Passings: Hal Vieau, 96; Long-time Palisades Resident

Hal Vieau, who lived an active life in Pacific Palisades until his final days, passed away at his home on August 10 at the age of 96.

He was a member of Corpus Christi Parish, American Legion Post 283 and the Palisades Optimist Club.

Born to Arthur and Pauline Vieau in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on January 20, 1921, Hal entered a Naval Reserve V-5 (Aviation Cadet) program in 1942. In an earlier News story, he said one of his landing sites was a frozen cornfield. His plane was equipped with skis, and barbed wire was at each end of the field. “We had to make sure the skis didn’t catch the barbed wire.”

When Hal was transferred to Glenview, Illinois, he learned to fly a bi-wing aircraft. “They took the floats off and put on landing gear, so we could practice,” he said. Only 5’7” tall, he would fly sitting on his parachute, and later in World War II when he flew past an aircraft carrier, no one could see him, so his friends began to say, “There goes Frenchie,” and that became his nickname.

Hal Vieau
Hal Vieau

After Hal was transferred to San Diego, he traveled to Santa Monica to visit a friend, and he met his future wife Beverly on a blind date. He asked if she would take him to mass the next day at 10 a.m. She was so late, they didn’t arrive until the final blessing. He remembered asking her, “Is this the way you go to church?”

During the war, Hal was part of Squadron VC-91, which flew TBM torpedo bombers off aircraft carriers. He flew 600 missions off three escort carriers (USS Kitkin Bay, USS Savo Island and the USS Makin Island), while coping with a few harrowing challenges.

These bombers had only about 100 feet of deck to get airborne and often would plunge down below the deck before climbing out and it was not unusual to crash into the ocean. Forced to navigate without a GPS system, pilots occasionally couldn’t find their way back to the ship.

“One time, I had to fly around and find another ship to land on,” Hal recalled. He stayed overnight, then took off the next morning and found his ship. The first thing someone asked him after landing is if he noticed anything different about his plane. He didn’t at first, but then realized “The mechanics on the other plane had stripped my plane.”

He returned to California after the war and married Beverly on July 27, 1945, at St. Monica’s Catholic Church. They moved to Northfield Street in the Palisades in 1947, and in 1963 moved to Whitfield.

The couple joined Corpus Christi, where Hal was an usher for 36 years. When he was still in his 90s, he walked daily to the 8 a.m. mass.

Hal had wanted to become a commercial airline pilot after the war, but because he was shorter than 5’8” he was turned down. He attended Regis College in Denver and then joined General Telephone in Santa Monica. He continued flying with the Naval Reserves until 1971 and retired as the commander of all Reserve squadrons at Point Mugu in 1976.

Hal was a charter member of the Optimist Club and remained a member for 61 years, serving for a long time as treasurer. At age 93, wearing boxer shorts, he marched with the club’s Semi-Naked, Semi-Precise Drill Team in the Fourth of July parade.

In the American Legion, Hal served in almost every position, including Commander, on the executive board and as Chaplain.

Beverly and Hal were married for 71 years, until she passed away in February.

Hal leaves behind three children, Jerry, Jan and Joan; 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A memorial mass with Navy honors color guard, flag folding presentation, taps and rifle salute was held on August 19 at Corpus Christi Church.

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