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Dakota Datebook

Paratrooper Bill Hayes


On the night before D-Day in World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at a staging-base in England.


Among the paratroopers was William “Bill” E. Hayes. Hayes was busy with preparations for parachuting into Normandy. To calm his nervousness, he checked his 70 pounds of equipment including food, ammunition, and a thermite bomb attached to a parachute-strap.


At 9:30 p.m., Hayes heard someone approach, behind him. “Well, are you ready?” said a voice.

“Yeah, I guess so,” replied Hayes.


“Are you scared?” the voice asked.


“You damned right,” Hayes answered, turning around to see General Eisenhower.


They visited a little bit. Eisenhower asked about Hayes’s work as a civilian. Hayes said he been selling “paint and wallpaper” for Sears, asking Eisenhower “if he had ever heard of them.”


Eisenhower said, “Yeah, I guess everybody has bought something from Sears at one time or another.”


Soon all of Hayes’s squad gathered near them. The general said: “You know, it’s a funny thing. I talked to a guy in the 506th. He said he worked in a ladies’ hat factory . . . a milliner. Can you imagine a guy doing that being in an outfit like this?”


At that moment, a photographer snapped a photo of Eisenhower encircled by paratroopers. It became a famous D-Day image. 


Bill Hayes parachuted into Normandy just after midnight. His goal: destroy a German artillery battery. Landing in a tree, Hayes got down safely, and helped cause havoc for German troops near the beachhead on D-Day and in the following days. Hayes was later wounded by shrapnel in the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944, but he recovered.


On this date, in 1964, a newspaper story told about Hayes and the famous D-Day photo.


When Bill Hayes returned to the U.S., he came back to his home state of Wisconsin to resume working for Sears. In 1946, Sears promoted him to Fargo, and thence to numerous locations. In 1966, Hayes returned to Fargo, with his wife, eventually becoming regional manager. After 30 years with Sears, Hayes worked 17 more at Fargo’s USDA metabolism laboratory. He died in 2006.


Hayes gained some small measure of fame from the classic D-Day photo. Helmetless, he stands with charred cork darkening his face, looking up respectfully at Eisenhower before he jumped into the maelstrom of deadly-combat in 1944.


Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department



“Wausau GI was Pictured with Ike,” Wausau [WI] Daily Herald, July 24, 1964, p. 3.

“Fargo Paratrooper Part of Classic D-Day Photo,” Bismarck Tribune, May 19, 1994, p. 1A, 10A.

Ben Clark, “The Famous Face of Bill Hayes,” Marathon County [WI] Historical Society, https://www.marathoncountyhistory.org/blog/famous-face-bill-hayes, accessed January 30, 2018.

Gary Gisselman, “Marathon County Natives Fought Hard in WWII,” Wausau [WI] Daily Herald, July 2, 2014, p. 5A.

Keith Uhlig, “WWII Vet’s Keepsakes Return to Wausau,” Wausau Daily Herald, November 7, 2015, p. 4A.

“Sioux Falls Man Recalls D-Day Jump in France, Ike, Tangled Chute,” Sioux Falls [SD] Argus-Leader, May 31, 1964, p. 21.

“William Edward Hayes,” U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, Ancestry.com, accessed on June 23, 2020.

“William Hayes,” Wausau, Marathon County, Wisconsin, U.S. Census, 1930, Ancestry.com, accessed on June 23, 2020.

“William Hayes,” Wausau, Marathon County, Wisconsin, U.S. Census, 1940, Ancestry.com, accessed on June 23, 2020.

“William “Bill” Edward Hayes,” obituary, Find A Grave Index, Ancestry.com, accessed on June 23, 2020.

“General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the day, "Full victory--nothing else" to paratroopers somewhere in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe,” photograph, Library of Congress. Some unknown person wrote the phrase “full victory---nothing else,” on the back of the photo, despite the fact that Ike was chatting with the troops to ease their fears. Bill Hayes is not identified in the caption, at https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96522674/, accessed June 24, 2020.

Jim Klobuchar, “D-Day Recollections After 40 Years,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 3, 1984, p. 1B, 8B.

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