Honoring Texas Veterans
Each year on November 11, Americans commemorate Veterans Day to honor those who have served in our nation’s military. Originally established to honor Americans who fought in World War I and commemorate the armistice that ended the conflict, following World War II the holiday was expanded to remember veterans of all wars.
Although the collections of the DRT Library most thoroughly document the Texas Revolution and its participants, they also include primary and secondary sources relating to all American conflicts from the American Revolution to the Vietnam War.
In honor of Veterans Day, this entry focuses on one of the approximately 198,000 Texans who served in the armed forces during World War I. Preliminary research indicates that Hal Irby Greer was born in Beaumont on October 18, 1885. He attended both Texas A. & M. and the University of Texas; the library’s copy of the 1905 Cactus, the yearbook of the University of Texas, contains a photograph of him with his fraternity brothers in Phi Kappa Psi and lists him as a member of the class of 1907 majoring in law. Greer married Catherine Lindsay “Kitty” Smith (b. 1887) in 1908. The couple had two sons before divorcing in 1917.
According to obituaries published following his death, Greer was quick to enlist in the military soon after the United States entered World War I in April 1917, even though he was “past the conscript age.” Greer completed air training in Austin and Garden City, New York, before he went to France, where he may have faced additional instruction before being sent to the front. While Greer was cited for bravery in the war, he was also left permanently physically disabled, as his lungs were frozen due to exposure and high flights. Greer began receiving treatments while still in France, and when he returned to the United States following the war he spent significant amounts of time in hospitals and underwent several operations, none of which fully restored his health. Greer continued to reside in Beaumont until relocating to Houston around 1924; there he worked as an independent oil operator and oil land developer. Greer also apparently remarried, as obituaries wrote that his wife, Vallie Hubbard of Houston, had died in August 1930. Greer committed suicide in February 1936, stating in a note that his reasons were continued ill health and financial difficulties, which were presumably worsened by the Great Depression.
The DRT Library’s collection of Hal Irby Greer’s papers (COL 896) contains photographs, letters, and other documents relating to his work as a pilot during World War I. In three letters to his mother, written from France between May and October 1918, Greer describes daily life in the 11th Aero Squadron and writes about his family. He includes details and anecdotes about training, his fellow pilots and friends, the weather, and places he visits and people he meets in France. In his letter dated September 14, 1918, excerpted here, Greer describes how he became the first member of the 11th Squadron to shoot down a German plane:
We penetrated far into Germany on a bombing trip. . .I was put out on the rear guard of the formation, and Reuben and I had our work cut out, I assure you! In the first place, we had to put up with the most severe “archie” [anti-aircraft] fire, which is terrible. First, you hear a “rack-crack,” and a smoke ball opens up in your rear somewhere, then the next one is over you, then under you, then to the side of you – all the time biting closer and closer! God! What a feeling! It’s terrible! Then, finally, you hear one “crrrrrra-S-H”! after another, and you know they’re horribly close! You can’t dodge, you just stand there and watch those ominous balls of smoke, and I steadied myself by counting them and thinking, “Well, if only one hits me from above, it will probably be in the head, and I won’t know it, so what’s the use?” Then I asked God to forgive all my past, and if it be His will to make me at least die like a man, and protect my two little boys and brother. Then the “archie” fire let up, just as we reached our objective. We dropped our bombs, those of us who carried them, and I knew something was coming! It did alright! The “Richtofen Circus” [the Jagdgeschwader 1, a German fighter unit] jumped us! Lord, but the air was full of “Boches” [German soldiers]! They dived on us over my right shoulder. . .After they shot at our leader, they wheeled and came up on our rear. They divided up, and a bunch took each plane. Three swung around in back of me. I stood up high, so as to protect Reuben’s head with my body, and waited for them to come up. Two were to one side and beneath me, and the other was to other side and beneath me. It was curious to watch them come. They had red noses and all sorts of fantastic colors. The three of them opened up and got me in a cross fire, and I could see the bullets (tracer and incendiary) flashing all round me. I singled one out, and put my guns on him.