WWII vet leaves footprint in art and faith

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 19, 2013

Former West Bloomfield resident Richard Hallagan poses in his U.S. Army uniform for a photo during World War II.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — April 21, 1944, marked a turning point in the life of former West Bloomfield resident Richard Hallagan, as his sister and father drove him to the Michigan Central Station. Like many young men, Hallagan had been drafted to fight in World War II, and he spent his 21st birthday being inducted into the U.S. Army. 

At that young age, Hallagan was the oldest man assigned to a 10-man flight crew in Riverside, Calif., to practice bombing missions in Liberator B-24 planes, Hallagan wrote in his “World War II Memoirs.”

After being assigned to the CBI (China, Burma, India) Theater in the South Pacific, Hallagan’s unit  — the 5th Air Force, 24th Bomber Command, or “The Red Raiders” — completed 30 bomber missions before the end of the war.

Following the debriefings of each mission, Hallagan filled his free time by drawing, and according to his son Bill Hallagan, he painted the Liberator B-24 planes and the bombs. The Red Raiders’ 30th mission was completed July 24 when they travelled to Shanghai’s Kiangwan Airfield, China.

“Shortly thereafter, we were lined up on the runway for take-off at dawn, destination Tokyo, when the order came to stand down,” Hallagan wrote. “Rumors flew that the Japanese were suing for peace because of some kind of super bomb.”

Sometime later, Hallagan heard on the Special Services news that the war in Europe was over, and he ran to the docks to announce the news.

Hallagan returned to Clark Field for assignment to fly home, and that was the last he ever saw his crew members.

Hallagan wrote that he was not impressed with his assigned pilot and overheard reports from previous units that some flights missed the first leg home and ended up in the ocean.

During takeoff at 3 a.m., the pilot hit a small mound of dirt, causing serious damage to the plane. Despite the damage to the landing gear, the pilot was determined to land the plane, which was built in Willow Run, Mich.

After circling the airfield once at dawn, they were ordered to toss out the service records and all flight bags — Hallagan’s service records and bags were never recovered — and jump. Hallagan landed in a rice paddy near a small village about 50 miles east of Clark Field and presented himself with the other crew members to the field commissary. After some difficulty, he was given temporary quarters and then assigned to Fort Stotsinberg, near Manila, Philippines. He spent the next six months as an artist for the BOM COM, which, according to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, was the bomber command newspaper.

“One day, I was living in a miserable crowded tent, cold, eating C rations, sick with malaria, being shot at, and no women in sight! Then, a private room with a bed and heat, a houseboy, my own jeep, women (nurses), dining in the NCO Club … health care, too!” he wrote.

Hallagan returned home March 1946 and was discharged in April. He always told his family that his artwork and faith got him through the war. After serving in the war, he married Patricia Cunniffee, fathered six children and began a career as an illustrator with General Motors in Detroit.

“He loved his beautiful Patricia,” said family friend and Henry Ford West Bloomfield physician assistant MaryTherese Aubrey. “He made sure his sons treated her right. Not that they did anything wrong, but there was a standard, and he made sure it was held up.”

Aubrey said Hallagan lived a life devoted to prayer, his children and helping people find Christ through his art. He also had a tendency to invite parishioners and priests to dinner to discuss his sketches and sculptures.

“He felt his artwork was his gift to God. If people could see God through his artwork, then he was doing what he was supposed to,” Aubrey said.

Aubrey knew Hallagan for nearly 40 years as she grew up with his beloved and only daughter, Mary Ann. When his daughter was born, Aubrey said, Hallagan carved the Last Supper as a gift to his wife.

Prior to the construction of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial in Washington, D.C., Hallagan was commissioned to sculpt the bust of Roosevelt for the Smithsonian shops, which to this day is still sold in stores, Bill Hallagan said.

Later in life, Hallagan distributed Eucharistic Communion to a dozen senior living facilities in the Archdiocese of Detroit and sketched the residents to lift their spirits. When he was unable to distribute Holy Communion due to age and health, Hallagan made sure Aubrey knew exactly which facilities she had to deliver to.

“He was inspirational to anyone who knew him,” Aubrey said. “And I remember the first time my husband took him Holy Communion. He quizzed my husband to make sure he was a bona fide Eucharistic minister.”

In the last three years of his life, Bill Hallagan said, his father was afflicted with neuropathy, but he defied the odds that he wouldn’t draw again, completing another book of sketches.

During his life, Hallagan independently published his sketchbooks. One in particular was dedicated to European Jews prior to World War II, and he donated the book to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Hallagan passed away Aug. 20 in West Bloomfield at the age of 90.

“He was very spiritual, and the people loved him,” Aubrey added. “They felt like he was an angel.”