SPRINGFIELD — Sgt. John Wayne Mayes is a 99-year-old World War II veteran. Mayes was drafted and fought in the Pacific Theater.
“It was alright with me, I was just a kid. I didn’t know what was going on,” said Mayes.
Mayes, who will turn 100 on April 1, 2020, worked on a ship where he helped lay fiber optic cables between Fuji and the Philippines.
Mayes tried out to be a codebreaker, but said he “didn’t like it because it was too confining,”
Mayes also worked putting telephone wires through the jungles in the South Pacific.
“I had one of those six-by-six Army trucks with four or five guys with equipment putting up wire lines,” Mayes said.
After the war, Mayes came back to the states and married Velma Viele.
Viele worked as a dancer for a traveling dance troupe from Chicago.
Mayes and Viele married in September 1946 and had three children Carl, Carleen and James.
They lived in an apartment behind Springfield High School. He would ride his bicycle with Velma on the handlebars and drop her off at her job, and he would then ride to his job.
Mayes worked in many places and owned a couple of businesses after the war.
He owned a Standard Oil filling station on Laurel and an Italian grocery store on Sangamon Avenue; and also worked as an auto mechanic at Studebaker, dump truck driver during the construction of Interstate 55 and truck driver for Matthews Transfer.
In 2012, Carl Mayes, John Mayes’ son, took him on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
The changing of the guard at the unknown soldier was very moving for Mayes who said, “I sat and watched them change the guard two or three times,”
Mayes went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum while in D.C.
“We were in line they’d come and get us, take us up to the first in line. We’d go in right away. Do all of our looking around and then we come out the same door and pass the same people in the line, and it hadn’t moved that much,” Mayes said.
After his trip with the Honors Flight, Mayes began helping set up for more flights for other veterans. He would have to wake up at 3 a.m. and drive out to Springfield Airport to set up wheelchairs for veterans and come back at 9 p.m. to set up chairs for when they came back, so people could have a homecoming for them.