Hero From the Heart of Virginia: Douglass Hayes
Danville, VA - The Battle of Normandy in 1944 involved three million troops. An 87-year-old Danville veteran was among them.
Douglass Hayes was just a 10th grader wanting to serve his country. Although he didn't get to serve long, his memories, love, and respect for the U.S. military live on.
"I signed my own papers. I was ready to be sworn in and the petty officer came to the door and said your momma said for you to come home," Hayes said.
When Hayes turned 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. In a matter of months, he went on a journey, joining millions of military personnel on what would be a historic event in World War II.
"It was quite a trip now. At this time of the year, being out in the middle of the North Atlantic on an LST, it's flat bottom," Hayes said.
It was Hayes' job to help unload supplies on the ships and carry the British troops to the beaches in Normandy.
Soon, however, an experience that Hayes looked forward to, would be cut short.
"One day, a guy, evidently, he got hold of an antipersonnel mine or something and it had set off and I was close enough to it," Hayes explained.
Close enough to cause him to lose his left eye.
"For two or three weeks, I couldn't see. I had a Navy ring, and I pulled the bandage across, and I could see U.S. Navy on that thing, and I said oh boy, I felt good," Hayes remembered.
Hayes says his life plans changed on August 11, 1944.
"I would have went on until the war was over, you know," Hayes said.
Hayes returned home to Danville and finished high school. Although his military career only last two years, the eager 16-year-old boy with a passion to serve his country never left him.
"I have participated in over 1,100 funerals and I'm one of the original members of the 1097 honor guard," Hayes said.
Hayes also helped pioneer a program called Hope for Veterans, that gives veterans free trips to see war memorials in D.C.
Hayes is a purple heart recipient. He visited the World War II Memorial for the first time ever two weeks ago, with the program he helped get started.