“He’s our hero” – Vietnam veteran dies trying to save his family from their burning home

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ROSALIE, Ala. (WHNT) -- A Jackson County man nearly died while fighting in the Vietnam War; injured so badly medics didn't think he'd make it when they found him all those years ago. Jim Hayes' family says he was a hero then and say he's a hero now - because he died trying to save their lives.

"He was a wonderful man," says Jim Hayes' wife Dana.

Courtesy: Hayes family

Courtesy: Hayes family

Jim Hayes was sent over to Vietnam as member of the U. S. Army.

"He was very proud to serve," Dana explains, "He would have even gone back if they let him."

Jim Hayes Courtesy: Hayes Family

Jim Hayes Courtesy: Hayes Family

She recalls how Jim would always thank veterans every time he saw one, even though he was one himself.

He was wounded in the war, earning him a Purple Heart.

"He was a hero then, he was a hero trying to save us that night," Dana says.

She looks down. "I can hardly talk about it."

That night was October 20, 2015.

"We were making gift bags for Halloween for the nursing homes," she explains.

Then everything happened quickly. "That's when chaos just hit," Dana said.

Hayes' home, after the fire A fire engulfed the home so quickly, Dana and two other family members who were inside didn't have time to think -- just react and get out.

They described those moments like they were straight from a horror movie.

Jim was outside and didn't know his family had gotten out too. He ran back inside the burning home to save them.

"He tried to go through the sliding glass doors and from what we understand, they exploded on him," Dana says, "They wouldn't let me go around there to him."

Jim later passed away.

Days later, a local Vietnam veterans organization presented Dana with a gift to honor her husband. "They gave me this flag case for his flag, and they put it in there for me too," Dana said.

Dana says Jim would have been proud.

She and her teen son lost everything in the fire: their home, their pictures, mementos, her wedding dress. Now they have to move forward, pick up the pieces, and cherish the memories.

"He's our hero," Dana says looking down at the flag.

A GoFundMe account is set up for Jim's family.

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