If you ask Bruce Hayes about his time in service, he doesn’t say much.
“There’s really not a whole lot to tell,” Hayes said.
According to his discharge papers, he apparently did plenty.
Battles and campaigns listed include Rome-Arno, Rhineland, and Central Europe. Decorations and citations include: WWII Victory Medal, European–African–Middle Eastern Service Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, Four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
Seems like a lot.
Members of his church, New Hope Baptist in Purlear, recently honored Hayes for his service and presented him with a shadow box, which he now proudly hangs in his home.
Hayes’ daughter, Donna, penned a brief biography of her father for the event. It tells how he was born on June 26, 1925, at his grandmother’s home in Purlear, off Parsonsville Road near his family church. He and his parents, Edgar Eugene Hayes, Sr., and Verta Alfre Watts, moved to North Wilkesboro when he was 6-months-old, his brother and two sisters were born in North Wilkesboro.
Hayes attended school at North Wilkesboro Elementary for five years until his family moved back to Purlear. He then went to Millers Creek School where he graduated in 1943. He was soon drafted into the Army in January 1944, and sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama.
“I was completing basic training about the time D Day happened,” Hayes said.
He came home and was there for his 19th birthday, then he was sent overseas. He spent a couple of months in a replacement depot in Italy and was then sent to Northern France. In France he was assigned to the 36th Infantry Division.
When asked what his job was once deployed, he answered. “I was an infantryman, a foot soldier, carrying my M-1.”
With the war still raging, Hayes was involved in several firefights with German troops.
“It’s no fun hearing bullets go by your head,” he said. “And, if they’re close enough you can hear the noise.”
The wound he was awarded the Purple Heart for came when shrapnel from a German grenade blast cut into his face.
Hayes remained in Germany until after the war and rose to the rank of sergeant. He shipped out of Bremerhaven, Germany, in March of 1946, returned to the United States and was discharged.
He came home and helped his uncle, Gwyn Church, dig wells. He then worked at Midway Pontiac in the Parts Department.
Hayes met his future wife, Olivia Irene Church at the Liberty Theater. They married on March 26th 1949. They bought a home in Millers Creek, where he still lives today. The couple had two children, a daughter, Donna Lee Hayes, and a son, Bruce Hayes, Jr.
In October 1954, Hayes was appointed as Rural Letter Carrier at the Millers Creek Post Office. He worked there for 31 years and four months before he retired in 1986. He didn’t work for a little over three years, then took a job as West Wilkes High School’s athletic custodian where he stayed until December 1997.
Looking further back, Hayes first joined VFW Post 1142 in 1947. He was elected quartermaster in 1955 and served in that position until September 1992. He became a life member of the post in 1961.
Hayes also served in the Millers Creek Fire Department in 1956, and served as secretary/treasurer for a number of years. He retired from the fire department in 1982.