James McDonald “Mac” Hayes was born in Flint, Michigan, but grew up in California. In college, his mother played softball and golf for Michigan State University, and taught him how to play baseball. His uncle, who served in the Army Air Corps and was shot down over Stuttgart in March of ’43, convinced him to attend the Military Academy, where he played both 150-pound (sprint) football and baseball. When he graduated, he commissioned into the Infantry, and after Airborne and Ranger School, and a brief stint in the 82nd Airborne Division, he deployed to Vietnam in 1967 with the 101st Airborne Division. He recalls “tough times” around Chu Lai during that deployment. Between his first and second tours to Vietnam, he trained Ranger students at the Mountain Ranger Camp, and passed on lessons he learned in combat. Returning to Vietnam in 1970, he joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade and volunteered for service in Cambodia. After his second tour, he attended Duke University in 1972, where he earned a degree in Educational Counseling before becoming a Tactical Officer in Company F3 at West Point. He was at West Point when the Vietnam War ended, during the Class of ‘77 cheating scandal, and when the first women were admitted to the academy in the summer of 1976. His next assignment was in Germany with the 1st Brigade of the 8th Infantry Division at the height of the Cold War. Following duty at UNLV as the Professor of Military Science for ROTC, he commanded 3rd Battalion of the 327th Infantry at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, from 1985 to 1987. His final assignment in the Army was as the 1st Regimental TAC, and later Chief of Staff, at West Point. After retiring from the Army, he returned to UNLV, where he worked until finally retiring in 2007.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his experiences at West Point, and his military service. He describes playing sports at the Academy, and mentions some of the coaches he worked with. He discusses his deployments to Vietnam, highlighting some of the differences between the two. He also reflects on changes at West Point from his time as a Cadet through his two tours at various levels of responsibility at the Academy. He discusses his time as a Battalion Commander in the 101st and provides context about the Gander Incident, a plane crash that killed 248 Soldiers, the majority from the 3rd Battalion of the 502nd Infantry. Finally, he explores what West Point means to him.