Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Otho Eugene Hays

Pearl Harbor attack defined seaman's life

CLEARWATER — Gene Hays, a 21-year-old Navy seaman, was eating an apple on the deck of the USS Phoenix in Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when he noticed approaching warplanes, flying low.

That's funny, Mr. Hays remembered thinking as he watched the planes dropping bombs on nearby Ford Island. We don't practice bombing raids on Sundays. He would retell the story to his grandchildren years later.

Then one of the planes flew overhead, a Rising Sun visible on its wings.

"We're being attacked!" he yelled.

Mr. Hays, the last member of the Suncoast Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, died Thursday. He was 89, and had lived in Clearwater since 1987.

"He saw horrific things that shaped and defined his life," said Brian Corley, Mr. Hays' grandson and Pasco County's supervisor of elections.

Mr. Hays grew up in Kansas and Missouri. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade. When he was 17, his father, with whom he had had a turbulent relationship, gave Mr. Hays $5 and wished him a good life.

He found a home in the Navy, so much so that family members divide his life span as Mr. Hays did — before the Navy, the Navy, and after the Navy.

No event influenced him more than the Pearl Harbor attack, his family said. A widely traveled photograph hints at some of the things he saw. In it, the Phoenix passes in front of raging fires and black smoke engulfing the USS Arizona, which alone lost more than 1,100 sailors; and the USS West Virginia.

His own recollections fill in the blanks. "All hell broke loose," said Corley, 38. "People were jumping off crow's nests, being blown up several hundred feet in the air. The Phoenix escaped the assault unharmed.

Mr. Hays served out the rest of a 23-year naval career in relative calm. He retired in 1959 a chief quartermaster, then the highest rank an enlisted man could attain.

He cared for his wife, Doris, who suffered with emphysema, for the last 15 years of her life. He moved to Clearwater in 1987, the year after she died. He eventually remarried.

In 2001, he saw the movie Pearl Harbor but left before it was over. To relatives, he joked that he already knew how the story ended.

"I think it was just a little too much for him," said Sallyan Corley, 63, Mr. Hays' daughter.

Mr. Hays was hospitalized after a recent fall at an assisted living facility. He did not survive the surgery and died on Thursday.

Inspired by his grandfather's story, Corley has launched "Vote to Honor a Vet," a voter registration program aimed at high school students. Veterans tell their stories about defending democracy. On the program's first day, 550 students signed up.

"It kind of meshes my professional responsibilities with my personal homage to my grandpa," he said.

Mr. Hays was buried on Monday at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell with full military honors.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (813) 661-2431.


Otho Eugene Hays

Born: March 12, 1919.

Died: Jan. 8, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Judy; daughter, Sallyan Corley; son, Patrick Hays; six grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren.

Pearl Harbor attack defined seaman's life 01/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 9:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays' Blake Snell erasing memories of his poor start

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — As Blake Snell strides up the mound at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night with an 10-game unbeaten streak, doesn't the miserable start to his sophomore season, when he was winless in eight starts and got demoted to Triple-A, seem like a long time ago?

    To him, too.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) in the dugout during the fourth inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times

  2. St. Petersburg youth baseball concession stand vandalized

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — The early-morning phone call warned Charles Castle, president of Burg Baseball, to "expect the worst.'' The organization's concession stand had been vandalized.

     Cliff Williams, Vice President of the Burg Baseball Inc., St. Petersburg, looks at a damaged and trashed concession stand at the Lakewood Baseball Complex, home of the Burg Baseball. According to Williams someone vandalized the concession stand either Saturday or Sunday. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

  3. Tampa charter school teacher charged with firing handgun at ground


    TAMPA — A Tampa charter school teacher was arrested Sunday after she fired a gun into the ground during a dispute with her boyfriend, police said.

    Melody Patrice Bing, a teacher at the Village of Excellence Academy in Tampa, emerged from her home holding a weapon and dropped it when police confronted her at gunpoint. [Tampa Police Department]
  4. Tuesday's Nothing More concert moved from the State Theatre to Jannus Live in St. Petersburg


    Nothing More was one of the highlights of April's 98 Rockfest, a thoroughly entertaining rock outfit with a larger-than-live stage presence.

    Nothing More performed at 98 Rockfest 2017 in Tampa.
  5. Triad Retail Media names Sherry Smith as CEO


    ST. PETERSBURG — Triad Retail Media, a St. Petersburg-based digital ads company, said CEO Roger Berdusco is "leaving the company to pursue new opportunities" and a member of the executive team, Sherry Smith, is taking over.

    Roger Berdusco is stepping down as CEO at Triad Retail Media to pursue other opportunities. [Courtesy of Triad Retail Media]