I haven't seen John Hull or Rob Owen since 1984. We thought it best to part company at that time. Rob Owen had to burn through $1,000,000 to protect himself from the US Senate. I held my breath and lowered my profile. It worked.
I did have an amusing incident when I was invited to a party at the Vice President's House and met Dan Quayle. I knew Rob Owen worked for Quayle because one of the numbers I used to contact Owen was in the Indiana Senator's office. Several years later when introduced to the then Vice President I said we had a mutual friend in Rob Owen. VP Quayle smiled and asked as to how I knew Rob, and when I mentioned through John Hull, a concerned look rose across his face.
I chuckled and told him it was cool. John Hull was my friend and I knew what Hull did and did not do.
I had no idea John was still alive. I have posted several times about him and how he was railroaded by the "Liar of the Senate", John Kerry. Here is what he has been doing the last 25 years and here is a previous post I did on John Hull.
Don John: The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Photos by Sonny Brown and
Kristen K. Tucker Evansvilleliving
At his Yucatan ranch, John Hull talks to Kristen K. tucker about growing up in Southern Indiana, the Contra war, and a life spent aiding native Indians.
“Don John” is up to his old tricks.
It could also be said, and it would be true, he’s never stopped doing what he does.
We — editors of this magazine and most people in Evansville — just didn’t know.
For nearly 20 years, the name John Hull hasn’t been heard much around Evansville. But for the decade of the 1980s and into the 1990s, “Don John,” as the Gibson County farmer was called throughout Central America, dominated local news reporting and captured the interest of national news organizations, politicians, presidents, the native Indians of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the FBI, and the CIA.
The man who for a decade regaled reporters and anyone who would listen about his wartime adventures was keeping a low profile.
Pam Martin, an executive at Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville, who in 1989 interviewed and reported on Hull for the Sunday Courier & Press, even speculated recently as she drove up U.S. Highway 41 past the Patoka exit (where the Hull family farm sits less than a quarter-mile off the highway) if Hull still was alive.
John Floyd Hull Jr., 88, is indeed alive and talking at his 1,200-acre ranch in a remote area of the Mexican state of Yucatan, in the municipality of Tizimin, where he and his wife of 20 years, Emelia, 42, raise 800 Brahman cattle and have demonstrated a commitment to improving the lives of the native Mayan people who inhabit that region.
Two Evansville residents, John Whinrey, an attorney at Frick Powell LLP, and Ron Huffman, a retired Whirlpool engineer, both members of the Rotary Club of Evansville, recently traveled to the Yucatan to visit with Hull and Emelia (“Emie”).
Soon after their visit, I received a phone call in my office on a Friday afternoon. The strong, clear, congenial voice on the phone said, “Mrs. Tucker, this is John Hull. I want to invite you down to my ranch in Mexico.”
John Hull is up to his old tricks. Those who know him — including his grandson Joe Bammer, who owns and operates GrassMasters Sod Farm on part of the Hull family property in Patoka — say that Hull is doing the same thing in Mexico that he began doing in Costa Rica 40 years ago: carving a ranch out of the jungle and working intently to improve the natives’ lives, chiefly through better medical care.
Martin is not surprised. “It sounds just like John Hull. He’ll have one cause after another — humanitarian. Whether it’s on the political fringes or by himself, he’s going to try to improve lives. It’s his brand of assistance. He’ll always be doing what helps people.”
I took Hull’s invitation to visit his ranch seriously and in early January extended a business trip to San Antonio, Texas, to fly to Cancun, Mexico, where Hull said he and Emie would pick me up. Because the Hulls were in El Salvador when they phoned, I had not been able to reach them again until I was in the airport.
“We’re so pleased you’re coming,” Hull said. “We’ll try not to get you kidnapped.”
A few days later I was greeted by Emie Hull in Cancun. Because my flight was a few hours late and people picking up arriving passengers must wait outside, Hull was resting in the leather-seated Chrysler van. I spotted Emie, a pretty Costa Rican woman with strong features and a bright smile, and we began the 100-mile drive through Cancun and into the interior to the Hull ranch. While the roads in this ancient area of Mexico have been improved in recent years, due largely to the tourism industry centering around Cancun and the ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum, still the drive takes nearly three hours, giving us plenty of time to get acquainted as we stopped several times to see the beach, to eat, and to buy fruit, Mexican pastries, and tortillas.
John Floyd Hull Jr. learned about adventure early in his life. He was born Oct. 20, 1920, in Princeton, Ind., the second of two sons. Both parents had college degrees; his mother taught school, and his father was a county agricul-tural extension agent.
Hull’s father was outspoken against the Ku Klux Klan and, as a result, had a hard time finding a job in Southern Indiana. But he was able to find a job in Dubois County, where John Jr. started school at age 4.
When Hull’s father landed a job as the Vanderburgh County extension agent, the family moved to 715 Washington Ave., and Hull attended Stanley Hall and Bosse High School before enrolling in Evansville College at the age of 17. Always popular, he told me he beat out Vance Hartke, who would later become a U.S. senator, for senior class president.
Hull studied at Evansville College before enrolling in the federal government’s civil pilot training program. He took pilot courses in Evansville and Indianapolis and was selected to take instructor and acrobatic courses.
In 1940, he joined his older brother, J.D., in California where he trained pilots for the U.S. Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force. There, Hull taught flying for a year before he was drafted by the Army for occupational duty in Germany. Demonstrating the willfulness and resourcefulness that define him, he persuaded the Army to release him and went to Canada to join the Royal Air Force. Hull says he wanted to fly planes instead of being stationed in Germany.
Soon he was flying B-24 bombers from Canada to India. He claims to have held the Guinness World Record for the fastest halfway-around-the-world flight in 1941.
At the expansive Yucatan ranch home he and Emie built six years ago, Hull displays on the walls framed photographs of the pilots he taught in California, a handsome photo of himself flying a B-24, and a framed newspaper clipping from the Evansville Courier Journal, dated Jan. 26, 1936, that featured his mother, Anna Clark Hull. In the story, on the occasion of the death of King George V of England, Hull’s mother recalled 25 years earlier when she was presented at the court of the king and Queen Mary.
Also on the wall of the ranch home is a widescreen high-definition television. A satellite dish, borrowed from their Gibson County property, receives programs broadcast from the U.S. While Emie manages the daily operations of the ranch and its employees — including cowboys, Portofirio and Ruben, and maid, Helda — Hull takes care of business from his recliner and watches Fox News. While his wit is wry and he is quick with a quip, Hull has Parkinson’s disease and a history of heart disease and isn’t as active as he was even at age 70, when, I learned that first night sitting at their dining room table, Hull and Emie fled Nicaragua (prompted by numerous threats on Hull’s life) on foot, climbing over a 4,000- foot mountain in the middle of the night.
About 1949, Hull’s father had left his job in Vanderburgh County to work for the Ford Foundation as a foreign agricultural specialist, which led the Hull family to consider making farming investments in other countries. Hull had become interested in the tropics earlier in the war when he flew bombers from Canada to Central America.
During the 1950s, Hull and his father flew to Central America in their own airplane with soil testing kits to test throughout Central America and into South America. They looked for a location with fertile, mineralized soil; a friendly, pro-American culture; and a stable government. They found that in Costa Rica.
In 1969, Hull was the first American rancher to take up residence in northern Costa Rica. At the peak of his farming operations there, Hull amassed a total of about 12,000 acres under management, nearly all of it in ranches bordering the San Juan River along the Nicaraguan border.
Over the years, Hull, and other Americans he persuaded to follow him to Costa Rica (like wealthy Henderson, Ky., farmer and former Army officer, the late George P. Whittington), tamed Costa Rica’s wild frontier, dotting it with cattle, lumber, and citrus industries. Hull became a Costa Rican citizen (today, he holds dual citizenship with the U.S.) and earned the titles of respect: “Don John” or “El Patron” among the locals.
In the Yucatan, Hull still is called “Don John.” At a recent party Emie hosted at the ranch for the schoolchildren of the tiny neighboring village of San Pilar, a little girl asked if she could kiss “Don John.”
“I’ve not had a woman ask to kiss me in 50 years,” Hull joked.
I had read newspaper accounts from the early 1980s suggesting Hull was the most powerful man in Costa Rica. “Was he?” I asked Emie.
“He was. He was a fantastic asset for North America,” Emie says. “John first got very well known for flying in medical supplies.”
Just as his father had an airstrip on their Gibson County property (Evansville residents may remember the sign, “Hull Airport,” along U.S. Highway 41), Hull established grass runways on many of his Costa Rican farms. When neighboring Nicaragua tipped into a full-scale civil war in 1978, Hull began assisting Costa Rican officials by flying in medical supplies and flying out the wounded.
“I’ve grown very fond of the Indians, in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and now here,” Hull says.
Warring in Nicaragua were the Sandinistas and the Contras. The Sandinistas had taken over a repressive regime in 1979, and within a few months, had made known their ties with Cuba and the Soviet Union and vowed to spread communism across Central America. The Contras were formed from dozens of anti-Sandinista battle groups that staged assaults on the new Nicaraguan government from enclaves deep in the eastern Nicaraguan jungle and from neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, the area of Hull’s ranches.
“The Costa Rican (National) guard were as much against the communists as anyone; so were the El Salvadorans and the Hondurans,” says Hull. “Luckily, there was an awful lot of help from everywhere, especially over in our area — rural people are anti-communist. Your communist agitation comes from people in the big cities, and out there in the North where I was, and the valley rural area, the people donated rice to me and food that I could give to the Contras. The police offered to close any roads I wanted, where they were going to air drop that night. When everyone cooperated, we felt we were stopping the communist movement...”