Petoskey WWII veteran never had to leave the U.S.
By Tamara Stevens
Hubert Hayes, 95, a retired dentist in Petoskey, is extremely modest about his service to his country during World War II.
“I never left the U.S.,” he said, laughing. “I went where they told me to go and I did what they asked me to do and it worked out.”
Where the military sent him was Biloxi, Mississippi, to Keesler Air Force Base. That was the first Hayes knew he was in the Air Force, he said. He didn’t request the Air Force, but that’s where he ended up. Hayes served three years in the states.
Hayes was drafted into service on March 1, 1943, almost one year after he graduated from Pellston High School. He reported to Camp Grant, Illinois, west of Chicago. He remembers riding the train from Petoskey, the closest train station to his family’s home in Carp Lake all the way to basic training. Part of the process of being drafted included filling out a form that requested a person’s occupation.
“At 18 years old, I didn’t have an occupation,” Hayes laughed.
He grew up in Carp Lake, Michigan, where he helped out his father at the U.S. Post Office. His father, Richard George Hayes, was the Postmaster. All eight children in the Hayes family worked in the post office, he said.
“I sold three-cent stamps and penny postcards,” he recalls. So, on the military form, Hayes wrote that he had worked in a post office. After three days on a troop train, Hayes found himself at Keesler Air Force Base. Halfway through basic training, on a Sunday morning, he was called to report to headquarters.
“They put me behind a desk,” Hayes said. That ended his basic training.
Hayes and about 10 other servicemen worked at typewriters on desks in orderly rows in the Headquarters Squadron in the Payroll Department. He and his department handled payroll for 75,000 to 100,000 stations. He remembers the gentleman who sat behind him, Earl, was the nicest guy and the two of them would keep things light by typing jokes to each other.
Late in 1944, the war effort was pulling Air Force men out for battles in Europe. Hayes was put into a group to ship out after the Battle of the Bulge in France. He was ready to go, he said. But when his name came up, he was informed that he’d been scratched from this effort. It turned out that his boss, Sergeant Grehn, was friends with the commander of Keesler Field.
“Grehn told the commander, ‘I don’t want to lose Hubert,’ and they pulled me out,” Hayes said.
For the last six months of his three-year service, Hayes was shipped out to Scott Field, St. Louis, Missouri, where he handled paperwork for discharges in the Separation Center. He remembers there was a bowling alley next to their office, and, when they had free time, he could bowl a game for five cents.
He thinks he called home once in three years. Communications weren’t what they are nowadays, he said. Men would stand in line for hours to use one phone. He did receive furloughs, about two weeks each year, which he used to visit his parents. The train ride from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Carp Lake, Michigan took 36 hours.
One day, he walked into the orderly room, and someone asked him if he was Hayes.
“You’re being discharged,” the man said. Due to red tape, though, he would have to wait a month. Someone pulled some strings and in February 1946, Hayes was discharged with the rank of Corporal —¬ that’s two stripes, he said, from the Army Air Corps, which became the Air Force.
While his time in the service wasn’t marked with excitement or battles, what is remarkable is that four of seven sons in his family all served in WWII — and all survived.
“One by one, the draft board was picking off my brothers,” Hayes said.
His two oldest brothers, Ashton and Morgan, were beyond the age to be drafted. Hayes’ other brother, John, was diabetic and, therefore, couldn’t serve in the military. His youngest sibling was his only sister, Elizabeth.
Richard, “Dick,” was the first of his brothers to be drafted. At 26 years old, Dick was drafted in early 1941, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. His first assignment was at Fort Riley in Kansas, in the horse cavalry. He eventually became an MP (Military Police) and was stationed in the San Francisco, California, area before being sent to the European Theater.
“He was in the thick of it in Europe,” Hayes said of his brother, Dick. “He was in charge of directing the movements of units in the Army.” Dick was discharged as a Corporal in 1945.
Robert “Bob” was the next brother to be drafted. Bob was 29 in 1942 when he was called up. Bob served from 1942 to 1945. He was first stationed at Chanute Field, Illinois, before becoming a Link Trainer Instructor in India, fine-tuning pilots’ skills for flying “The Hump” for General Chenault’s Flying Tiger raids into Japan. Bob received a direct commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and was later promoted to 1st Lieutenant before his discharge in 1945.
In 1943, Charles was the next brother to be drafted — the same year as Hubert. Charles was 23 when he started as a Naval cadet in pilot training. He flew in England. Charles was discharged in 1945 while stationed at Corpus Christi, Texas, where he was given the choice of continuing for four more years in the military or returning to Allison Aircraft in Indiana as an engineer. He chose to go back into engineering.
As the last remaining member of his large family, Hayes has kept many photographs and letters from the war. He has a postcard from his brother, Dick, to his mother that reads, “Put the kettle on, Mom, I’m on my way and don’t lock the door! Your son, Dick.”
After his discharge in February 1946, Hayes enrolled at Michigan State University in the fall of 1946. At the end of his third year, he applied for dental school. He jokes that he stood in the shortest line and it turned out to be for dentistry.
Petoskey dentist Dr. Ray Todd, Sr., encouraged Hayes to go to dental school at the Chicago College of Dental Surgery, which was located next to Cook County Hospital in Chicago. While attending dental school, Hayes met Sarah “Sally” Hamilton, a nursing student at the nursing school across the street from his dental school. The nearby YMCA would regularly have dances. Hayes attended one of the dances and saw Sally sitting on a bench by herself. He went over to talk to her. They began dating, which Hayes described as buying a 10-cent bag of potato chips and walking together around the park.
Sally’s family was from California. Hayes was invited to go with Sally’s parents on a cross-country road trip from Chicago to California for her brother’s wedding. While there, Sally’s mother introduced Hayes as Sally’s “fiancé.” Hayes asked Sally, “When did that happen?”
While on that trip, Sally’s mother needed to have a tooth extracted. The tooth had a gold crown on it. She told the dentist doing the extraction that her soon-to-be son-in-law would like the tooth. When it came time to get engaged, Hayes didn’t have the money to purchase wedding rings. In dental school, he had all the equipment to work with gold, so he melted down the gold crown and made two wedding bands. He and Sally were married on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, 1951. Both of them were students at the time, so they used the long weekend break for their wedding and short honeymoon.
“I tell people that I’ve had my mother-in-law wrapped around my finger for 66 years,” Hayes said, laughing.
They lived in an apartment “off skid row,” Hayes said, not “on skid row, but close to it” for two years before moving to Petoskey. In 1953, Hayes took over the dental practice of Dr. Ray Johnson. The dental practice was on Mitchell Street across from what is now the Petoskey District Library, and next to the former Stone Funeral Home near Arlington Avenue. The Hayeses lived in the house where his practice was located.
“The house had six bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a dental office,” Hayes said. “I used one of the bathrooms as a dark room for developing dental x-rays. I’d tell people to not touch anything when they went in there, and don’t be startled if the alarm goes off,” (indicating the X-rays were finished).
In 1960, the Hayeses purchased a cottage on Walloon Lake where they took their five children each summer when school ended. The family would move back into town in the fall. Their children, Steve, Daniel “Danny,” Andrew “Andy,” Mary and Margaret, all grew up spending their summers on Walloon Lake. Once he retired from dentistry in 1993, Hayes and his wife sold the house in town and moved permanently to the lake. All of their children still live in the area.
Over the years, Hayes and his wife were involved in many activities throughout the Petoskey community. They both liked square dancing and acting in the local theater group. They were members of the United Methodist Church. Hayes joined the Lions Club and served as its president. He’s still a member of the Lions Club after 65 years of volunteering, and was recognized by the organization with certificates of honor; one signed by the president of the Lions Club International and the other was a special tribute from Michigan State Representative Lee Chatfield, state Senator Wayne Schmidt, Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II and Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Both Hayes and his wife, Sally, went on 25 mission trips throughout the United States for a group called “The 29ers,” which was similar to Habitat for Humanity. Each trip was two weeks long. Hayes has donated more than time; he’s also donated more than 17 gallons of blood in his lifetime to the American Red Cross. His physician told him a few years ago that he’d given enough and recommended that he stop donating.
Other members of Hayes family also served their country. All three of Sally’s brothers were also in WWII. Woodman “Woody” Hamilton was a Naval pilot who battled the Japanese. He was credited with shooting down a few, Hayes said. Russell “Rusty” Hamilton was part of a crew flying B17 bombers. He parachuted to safety over Europe, but it took him two to three weeks to get back to his unit. He lived to be 94 years old before his passing in 2017. Her third brother, Ted, was in the Marines. While in basic training, Ted was immediately sent overseas. Sadly, he never made it home. He died on the beaches of Guam. Sally’s parents had the choice of having his remains brought back home or to be buried in Hawaii. They opted to have his remains buried in Punch Bowl Cemetery (the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu) with other soldiers from his unit. The Hayeses have visited his gravesite in Hawaii.
Hayes’ daughter, Mary, married Douglas Stone from Petoskey. Douglas served his country with three tours of Iraq. Sadly, he gave the ultimate sacrifice in 2007. He had told his wife that if anything should happen to him, he would want to return to Petoskey. They held a full military service for him, Hayes said with visible pride.
In 2017, Hayes was a guest on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. The non-profit organization is dedicated to transporting as many U.S. military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war they fought in at no cost to the veterans. His son, Andy, was his escort. Hayes has many photographs, badges, ribbons and medals from the flight.
He and Sally were married 66 years when she passed away on her 90th birthday in 2017. Hayes is now the sole survivor of his large family.
Thinking back on his time in service, Hayes said he can’t imagine how his parents felt seeing their sons go off to war one after another.
“I’ve been told more than once that it was miraculous that all four of us (he and his brothers) survived,” Hayes said.
“During WWII, they were killing people by the thousands. In Germany, those invasions – people were just wiped out. For me, it was just luck of the draw. They wanted me to stay here. I went where I was sent and I did what I was told.”