An innovative, aggressive fighter pilot in both theaters of World War II, Thomas L. "Tommy" Hayes was born in Portland, Oregon on 31 March 1917. Raised in the era of Lindbergh and Arnold, his love affair with flying began in 1936, when a Soviet aircraft, attempting to set a record for non-stop flight, landed in Vancouver, Washington, on its way to San Francisco. Tommy went to see the airplane and its crew. He looked around, had his picture taken next to the aircraft, and came away with a love that would follow him all his life.
Tommy's family heritage was Navy, but when he tried to join the Navy to become a naval aviator, he was told he was too young and needed a college degree. Off to college he went, until he learned in May 1940 that the Army Air Corps was taking younger men-and without a college degree. He subsequently found himself an Army aviator when the war broke out in 1941. Hayes first saw action in the Dutch East Indies, flying P-40s. During his tour, he was credited with two kills and managed to walk away from a crash landing that destroyed his aircraft.
Reassigned to the States, Hayes eventually took command of the 364th Fighter Squadron as it prepared for deployment to the European theater. Arriving with the 357th Fighter Group in England in late December 1943, the 364th Squadron started operational flying in late January 1944 in the P-51. On 6 March, during the 357th Group's second trip to the "Big B," Berlin, Hayes assumed the lead when the group commander aborted. On this mission, the Group's exemplary results garnered congratulatory letters from General Arnold, General Spaatz, and Air Chief Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris.
On 8 March, Hayes shot down his fifth airplane, making him the first ace of the Group. At the end of March, he became the Deputy Group Commander. By the time he was reassigned to the States, he had run his score up to 10 1/2 victories. In August 1944, he returned to the States. The war ended before Hayes could return to Europe. Hayes then served in many staff and command positions, both in the States and in Europe. His staff positions included tours at the Pentagon; Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe; North American Aerospace Defense Command; and Military Traffic Management Command. He also served as Commander, 65th Air Division, Torrejon AB, Spain, and Commander of the 86th Air Division, Ramstein AB, Germany. Brigadier General Hayes retired from active service on 1 February 1970.
On 6 March 1944, the 357th Fighter Group took off to escort B-24s to Berlin. The group commander aborted, and Major Hayes, 364th Squadron Commander, took the lead. The Luftwaffe was up, and the Group engaged in combat from treetop level to 26,000 feet. Major Hayes downed an Me109 at low level near Uelzen. He then led other P-51s in strafing an airfield, damaging aircraft, the control tower, and a locomotive. By 1600 hours, all P-51s returned, claiming 20 enemy aircraft destroyed, with no losses. His strafing attack became a tactic that would be adopted by the group and would pay big dividends.