SAN DIEGO - His is a story of true survival. A retired Marine Corps veteran was recognized Tuesday for his 2,000th hour volunteering onboard the USS Midway Museum.
"It's a feat, yes, but I don't know if it's major," said Escondido resident and volunteer Bill Hay.
Whether he is answering visitors' questions or attending ceremonies onboard the Midway, the 85-year-old is a "go-to" guy now with the 2,000 volunteer hours under his belt.
"On my 80th birthday, my sister came out from Kansas," Hay told 10News. "It was the first time I had been there."
The former Marine Corps transportation logistics specialist started volunteering on the aircraft carrier after retirement.
"I thought well maybe I will check out this Midway thing … Now, I wouldn't give it up for a million dollars," he said.
But Hay is also a survivor. He has been shot at three times and survived two helicopter crashes in Vietnam.
"I heard the shot then we started going down like crazy, I threw the machine gun in the water and I followed it in," he said.
Only he and the crew chief survived. Hay now spends roughly eight hours a week, every Wednesday, volunteering on the flight deck of the Midway. He was recognized Tuesday for his 2,000th hour and given a jacket with a 2,000 hour patch.
The new jacket was like a blank canvas compared to the one he was given when he completed his first 1,000 hours.
"The patches on this thing basically represent my entire 23 years in the Marine Corps," he added as he showed 10News his well-worn, older jacket.
He says he's most proud of the Marine Corps emblem and a patch worn near his heart showing he's a 9/11 survivor.
"The good Lord is still looking out for me," he said.
Hay says he was on the 55th floor of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, giving a seminar on transportation when the first plane hit.
"The building rocked and of course the first thing – being from California – I thought, 'Well, we got an earthquake,'" he said. "I swung around and I looked out the window and lo and behold that's when I saw the bodies coming down and flames and airplane parts."
While he does not consider himself lucky, he considers himself blessed that he is still around to volunteer on the flight deck.
When asked about the most commonly asked question, Hay replied, "Where is the bathroom?"
The second, he said, was, "How do I get to the (Coronado) bridge?"