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Tribute to an American Legend

January 15, 2021

It is with great sadness that Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum shares the passing of Admiral Ronald Jackson Hays -- distinguished Naval leader, community member, family man, proud veteran, and friend. These tributes describe Admiral Hays, an extraordinary man who, among his many achievements, was one of our forward-thinking Museum founders. He will be greatly missed. The greatest single sentence tribute shared when describing Admiral Hays is: “He was ever the perfect gentleman who always led from the front.”

Admiral Hays passed away on January 11, 2021, at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of service and honor, having profoundly touched all those who knew him. The Museum shares its heartfelt sympathy with his wife Jane, daughter Jacquelyn, and his sons, Dennis Hays and Michael Hays.

Named Commander in Chief of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (called U.S. Pacific Command when he assumed command in 1985), Admiral Hays was a four star admiral who enjoyed a long and storied career in the U.S. Navy. His years of service included time at the Pentagon, two combat tours of duty in Vietnam, a stint as an experimental test pilot, and a year on a destroyer.

A Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, the academy’s highest honor, Admiral Hays later went on to be invited into the exclusive Golden Eagles Association. He held the coveted title of Gray Eagle, the Naval Aviator on continuous active duty who has held the designation for the longest period of time. For all his achievements and awards, however, Admiral Hays always shared that one of his proudest achievements was earning the recognition as “Distinguished Eagle Scout.”

Military service recognition includes the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (4 awards), Silver Star (3 awards), Distinguished Flying Cross (7 awards), Bronze Star Medal with Valor device, Air Medal with Strike/Flight numerals, and the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor device. He also received personal awards from the heads of government of Korea, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines.

During his time as a test pilot, Admiral Hays helped develop war fighting tactics for the A6-A in the mid-60s. A biography penned by a fellow Golden Eagle shared that “these same tactics were ultimately tested by Admiral Hays in the lethal air over North Vietnam while flying 162 combat missions in all kinds of violent weather through MIGs, SAMS, and flak.”

Admiral Hays was instrumental in securing the Battleship Missouri Memorial as part of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites, and in the effort to open Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in the historic buildings located on Ford Island -- the heart of Pearl Harbor. Hays served as Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Directors from 2000 through 2013. The Museum has made every effort to stay true to his vision and his hope that, “Upon completion, a stroll through the hallowed grounds of Ford Island will feature the tragic beginning and victorious conclusion of World War II, and the valiant performance of our military forces that protected our freedoms during conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War.”

Admiral Hays felt strongly the Museum’s first mission statement should begin with “educating young and old alike.” He was equally passionate about having the Museum portray the “missing piece” – aviation -- at Pearl Harbor. A scholarship fund was established in his name in 2018, with a focus on encouraging youth to pursue aviation as either vocation or avocation.

Admiral Hays’ impact on how we, as a nation and as a world, understand and interpret the events of December 7, 1941, and September 2, 1945, will be felt by generations to come. His efforts to build upon the friendship with Japan that followed WWII created lasting relationships that Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is proud to continue and grow.

The Board of Directors, volunteers and staff of Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum take great pride in offering a salute to Admiral Hays, and sending our warmest wishes for peace and comfort to his family.

If you knew Admiral Hays or have a story to share about him, please click the button below to send your notes of tribute. The Museum will gladly share these remembrances with his family.

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