Col. Hal H. McCord
A Life Less Ordinary
From a small town in Kansas to the big, tumultuous events of World War II, Hal McCord did just about everything possible.
Manhattan Family History
Manhattan, Kansas, provided the locale for much of the immediate McCord Clan. Hal McCord’s grandfather moved to Riley County in 1878, filing a land and timber claim about 8 miles to the northwest of Manhattan, just west of “Top ‘0 the World.” Three additional children were born on that homestead, making a total of six. The youngest was Henry Howell Hiram McCord, known to all as Hal.
When Hal and Oma later had a son of their own and named him Hal H. McCord, they were called Hal Sr. and Hal Jr. First-day photos of the mother, baby, and midwife were taken Jan. 25, 1912, at their 601 Thurston Street home. Hal said: “Manhattan was a great place to grow up. About 7000 population. I knew everyone and everyone knew me, and liked me. You never had to lock a door. I could leave my bicycle in the yard.”
Hal learned to fly in 1928 at the age of 16, in an Alexander Eagle Rock. The #1 fairway at the Manhattan Country Club provided a good grass strip. He later owned part interest in a 3F50 Piper Cub and eventually had his own much-beloved T-6 Texan. While assigned to Randolph Field, TX, in the early 1940s, he flight tested many planes coming out of maintenance. The number of different aircraft he learned to fly is truly amazing. The list includes probably every prop-driven aircraft the Army Air Corps had in its inventory at that time. In North Africa he basically had his own B-25 to fly; even back in the States after the War he could easily “borrow” a B-25, and once flew his brother across the country for departure to Korea.
Hal graduated in Architectural Engineering in 1934. Not many students had their grades personally presented to the Asst. Dean of Engineering for review -- Cotton Durland was a friend of his parents and in the same bridge group. Durland would say, “If I’m not pleased with your grades, Hal, I’ll confine you to study rather than let you be so heavily involved in activities.” Hal’s activities comprised a staggering list: student council, playing oboe in the orchestra and concert band, captain of the varsity swimming team, assisting in the PE department, earning several intramural letters (he and fellow Kappa Sig Lisle Smelser played a mean game of soccer), YMCA board, Alpha Phi Omega (a coed service fraternity), many honoraries (generally holding an office), Engineering Open House committees, engineering monthly periodical, and others. He participated in the party to add the ‘S’ to the ‘K’ on the hill overlooking Manhattan from the east; they moved a five-sack mixer to the location, built the forms, moved rocks and mixed up the concrete. Additionally, he earned pocket money and complimentary drawing supply samples at Varney’s Book Store.
Hurst Majors, one of Hal Sr.’s best friends, “influenced him greatly” to pledge Kappa Sig. Hal was the representative to Panhellenic Council. When he became Grand Master of Ceremonies, he said the fraternity seemed generally happy that he was a townie who lived a long-walk from campus and the Kappa Sig house at 519 N. 11th St.
Later, younger brother Max W. McCord also pledged Kappa Sig. Max had many outstanding honors in his tour with the Army Corps of Engineers. He preceded Hal in death (Aug. 2000) and his ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Both brothers traveled the world with the military and exemplified the motto "The sun never sets on a Kappa Sig."
Hal McCord built an impressive military career, achieving the rank of colonel at age 33. As a personnel officer at Randolph Field, he matched men and assignment needs and participated in programs to train the many pilots needed for the war effort. The overseas portion began when the young officer was selected to deliver secret documents to General Stilwell in India. A case chained to his wrist, it was his duty to deliver the documents or destroy them along with himself. He later learned that he carried the war plans for the Chinese Theater. In Western China, while on a search-and-rescue mission, he was attacked by Chinese hill bandits. It soon became obvious that they intended to separate him from everything he had, so he ended up using his .45 -- dispatching both of them. In Casablanca, utilizing music sent from Luther Leavengood at K-State, he formed an envied musical group to boost troop moral, once midnight-requisitioned Navy refrigerators to keep beer cold at desert outposts and flew the length of the Nile in a salvaged B-25. Upon arriving in Paris, the Chief of Staff soon found himself as the ranking officer in the command when the higher-ups had meetings elsewhere, and was responsible for arranging travel to get Mrs. Patton to her dying husband. His letter of Commendation with many accolades from Major General Webster was a source of great pride.
After the War
When Hal returned from the War he worked a year as administrative assistant for Milton Eisenhower, President of Kansas State. In charge of student housing, he negotiated with the Air Force for some temporary units from the Coffeyville Air Base. These barracks were split down the center, cut into thirds, transported to Manhattan, set up on what is now the south end of the Union parking lot (previously tennis courts) and known as "Splinter City." A stop-gap measure providing 336 family units until Jardine Terrace was completed.
Then there was "McCord's Folly." A landowner east of Manhattan had tried several times to create a lake on his property, but it kept draining away. Hal took up the challenge. He used core drillings to determine the composition of underlying layers, discovering a lot of soil porosity. He designed a retaining wall of interlocking sheet pilings and sealed off the leakage, creating Lake Elbo.
In 1951, Hal was summoned back to active duty and a position in the Pentagon. He turned his job supervising housing rehab at Forbes AIFB over to engineer Hap Mathias, a Kappa Sig brother. When the Personnel Planning Staff discovered his wealth of experience in housing, they immediately switched his assignment to that of family housing for the US Air Force. He reported directly to General Twining, the first Air Force General to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had unlimited travel authority, his own set of orders, and huge responsibilities.
He was involved in the design and delivery of housing for the Distant Early Warning Line, the DEW Line across Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland, our primary line of air defense warning of an over-the-pole attack during the Cold War years. Many of these sites were fairly inaccessible, in permafrost, and posed significant housing challenges.
Hal was written up for two columns in the Congressional Record because of his accomplishments in housing. He was involved in legislation and subsequent construction to set up base housing for the Air Force and also did some housing for the Strategic Air Command. He was also investigated by the FBI; his housing programs were so efficient they thought he was making special deals with contractors. His phone was bugged. He had to take pains to arrange meetings with old friends like Fred Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, since the FBI thought he was going over Executive Branch protocol to get favors. His cousin, Fred Irwin, then with the FBI, would arrange meetings on a park bench to update him on events of his surveillance. He laughed at this; he knew he wasn't guilty of anything except trying to do the best he could for the Air Force.
Hal was in reasonable health and mentally alert when his systems finally failed. He died peacefully on Nov. 18, 2003, at the age of 9l, having filed his final "flight plan." The photo in his dress blues was taken in 1994; the uniform is a symbol of military honor, responsibilities and accomplishments, a code of living important to the end. He would be most proud of this honor that you, his fellow Kappa Sigs, have bestowed on him this evening.