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Robert Lee Hull

"Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives."

John Adams

Private Robert Lee Hull was an American veteran who served during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, to Robert J. Hull and Emma Leonard Hull on December 16, 1921. According to 1930 and 1940 Federal Census data, Robert had two younger brothers, James and Thomas. Although he was born in the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties, his teenage years were defined by the economic crash in the 1930s, which raised unemployment in West Virginia as high as 80 percent in some areas. It was this pressure which most likely led him to enlist in the Army Air Corps on September 10, 1940. Before this, he had graduated from Wheeling High School in 1939.

Hull grew up during an era of economic hardship and struggle, which was especially prominent in West Virginia during in the early 1930s. It was at this same time that a massive flood, colloquially known as "The Big One," hit the area. This disaster displaced more than 20,000 people and killed 16. Wheeling suffered from a lack of employment opportunities at the time, but became a popular industrial-based economy during World War II. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records indicate Robert had four years of high school and was a semiskilled mechanic or repairman of motor vehicles at the time of his enlistment.

Private Hull enlisted in the Air Corps with the understandable goal of escaping the effects of the Great Depression. He was assigned to the 72nd Pursuit Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group, stationed at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Hawaii. On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor and the military base in Honolulu, leading to the loss of over 2,400 lives. Wheeler Field was a main target in the attack, mainly because of the large number of planes at the base. Over half the planes were destroyed, with the majority of the troops being forced to defend themselves on the ground. While Hull is listed as killed in action, in reality, he didn't die until the next day. He was initially buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, but was moved to Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1947, when families were permitted to bring the remains of their loved ones home. After his death, he received a Purple Heart and was honored as one of the many brave fighters of World War II.

Emblem of the 72nd Fighter Squadron

Wheeler Field

Planes and hangars burning at Wheeler Field during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 50473

Not yet twenty years old at the time of his death, Private Robert Lee Hull played a role in the event that drew the U.S. into World War II. He lived a brief but honorable life as an Air Force combatant and represented not only his state, but his country as well.

Article prepared by Will Snider and Angela Radochio, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
April 2018


Robert Lee Hull

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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