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 beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

    The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
  2. Diaz, Taddeo win easily in special Miami Senate primaries


    Two Miami state Senate candidates who raised and spent the most in their respective primaries — Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo — notched easy victories in a special election Tuesday night.

    Republican candidate Jose Felix Diaz is surrounded by supporters after he won the primary for Florida’s Senate District 40 race. Democrat Annette Taddeo, right, celebrates her victory with supporter Venus Lovely at BJ’s Restaurant in The Falls.
  3. In live debate, Kriseman and Baker ask St. Pete: Is the city better off?



    Mayoral candidates Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker made their best pitch to voters in front of a live television audience on Tuesday night. The candidates essentially asked this: Is the city better off now than it was four years ago?

    Incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker debate in front of a live television audience during the City of St. Petersburg Mayoral Debate at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg on Tuesday evening. The event was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  4. Romano: It all comes down to sewage in this mayoral race

    Local Government

    Well, poop.

    Nothing else really matters, does it?

    Schools, economic development, public safety? Pfft. The Rays stadium, affordable housing, the pier? Ack. When it comes to the St. Petersburg mayoral election, sewage is the yin, the yang and the yuck.

    At Tuesday’s debate, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman said responsibility lies on him regarding the sewage crisis.
  5. Shooting sends man to hospital in St. Pete


    ST. PETERSBURG — Police were investigating a shooting that occurred around 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday and sent a man to the hospital.