Robert “Lefty” Lyman Hale was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 11 December 1915. He was the son of Ralph and Sadie Hale. Lefty attended Natick High School, Natick, Massachusetts where he participated in the baseball and basketball teams and was captain of the football team. Robert was inducted into the Natick High School Hall of Fame in 2014. His family moved to Rowley, Massachusetts during his teenage years; and he attended Cushing Academy, Ashburnham, MA where he played baseball, basketball and football.
He entered Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1937 with the class of 1941 where he participated in the Army ROTC program and was a star pitcher on the freshman baseball team. Lefty played some semi-pro baseball with the Rowley Rams after he left RISC after his freshman year. On 13 March 1942, Robert L. Hale enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces Cadet/Aviation Program.
Private Robert L. Hale graduated from the ten-week U.S. Army Air Force preflight training program, a combination of enlisted basic training and officer candidate school. He was assigned as a cadet at the Flying/Pilot Cadet Training Program, U.S. Army Air Force Blytheville Advanced Flying School, Arkansas. Upon completion of flight school, he was awarded his Pilot Silver Wings, commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in January 1943 and assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Group (L), 8th Bomb Squadron, Oro Bay Airfield, New Guinea, Pacific Theater. 2Lt. Hale began flying combat missions in July 1943 as the co-pilot of a B-25 Mitchell light bomber.
On 24 October 1943, 2Lt. Hale took off with a flight of B-25 Mitchell light bombers on a bombing run against Japanese targets at Rabaul, New Guinea with a crew of four. Sadly, they were attacked on the way to the target. Witnesses in the bombing formation saw Hale’s plane hit; the right wing came off, and the plane crashed on the island. The Japanese occupation of the crash site continued for two more years. In 1946, an Australian war grave team located a crash site with remains they believed to be Americans. The unidentified remains were buried at the Manila American Cemetery, Fort Bonifacio, Philippines.
Fifty years later, the joint POW/MIA Accounting Command was investigating crash sites in New Guinea and found additional human remains at the crash site of Hale’s B-25. The remains buried in the Philippines were then exhumed and sent to Hawaii. With DNA samples from surviving family members, the identification of the four fliers was finally confirmed in May 2006.
Second Lieutenant Robert L. Hale was cited for Gallantry in Action and awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal (Posthumously). He was laid to rest with full military honors in the family plot in the Main Street Cemetery, Rowley, Massachusetts. Second Lieutenant Robert L. Hale, U.S. Army Air Forces, was a hero in defeating the Japanese in World War II. He was another son of Rhode Island State College and America who answered the call to duty and gave his life in service to our country. He is a heroic member of the “Greatest Generation.”