By MJ KNOBLOCK
As a U.S. Army veteran, John M. “Jack” Hayes says that there was one important thing he took away from his military career.
“It’s the faith and trust that I put in the American soldier,” he said. “They’re great people.”
As one who served on the Mayor’s Commission on Veterans Affairs, Hayes, 78, has the best interests of fellow veterans in mind. He is a Vietnam veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam during his 21 years of service in the Army. He retired in 1977 and settled down in Hampton Roads with his family. He began a second career working for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper and now enjoys his life as a retiree in Chesapeake.
His journey began in Massachusetts. As a native of Haverhill, Mass., he graduated from Haverhill High School in 1952. He followed in his older brother’s footsteps and attended Norwich University. He recalls with a chuckle that although he attended on a football scholarship, his football career at the military school was not a stellar one. He successfully received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Norwich University in 1956. He met his future wife, Gail, in college. They were married, raised a family and are still together today.
Hayes’ military career began in December of 1956 when he joined the Army and was stationed in Ft. Knox, Kentucky. After six months, he was assigned to the 14th Armored Calvary Division in Germany.
“Part of my job was to patrol that border between East and West Germany,” he said.
After three years in Germany, Hayes returned to the United States as a first lieutenant and was stationed at Ft. Devens, Mass. He was soon promoted to captain. In 1963, he was sent on his first tour in Vietnam. This tour landed him just outside of Saigon in the Gia Dinh Province. He returned to the states for three or four years and was stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia, before heading back to Vietnam for his second tour of duty.
He and his family moved around a lot over the years, meeting many interesting people along the way. One of them was the future Gen. Colin Powell. Hayes and Powell were both in the Army at the same time and crossed paths while they were stationed together in a several places. During his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Hayes was in the town of Chu Lai. He served at headquarters as the G-2 for the Americal Division, also known as the 23rd Infantry Division. Powell was the G-3, with an office in the building next door.
“He was still just another one of the guys when I knew him,” said Hayes, noting that he wasn’t surprised when his former colleague became Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.
It was during his second tour in Vietnam that Hayes was wounded. He was in a helicopter that landed on a mine, injuring his leg. His wife was in Thailand at the time. He wrote her a letter to tell her. She was quite surprised and alarmed. Rather than heading home to the States, however, he stayed in Vietnam, recovered and finished out his term of service.
After his second tour of duty was complete, he was sent to the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He spent the following two years in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Hayes was then transferred back to the United States, and wound up in Norfolk. He retired from the Army in 1977 after 21 years of service.
With a hint of his New England accent still present, Hayes recalled briefly entertaining the idea of moving to New Hampshire back then. His family had some property that piqued his interest. Gail had objected, reminding him that their four children were in school and very comfortable with life in Hampton Roads. They decided to stay in the area, at last putting down some roots. He then began working for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper and retired after 22 years in the circulation department.
It’s no surprise that the former member of an Army cavalry division moved to the open space of Chesapeake 39 years ago, just a few years after coming to Hampton Roads. They decided on the property in Chesapeake near Fentress because there was plenty of room for a house, a barn and their horses. Their daughters were avid riders at the time. Hayes has made Chesapeake his home since then, adding a cat named Oliver and a curious, nameless goose to the fold.
“I love it here,” said Hayes. “Everything about it is nice. The weather is nice, the people are nice. I’m glad we stayed.”
Hayes’ four children are now fully grown. His oldest son, John Hayes, Jr. is still a Chesapeake resident. Daughter Kimberly Hayes lives in North Carolina. Son William “Billy” Hayes lives in Portsmouth with his wife and four children. Daughter Julie Anderson lives in North Carolina. She has two sons, Adam and Ryan, who are drivers in the notorious Monster Truck series.
Hayes is a former commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2894 in Chesapeake. He presently works with the Mayor’s Commission on Veterans Affairs, and he plans to become more involved in the Chesapeake community in the near future.
Memories of his time and experience during his military career with him inspired him to write a poem called “The Soldier and His Flag.” “I started writing poems, for what reason I don’t know,” said Hayes. “The memories of Vietnam kept coming back and coming back. It led me to write that.”
Lt. Col. Jack Hayes, The Citizen of Chesapeake salutes you and thanks you for your service to our nation.
The Soldier and His Flag
By John M. Hayes
Years ago on the side of a hill
I watched in wonder, as a soldier will,
As those brave young men in olive green
Gave of themselves like I’d never seen,
With rifles and cannons and gunships and more
With tanks and their firepower and deafening roar.
Those brave young lads, those gallant men
Giving proof of their valor, again and again.
Over their lines, waving sprightly
Their National colors shone ever brightly.
To the American soldier, to her men at arms
The National banner delivered her charms.
They gave in return their loyal devotion
Written in blood and open emotion.
For two hundred years on land, air and sea
They rallied to defend her, for you and for me.
Today I take pride in those beautiful colors,
I support their direction above all others.
And whenever I see that banner waving
My being endures a heartfelt craving;
I long to be with those soldiers once more
To renew old friendships and to open the door
To forgotten memories lost in the past
And thank those guys for the faith they have cast.