threat, ISIS, was beaten.
After he returned from deployment in May 2018, Joe Hall told his father about security duty with the Special Forces and how he suddenly found himself dropping mortars down tubes, aiming bombs at the enemy.
Joe Hall also described work with Marines and Syrian civilians—including some who died in his arms after their villages were attacked.
The Halls wondered how their kid ended up in the thick of things when so many others from his unit were elsewhere. Then they learned it was Joe Hall’s doing.
“His name wasn’t on the list, and he told them to put it on there,” his father said.
The Army specialist finished his three years of service in late October, just in time for the wedding of his sister, Melissa. His oldest sibling, Katherine, flew from England for the ceremony with her sons, Ben and Jack.
The Halls hope their days of worrying about their son’s safety are over, but fear that’s not the case. He wants to be a policeman.
“He’s gonna keep us up at night,” his mother said. “It’s our destiny.”