Ralph Hayes, Jr.

Whether it was piloting a tank destroyer across a river filled with mines, or escorting children across the street to school, Ralph Hayes, Jr., felt obliged to help.

"He was a very courteous, proud, loving man," said Beth Hayes of Santa Rosa.

Her husband, who had been living with Lewy body dementia for years, died last Wednesday at a care facility after he developed a respiratory infection.

He was 87.

Ralph Hayes will be remembered for his bravery in World War II and for the nearly four decades he worked for Farmers Insurance in Santa Rosa.

He was born on Sept. 30, 1924, in Amidon, N.D. His parents, who had seven children — all but one of them boys — were ranchers, until drought and shady bank deals drove them west in a Model T.

They settled in Santa Rosa because they had other family there. Hayes, who was known by his nickname, "Happy," learned to drive a tractor at the Rohnert Seed Farm, which was the precursor to the city of Rohnert Park.

Hayes was a standout basketball player at Santa Rosa High School and at Santa Rosa Junior College. Then in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

Hayes' father, who fought in the trenches during World War I, encouraged his son to volunteer for one of the Army's armored divisions. The son complied, and still found himself on the front lines.

Beth Hayes said her husband participated in the invasion of Normandy and served with the Third Army under the command of Gen. George Patton. She said he also was one of the first Americans to enter the town of Bonnetable in France.

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