Trip changes life of Brewton native
By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
Sandra Hayes is not one to draw attention to herself and only consented to have her profile done in order to honor her father, Sims Ellis Ogletree, a medic, who was killed during World War II on Mindanano Island in the Philippines.
Her decision to attend the dedication of the World War II Memorial May 29, 2004 was a day that changed her life and has made her understand more about her father.
In 1993, a law was signed authorizing the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a memorial in Washington, D.C. in honor of the 16 million who served in the armed forces during World War II, the 400,000 who died and those who supported the war effort at home.
A site was selected at the east end of the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The design was approved in 1998 and construction began in 2001 funded by $195 million in cash and pledges, with $16 million provided by the federal government.
It came as no surprise to Hayes to learn that her mother had made a donation to the memorial.
Hayes said that she thought often about attending the dedication of the memorial but never seriously thought that she would. As the days of May passed, she thought of it more and more. She called Col. Fred Mitchell, who is with the American Veterans here in Brewton to ask him what she would need to do if she decided to go. About nine days before the event she was checking into rooms, flights and tickets to events.
It is estimated that some 315,000 people showed up for the dedication and finding a place to stay was a major problem. Hayes' son, William, who lives in Arlington, Texas, went to work trying to find a room for his mother and aunt. He finally had success by finding them a place to stay that put them close enough to the Metro Express to travel around the area.
Things were coming together for Hayes. She hates to fly but once she made up her mind to go, she knew that flying was the way to get there. She and a friend flew to Washington on Friday, May 27. Upon their arrival they went down on the Mall where all the tents had been set up. They visited several different tents and happened to find one that was a message center where one could leave their name and the name of the serviceman. She looked up the unit her father had been a part of, the 31st Infantry, Dixie Division. She was surprised to find that there was an entry for his unit and after some thought she added her own name to the list, asking for information on her father who had died June 19, 1945.
They spent the weekend taking part in as many events as possible and talking with people. Hayes said that she was very moved by the whole experience.
She decided to go by the message center before they left Washington. She was shocked to find that someone had answered her message. On her way from the airport in Montgomery, she found out that she had received a telephone call from a Kim MacDougall about her message. She called the number and reached a MacDougall who told her that she and her family, including her father, were on the way home from Washington with their motor home. The father was James Bradshaw who had served with the Dixie Division in the Philippines. In fact he was the Sgt. who signed the pass for Ogletree to take a three day leave when Hayes was born.
Bradshaw and his daughter were very surprised that they heard from Hayes as soon as they did and he was so emotional about it that he couldn't talk to her at the time.
Hayes did get to talk with Bradshaw and he was as excited as she was. He told her that he had thought a lot of Ogletree and would have done anything for him. It turns out that Sandra Hayes was named after Bradshaw's daughter.
In the middle of July, Sandra and Ronnie Hayes, traveled to Columbus, Ga., to meet with Bradshaw and his family. It was an emotional meeting for all of them. At long last she was able to hear things about her dad that she had never known.
The Dixie Division fought their way from island to island in the Philippines. Ellis Ogletree was shot by a sniper on the island of Mindanano at the end of a fierce fight with the Japanese.
Hayes grew up in Brewton and graduated from T.R. Miller High School in 1962. She began taking piano lessons when she was a little girl and participated in recitals. She also began playing piano in the church and she continues to play the organ there now. She grew up participating in lots of activities and played trombone in the band. She went to work at the Brewton Medical Center before going to the Bank of Brewton where she spent the next 15 years. She decided to try something else and worked at T.R. Miller Mill Co. for about eight years. In the meantime she married Ronnie Hayes and the two of them owned and operated IGA for many years. They sold the store in 2000 and she went back to work at the Bank of Brewton.
The Hayes have one son, William, who lives in Texas and works for Smurfit-Stone.
Hayes is more content with the circumstances surrounding her father and his death. She has made a contact that she believes will last. Who could have known that a trip to Washington, D.C. would turn out to be life changing?