Tom Hayes: A hero and a friend

·4 min read

Aug. 6—OROFINO — Honor. Service. Sacrifice.

Those are words used to describe not only members of the military, but also wildland firefighters.

Tom Hayes was both.

Thumbs up and a smile.

That can also describe Tom, who was caught smiling and giving a thumbs up in most of his photos. Those pictures were on display when family and friends gathered Friday afternoon at the Best Western River's Edge in Orofino to honor and remember the life of Tom. Tom, 41, of Post Falls, and another pilot, Jared Bird, 36, of Anchorage, Alaska, died July 21 in a helicopter crash while fighting wildland fires near Salmon, Idaho. Tom, who was raised in Orofino, also served in the Army for 20 years and was given a full military service with the Honor Guard.

Jason Franzen, a friend of Tom's for 18 years, gave the eulogy. "What can I say about Tom Hayes that everybody doesn't already know about?" Franzen said to the packed room that had some people standing in the back.

Franzen said that in the military, there are only two names that matter: the name of your company and your surname. Tom represented both with honor.

When he got knocked down, he got back up. He worked hard to become a Chinook helicopter pilot and learned every part of the helicopter. His military career eventually made him "highly decorated" and honorably retired.

Although Tom spent most of his life in service to his country, Franzen mostly spoke about his service to his friends. "He was real. Everybody knew where they stood with Tommy," Franzen said. He didn't care what they called themselves, he called everyone "chief."

He made friendships with people a priority. Tom's friends were those whom he kept part of his daily life with phone calls. Those stories of friendship will make those friends laugh and cry, Franzen said, but it will also help Tom live on forever.

Franzen said those who knew Tom were blessed to have known him. "It's evidently clear today," he said to the crowd on the affect Tom had on their lives by their presence at the service. "Tommy was part of your life as your best friend, too," he said. "Everyone who was a friend of Tommy is a friend of mine."

Franzen felt the loss of Tom when he realized he wasn't going to be getting any more phone calls from him. Although those at the service will miss Tom, Franzen said Tom would tell them to get back up when they were knocked down.

He said people might have questions of, "Why did this happen? Why didn't I do this? Or suggest that?" Franzen said, speaking of the helicopter crash that resulted in Tom's death. "I suggest to you: Knowing the 'why' won't bring Tommy back or save your soul."

No one may never understand why Tom had to pay the ultimate sacrifice. "God's plan is greater than ours," he said. "God knows what's beyond the horizon."

While Franzen was solemn and emotional in his address, he also injected some humorous stories about Tom, such as his bland cooking, how he felt sorry for Tom when he was flying Blackhawk helicopters instead of Chinooks, and mentioning that he always walked in a room with that grin and a thumbs up.

"I miss you, Tommy, and I love you, my brother," Franzen said, his voice cracking with emotion.

U.S. Army Chaplain for the state of Idaho, Rob Morris, also spoke and gave a prayer, saying that words fall short in capturing the life of an American hero. Lola Walls sang "Go Rest High on That Mountain" and "Scars in Heaven." There was also a slideshow with pictures of Tom, the last showing a memorial cross with his name along with Bird's name.

The Honor Guard entered with Tom's casket, draped in the American flag at the beginning of the service. At the end, the casket was taken out by the Honor Guard while Reid Wilson played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.

The casket was taken by a horse-drawn carriage from the Best Western to Orofino Riverside Cemetery, with the funeral procession following. People lined the streets to watch the carriage go past, some with their hands on their heart. At the cemetery, Tom was given a gun salute while taps was sounded. His family was presented with the flag.

"Tommy got started where he (was) laid to rest," Franzen said at the service. He said that as a boy, Tom dreamed of flying helicopters and as a man, he loved people. His death showed that he was also loved and will be remembered by many people.

Brewster may be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.