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Col. Bill Hayes, one of last living Pearl Harbor vets, dies at 100

U.S. military cemetery. (PxHere/Released)
May 17, 2019

One of the last living Pearl Harbor veterans died this week at age 100.

Retired Army Col. Bill Hayes passed away at a San Antonio nursing home at age 100, My San Antonio reported Thursday. His funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on May 31 at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Shelter No. 1.

Just three years into his Army career, Hayes served as a personnel sergeant major at the nearby Hickam Field’s Station Hospital when the attacks on Pearl Harbor began.

What he thought was an exercise involving soldiers flooding out the barracks with combat gear turned out to be the real thing. “The Japs have attacked!” a friend called out.

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He came into view of Pearl Harbor and saw the sight for himself.

“And as I drove up the road, I saw a … plane drop a bomb into a large oil tank, and it went up in smoke. The sky was full of planes and bursts from antiaircraft shells,” Hayes once recalled of the attack.

Then he watched the planes bomb ship in the harbor.

“There were four planes attacking the ship in four directions. One plane came over my head about 50 feet high, and I could see the (pilot’s) face almost clearly enough to recognize him if I saw him again … He let his bombs go as he passed the ship. They didn’t look very big but they made a hell of a noise.”

Hayes grabbed his medical kit and immediately began rendering aid to his fellow troops.

“Things were getting lively by now. Wounded were pouring in, blood was running an inch deep on the floor. I applied four tourniquets, which was about all one could do, then went out and started carrying in the wounded,” he wrote.

“They were brought in by the truckload,” Hayes wrote. “Most of the wounded were three-quarters dead by the time they were picked up, they had their legs blown off, their stomachs torn out, their heads torn open, and everything else that isn’t imaginable.”

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He had transferred to Hickam Field in Nov. 1941, a goal fulfilled since he joined the Army in 1938 intending to be stationed in Hawaii.

Five months after the Pearl Harbor attacks, he went through Officer Candidate School. He quickly began a warrant officer, and was commissioned in the Medical Administrative Corps as a second lieutenant the following month.

He later worked as chief of the Surgeon’s Offices personnel, medical detachment commander at William Beaumont Army Hospital on Fort Bliss, comptroller at Brooke Army Medical Center, and was a key figure in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS).

“He was history. He was history in the making,” said his daughter, Judith Kroczek. “A finer man you would not know. The military was his life.”