“If people walk by and ask about the meaning of the flags, and I can explain how important military service is and why flags are at half-staff and other things they may not know then I consider it Mission Accomplished,” said Foley Apartments resident Michael “Mike” Hayes. Every branch of the service is recognized by a flag or banner outside the complex on Columbia Road, and without fanfare, it is a place where service and sacrifice are remembered. In large part, this is due to the efforts of Mike. You may even hear patriotic music on given days, but more likely is a man quietly unfurling a flag or placing one in a garden.

“Sometimes people get out of their cars and stand at attention for a few minutes,” and that is a good neighborhood response. It is respect,” he said.

Mike Hayes spent a short time in the Navy Reserves, but his passion for the military began at eleven years old.

“I was the only child of a single mother, Caroline Hayes, living at Old Harbor/Mary Ellen McCormick. She said, ‘you’re not going to be running the streets or end up in jail or buried.’ She got me to the Fargo Building where the US Naval Sea Cadet Corp, a program started by President John F. Kennedy was located, and I became a cadet at eleven and stayed until eighteen.”

The cadet environment appealed to Mike Hayes, in a way that his mother may have imagined. “There was a camaraderie, and I met kids from all over Boston and some from other parts of the state. What kid from South Boston gets to go away on an aircraft carrier or do anti-drug runs in the Caribbean,” he said. A difficult time in history with the Vietnam War and unrest, the program became a grounding place for a young man with a strong feeling about serving. He also graduated from New Mission Park School.

Mike went on to be a Commanding Officer for the Boston Division of the Cadet Corp as an adult, a volunteer position that allowed him to mentor cadets that went on to do valuable things. “There were twins who went to the Top Gun Fighters School and became instructors,” he said proudly.  Giving back comes as naturally to this man as gaining wealth may to others, and his leadership is recognized by fellow tenants and others in the community.

After serving in the Reserves, Mike Hayes became a groundskeeper for Boston Housing Authority and had a family of three daughters, staying primarily in South Boston or nearby.

“When I moved here fourteen years ago, the veterans, and there are fewer than there used to be, said they didn’t feel they had representation. I couldn’t change the past, but I knew I could affect the present, and I started honoring veterans with flags and ceremonies. There is good support from the politicians and veterans here,” he said.

Mike Hayes is the first to say that he doesn’t have the deepest or longest military service, but he is one to honor veterans year-round in ways that matter.

“Without their sacrifice, this wouldn’t be the nation it is,” said Mike Hayes, and keeping that in mind has won him a proud place in a community that is willing to pay attention.

Wishing Mike and all vets a day of respect and peace from a grateful community.