WWII Vet Posthumously Awarded Gold Medal
On Thursday, Jan. 23 in Towanda, U.S. Rep. Fred Keller presented a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to honor Sgt. Robert Hayes, Jr., who had flown on missions for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II.
Hayes was an aerial gunner on retrofitted bombers that flew on OSS missions over Germany and eastern France during the final stages of the war, according to a field representative from Keller’s office.
To hasten the end of the war, the bombers dropped leaflets intended for German soldiers, which stated that if they presented the leaflet to Allied soldiers and surrendered, they would not be harmed, the representative said.
The missions were part of the OSS’s clandestine Operation Carpetbagger.
Operation Carpetbagger’s aerial missions during the war also resupplied resistance fighters behind enemy lines with explosives, ammunition and other supplies, Keller said.
The missions that Hayes served on were very important in the final defeat of Nazi Germany, said state Rep. Tina Pickett, who presented a citation from the PA House of Representatives honoring Hayes to his son, John Hayes of Warren Center.
The citation and medal were presented at a ceremony at the Towanda VFW Post 1568.
Robert Hayes “performed an outstanding service to this great nation,” said Keller.
“Part of the operation was to offer German troops an opportunity to break with the unit they were involved in—maybe they were not believers (in the Nazi cause)—and come over to our side, and maybe help their people in a different way,” said Pickett.
Hayes was a sergeant in the Army Air Corps’ 406th Bomb Squadron.
He had 270 flight hours in the European theater of operations, and saw aerial combat during his service, according to Keller and Pickett.
Hayes enlisted and was already in the military service four days before he turned 18, which is a testament to his selflessness, said Keller.
In an interview, another of his sons, Robert Hayes, III, recalled that his father had told him that he had flown on 100 missions over France and Germany during the war, and had stated that not that many people survived that many missions in a B-24 aircraft.
Robert Hayes said his father never told him what the purpose of the missions was.
For years, the OSS’s missions were classified.
Robert Hayes, Jr. was born in Scranton in 1926, but lived most of his life in Palmyra, NJ near the PA border.
After the war, he attended the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy for about a year, but then dropped out.
He then went to work for PA Bell Telephone as a lineman and was later promoted to a supervisor position.
In 2016, the Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal Act was signed into law to recognize the efforts of the OSS. Under the Act, all members of the OSS or anyone who participated in OSS missions is eligible for a Congressional Gold Medal.
The OSS was the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Robert Hayes, Jr. died in 1983.
Keller presented the Congressional Gold Medal to John Hayes.