Valor, courage and honor: Bradford County man posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medal for service in World War II
TOWANDA — Few American citizens have been awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for their military service, even fewer from Bradford County — but state, local and federal legislators gathered in Towanda Thursday to honor one man who now has.
U.S. Rep. Fred Keller (R-12) posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to Sergeant Robert Hogencamp Hayes for his service with the Office of Strategic Services in World War II and presented the medal to his son John in a ceremony at Towanda VFW Post 1568.
State Representative Tina Pickett (R-110) told that through his service as a sergeant in the U.S. Army’s air forces, Hayes was involved with “the final defeat of Nazi Germany” and presented John with a certificate of recognition on behalf of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
“Mr. Hayes was truly an amazing part of the success of this country. (I’m) sorry that we ever had to deal with such a thing and that people had to serve in such a difficult time but at the same time they went, they went willingly and they served our country in a most remarkable way,” she stated.
Keller explained that beginning in March of 1945 Hayes served with the 406th bomb squadron as an aerial gunner and was assigned to a unit working on the Office of Strategic Services’ (which gave way to what is now known as the military’s Special Operations) Operation Carpetbagger.
Operation Carpetbagger was highly classified for decades and had worked to quicken the surrender of German troops by using low flying planes to drop pamphlets promising the safe passage of any German soldier who would surrender to U.S. forces, according to Keller.
Through his service, Hayes clocked a total of 270 flight hours in Europe and experienced aerial combat against the enemy, Keller told.
“It was an outstanding service that he did give our nation,” Keller stated. “Over the course of the second World War our nation responded to the fight against tyranny with valor, courage and honor. Many of those stories are well known and every community across the nation contributed to the war effort but we contributed our most vital resources and those contributions were our young Americans just like Sergeant Hayes.”
“Sergeant Hayes’ efforts were vital to the surrender of German troops in the field and the final defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe and of course, freedom around the world,” Keller continued. “Our country has a great debt to men like Sergeant Hayes and now with this year’s marking of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, it is vital that we remember the warriors who answered the call to arms without reservation.”
“It’s emotional,” told John Hayes of his father being awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. “I started this trying to figure out what my father did in the service about 18 years ago...it was a long process but it was well worth it, I mean it was very interesting.”
John Hayes stated that his father passed away in 1983 having never told his family, even his mother, of the classified Carpetbagger mission he was involved in during World War II and that he has gone to great lengths to find out his father’s past with many “doors opening” over the last decade.
“It was like pulling threads, one thread led to another and finally I figured out that he was part of this Operation Carpetbagger,” he said.
Hayes told that through his searching for details of his father’s service he was able to speak to a veteran who was a crew member and flew with his father in Europe but who also never mentioned Operation Carpetbagger before eventually confirming his father’s involvement in the mission through the OSS Society in California.