For Frank Hayes, a Lifetime of Stories, Service

WW II veteran Frank Hayes of Seven Lakes. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot


Among all the veterans who will be honored this Veterans Day on Nov. 11, there is one demographic whose stories will soon be told only in history books.

The U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs estimates that of the 16 million men and women who served the United States armed forces in World War II, only 167,284 survive. The opportunity to hear the testimony and living history of the Greatest Generation dwindles with each passing year. 

At 97, Seven Lakes resident Frank Hayes is one of those at whose feet we can still learn.

Hayes’ thick and endearing accent betrays his New Jersey and New York roots as he recounts nearly a century’s worth of memories. 

In memoirs dedicated to his grandchildren, Hayes asks them to consider the year he was born, 1925.

“Can you imagine growing up without TV, VCR’s, cellular phones, Walkman, computers or a fuzz buster?” he writes. “There were no such things as heart transplants, penicillin, antibiotics, and no Salk vaccines were available. Why, Charles Lindbergh hadn’t flown solo, non-stop across the Atlantic yet.”

Hayes’ early childhood was largely spent in Jersey City, Brooklyn and Great Kills, Staten Island, where his family lived on clams and blue crabs they procured themselves.

Hayes’ father, Frank Hayes Sr., gassed and wounded during his service in World War I, lost his real estate business during the Great Depression. That time profoundly influenced the younger Hayes, who began working at age eight or nine delivering for a laundry service before school and collecting scrap metal on Saturdays. By 13, he had scored an adventurous job working the mess hall on a dayliner excursion boat, the Americana, that made daily trips between Battery Park in Manhattan to Rye, NY.

War Years

At 16, Hayes tried to enlist when the United States entered WWII in 1941. His mother refused to sign the paperwork. He joined the United States Marines a year later, training at Parris Island, S.C. and Camp Lejeune. Then it was a train to San Diego where they would be staged to join the fight in the Pacific.

“With the Marine Corps, at any big station, we got out and did exercises,” he recalls. “At one stop we were out there stretching and a train came the other way, and it was the Yankee baseball team. They came over, and it was very nice.”

Hayes found himself at Camp Miramar waiting with his defensive artillery battalion on a ship to take them to the South Pacific.

While on guard duty, an entourage of limousines approached. Two well-known admirals emerged from the vehicles, Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance and Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, along with Hayes’ own uncle, Captain Harry Zepfler.

Hayes, a lowly Private First Class, stood at attention, unsure of the protocol.

“My uncle comes over and gives me a big hug and calls me ‘Sonny.’ My hat fell off. And my rifle was between me and him, and the Admirals were all laughing.” 

The VIPs huddled together with Hayes’ captain and sergeant. “The next thing you know, I was assigned to my uncle until my ship came.”

Hayes spent a memorable week at camp headquarters at the Del Coronado Hotel on Coronado Island, serving drinks to the officers, playing cards and chasing girls who flocked to the island in search of officers to flirt with.

WW II veteran Frank Hayes of Seven Lakes. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

Hayes served in the Pacific Theater for three and a half years.

“We went to the Marshall Islands for training, and then they marched us into the pineapple hills of Hawaii,” he said. “In the harbor you could still see the ships that they sunk, bubbling up oil and with smoke still coming out.”

Eventually Hayes found himself in Tinian, part of the Mariana Islands. “We used to bring supplies up to the line. We had a jeep and a trailer and a truck with 30-caliber machine guns and delivered medical supplies to the guys who were beat up.” 

His unit was sent up a hill in the far corner of the island where Tinian natives, fearful of the Marines and soldiers occupying the island, were ending their lives.

“We were able to stop some of that,” Frank remembers.

They also served as guards for an Army unit there, protecting the cables used to communicate with the P-38s.

Hayes was still in Tinian when the atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945, ending the war.

“They called 50 of us to the airport to guard it. And there was a plane, a B-29 way out at the end of the airport. And they’re loading it. It looked like a big metal pig, a big thing,” he said. “It was the atomic bomb. They were putting it in there. And they had us all guarding the area. We didn’t know what it was at the time.”

The USS Breckinridge was Hayes’ ride home. He was one of 50 Marines hitching a ride with 1,000 soldiers and 1,000 sailors. He continued serving as a guard while aboard, but this time he was protecting the women who were also on their way home: nurses, USO workers and correspondents.

“Some of the guys made what they called kick-a-boo juice. And they got themselves a little schnockered and went up to see the ladies. But we had to stand at the gang planks with big clubs,” he said. “They were stubborn. You had to bang them on the head a couple of times before they realized they weren’t going up there.”

Back Home Again

Like so many veterans coming home from the war, Hayes faced the decision of what to do next. With only one year of high school, he attended night school for two years while working various jobs. He then went to Wagner College, where he played football, and met another big leaguer. His football coach, Jim Lee Howell would go on to coach the New York Giants.

Eager to find work, Hayes got a job in sales and marketing with Campbell Soup. “I had a lot of fun with that job. I met a lot of nice people.”

It was a job that would once again have Hayes rubbing elbows with major leaguers.One day he was sent on an urgent errand to rush 10 cases of V8 and 10 cases of tomato juice to Yankee stadium by 10 a.m. The World Series was being played that day, and his boss agreed to let him stay. “Where else but in NYC selling soup, V8, spaghetti and beans, could you wheedle out a chance to see a World Series game for free, and on company time?”

Part of his territory brought him back to Staten Island, where he would visit his alma mater on the occasional Friday afternoon.

“One early fall day, three handsome, healthy, well-tanned gals were playing tennis. I joined them as the fourth and met my future wife, Lucille Brown,” he writes in his memoir.

“Lu” was a force in her own right: captain of both the girls’ basketball team and the cheerleading team, and track star. Eventually named to the Wagner Athletic Hall of Fame, Lu is a formidable partner for Frank.

Frank and Lu raised two children, Raymond and Alice, as they made a life together living in 21 homes, including the ones they’ve had in Seven Lakes. Their adventures and Frank’s career have taken them around the country from New York, to D.C., to Illinois, to Texas, to Minnesota to Southern California, to Tennessee and North Carolina. 

Everywhere they lived they made friends and stayed active, playing tennis competitively and traveling abroad. Hayes has also  been an active member of Kiwanis and West End Presbyterian Church, He delivers the rice collected by the church to the Sandhills Coalition for Human Care in Southern Pines, and until recently, tended a courtyard garden that delighted church visitors.

Looking back on his time in the Pacific Theater, Hayes says he has nothing but gratitude.

“I survived. On the island I was on, Tinian, there were 2,000 Marines killed. And that was a small battle. On Saipan there were 10,000. I always felt a little strange that I got so lucky.

“I think back to all the things they missed — going to college, playing sports, meeting your wife, having growing pains, buying a house, all the things that you do in life, having kids.”

It all makes him appreciate his full life all the more when he remembers those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Contact Maggie Beamguard at