WW II vet now honors others who served
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
Stephen Hays comes from good stock.
His mother lived to be 102, and he, at 86 is going strong enough to march in more than a dozen parades in Virginia City and Carson City, and serve as part of an honor guard for about 128 funerals for veterans.
Hays, of Carson City, moved to the area about two years ago to join his son and daughter-in-law, and got involved with American Legion Post 56.
He was putting a flag on a veteran’s monument, when a member of the post stopped to talk with him.
“I found out that in Nevada, the American Legion is not primarily bars like they are in California, so I joined,” he said. “I got nothing against bars, but with the bars, it is a seven-day-a-week thing. This is the meeting and the funerals and things like that, but not quite as full time.”
He is the oldest member of the post, which recently welcomed a few Iraq veterans, so the post represents veterans of every war from World War II to the present.
The American Legion Post 56 leads every patriotic Virginia City parade, though they pass on some of the less solemn ones like St. Patrick’s Day or Camel Races.
In his younger days, Hays was a bomber pilot for the Army Air Corps, the forerunner to today’s Air Force. He served from 1942 to 1946, flying many missions in the Pacific theater, including being the lead plane in the sortie that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, which effectively ended the war.
“We had a mission to knock out anti-aircraft weapons so they would not get the B-29,” he said.
He flew a B-24, dropping bombs along the north end of Vietnam, and the south end of North Korea, which was under Japanese control at the time. He also dropped bombs on Japan.
On one occasion Hays was forced to bail out over the Pacific Ocean, and to fight off the sharks that he expected to see, he grabbed a knife before he jumped.
But he dropped the knife when his parachute opened, and waited for two hours in the sea to be rescued. Fortunately, no sharks noticed him.
He also crash landed on Okinawa once, where he was stationed. Since he was not hurt in either incident, he didn’t collect the Purple Heart, but he was honored with numerous ribbons for meritorious service.
“The Closest I came is a B-24 on my right wing, had his left wing blown off and he went down,” he said.
Today, as an extension of that service, Hays serves on the post’s honor guard. Saturday he was at another funeral in Fernley, for a veteran he didn’t know.
Post 56 Honor Guard offers a seven-man rifle salute, each firing three times for the traditional 21-gun salute. They also offer a bugler and a flag-folding ceremony.
Hays has served both in the rifle salute and the flag ceremony.
“We respect those that served,” he said. “Not working full time, of course, I have the time. It’s the least I can do for the veterans.”
Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-7351.