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Title:
Interview with Doris Ayers, November 29, 2004
Date:
November 29, 2004
Description:
In this interview, Doris Ayers discusses her years as an appeals officer for the IRS and her youth in Wilmington. She also speaks regarding her connections to the military, including her stepfather John Steele, the paratrooper who landed on a steeple in Ste. Mére-Eglise during the Second World War.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Ayers, Doris Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview: 11/29/2004 Series: SENC Notables Length 58 minutes

Hayes: My name is Sherman Hayes. I'm the university librarian at UNCW at Randall Library and today we are interviewing?

Doris Ayers: Doris Garner Ayers.

Hayes: Doris. And when were you born, Doris?

Doris Ayers: 1935.

Hayes: What's the exact date?

Doris Ayers: 2/25/35.

Hayes: I wasn't trying...

Doris Ayers: That's all right. I don't mind. Yeah.

Hayes: Doris is a Wilmington native and a notable at several junctures of history and practically-- we were talking earlier and you're-- you worked for the Internal Revenue Service for a long time.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: And so you're going to be our first Internal Revenue Service agent that, that's notable.

Doris Ayers: Okay.

Hayes: Before we talk through what you had explained has been one of your most memorable two years in this last two years, why don't we get some context of where you came from and early time period.

Doris Ayers: Alright.

Hayes: Oh, by the way, for the record, today is November 29th and we're at Doris' lovely home doing this interview. So, Wilmington native?

Doris Ayers: That's right.

Hayes: Family? Tell me a little about your parents, what was...

Doris Ayers: I was an only child. My father died when I was 19. My mother died in 1993 and lived on Rogersville Road, which is very near here. I went to Bradley Creek uh... Grammar School to New Hanover High School, graduated in 1953.

Hayes: '53.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh. And then went to Women's College, which is now UNCG.

Hayes: Now, tell me a little bit about Wilmington at that time. In World War II, you were probably, what, a kid but you still remember that?

Doris Ayers: Let's see, 19-- not a lot, to be honest.

Hayes: Yeah.

Doris Ayers: You know, uh...

Hayes: You were seven or eight or so years old?

Doris Ayers: Yeah, right. Right. And uh... very much involved in, in getting to school and back, and back home and I can remember pulling the shades down uhm... and a little bit maybe of uhm... my parents worked at the shipyard, I can remember that.

Hayes: Oh, did they? Really?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, Mother and Father both, yeah.

Hayes: Oh, really? That's kind of unusual. He didn't get called in?

Doris Ayers: No, uh-uh.

Hayes: He was a little older or...

Doris Ayers: No. Well, I don't know why. I don't know why but they both worked at the shipyard.

Hayes: Do you know what they did there or...?

Doris Ayers: Well, let's see. Oh, gosh, I can't remember. It wasn't significant, I don't guess.

Hayes: Was a huge group, I mean, I guess a lot of people worked at the shipyards.

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, yeah. Made, made good money. Made good money.

Hayes: And how would they get there? In some sense, we're now near the new Mayfair development.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: It's kind of at the edge of town. Did they-- they drove from this area to...

Doris Ayers: Right. Of course, Rogersville Road is right over, right over here, you know? It's off-- it's really between Eastwood Road and Wrightsville Avenue and that's where we lived.

Hayes: That's still a drive.

Doris Ayers: And, as far as I know they would go in, probably Wrightsville Avenue, and that was known as, as the Old Shale Road. And seems like I have some memory of Oleander Drive being, being put in. Yeah. But Eastwood Road was not in existence at that time.

Hayes: Not at all?

Doris Ayers: No, uh-uh, no.

Hayes: So this was fairly rural in a sense...

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: The general feel was rural when you were growing up?

Doris Ayers: I grew up on a-- you know, it, it was just a neighborhood. We had 25 acres. It was a family...

Hayes: You lived on 25 acres?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, uh huh.

Hayes: Wow.

Doris Ayers: And then my father bought it from the family and, and then, later on, developed it in 19-- in the 1980s and...

Hayes: Oh, really? What was it called?

Doris Ayers: Now, it's called uhm... Bradley Pines. It's a little development off of Rogersville Road.

Hayes: Interesting. Was that...

Doris Ayers: It was an, it was an only, it was the only asset my father left and my mother and I kept it and then I sort of took care of her business affairs and, and I have a friend, Jim Teegee[ph?], and he was in the real estate business and he came to Greensboro and talked to, talked to us about buying it and then we sorta reversed it a little bit and uh... but let me back up a little bit. Shortly after my father died, uhm... and I, I don't remember how I got the idea, we planted pine trees under the, under the extension program and, of course, uh... then, later on, sold those pine trees but you had to keep 'em up and, and I actually helped plant those pine trees. I have an uncle and he and I planted those pine trees.

Hayes: What was his name?

Doris Ayers: Leland Tharner[ph?]. He, he's deceased now.

Hayes: So you-- so you're in high school and all the veterans are coming back and...

Doris Ayers: Right, right.

Hayes: ...it's an exciting time. You mentioned Wilbur was in your class. Who were some of the other...

Doris Ayers: Wilbur was the first-- Wilbur was...

Hayes: Wilbur Jones.

Doris Ayers: Yeah, Wilbur was ahead of me.

Hayes: Okay.

Doris Ayers: A year ahead of me, yeah, yeah.

Hayes: And who were some of your other classmates? Would we know some of them who have stayed in town or...?

Doris Ayers: Julian Rogers. He became a dentist. He was never in the service that I know of but he's retired in here now. Joel Martin, uhm... of course, they were football players, and George Getty is, is retired and lives here. Uhm... who else right this minute? Uhm... I'm not coming. Buddy Rogers was another one. Buddy, a nice, nice young-- not young, yeah, my age, but uhm... a very nice, nice person. His-- he had a sister, Erline, uhm...

Hayes: Well, who were some of your girlfriends that were fun at that time? That didn't necessarily stay but, you know, just were names from 1950 or whatever.

Doris Ayers: Well, my cousin was my best friend and that was Wilda Walk and she was a little bit older than I. Her father was killed when she was uh... 13 months old and we just lived in the old family place, just like, just like uh... one family and uhm... then Donnie Miller, who is now Donnie Eams, was another good friend. Erline Rogers was a good friend. Uhm... Marilyn Alexander, who is now Marilyn Cain. I knew Cecilia Black and she is now Cecilia Black-Corbett. Uhm...

Hayes: Corbett. The Corbetts are a well-known name...

Doris Ayers: R-E...

Hayes: Is that the Corbett Corbetts or...

Doris Ayers: Well, uh... you're puttin' me on the spot here. (laughter) Now, R., R. E. is the husband and I think he retired from uhm... maybe Western Electric. They moved into Burlington for a long time but are living back here.

Hayes: Oh, interesting. Came back.

Doris Ayers: So I attended St. Andrews on the south, the Episcopal Church.

Hayes: Excellent. And your mom was, after the war, did she work then or...?

Doris Ayers: She did not work any, anymore after that. She took care of her mother and uh... kept her until she died.

Hayes: And had your grandmother been from Wilmington or...

Doris Ayers: My, my grandmother was from Carteret County, yeah. My father was from Onslow County so...

Hayes: Local then, that's great. Now, career-wise, you get out of high school and you decide...

Doris Ayers: Went to UNC-

Hayes: G.

Doris Ayers: I went on a scholarship, scholarship.

Hayes: Was it an all-girls' school at that point?

Doris Ayers: No, no, uh-uh. Oh, I don't know. I think so. You know, you put me on the spot. I think so. (laughter) But I really can't-- I...

Hayes: I don't know when it made the switch, I mean...

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: ...for a long time...

Doris Ayers: It was, it was known as-- I guess it was all-girl. It was known as Woman's College. And, after that, after I-- after that (laughter) I had the opportunity to go to work there, I did, I was invited to go to work there but I declined that and then went with uh... with the government when, when I was 18 years old.

Hayes: Your degree was in?

Doris Ayers: In accounting.

Hayes: In accounting.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh. Uh huh. I went back to NC state and got my degree in accounting. After, after I, I was divorced when my girls were very young and I was divorced and lived in Raleigh for eight years and went back to State and got my, my degree in accounting.

Hayes: In accounting. But what was your undergraduate degree out of UNCG? Did you...

Doris Ayers: No, no. I just had a commercial course there.

Hayes: Oh, a commercial course.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh. Yeah.

Hayes: Well, at least it fitted in the same...

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: And so you're a State person then. I guess we've-- that's okay. UNCW is still NC State.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: We'll keep talking to you. That's all right.

Doris Ayers: Okay. (laughter) Okay.

Hayes: And then, you have the degree and your choice is what-- where do I work, what do I do with an accounting degree?

Doris Ayers: That's right. Well, I first of all started with the Corps of Engineers and then...

Hayes: Whereat?

Doris Ayers: Here in Wilmington.

Hayes: Here in Wilmington.

Doris Ayers: Here in Wil-- yeah. And then, from there, over to the uh... Sunny Point Army terminal.

Hayes: Well, tell me a little bit...

Doris Ayers: And then...

Hayes: ...about the Sunny Point Army Terminal.

Doris Ayers: It had just opened. It opened in 1954, that's right. And I used to commute from this area, met my carpool downtown, met my carpool downtown and then commuted to Sunny Point.

Hayes: Wow. And so you were a federal accountant at that point, type-thing? Working for Sunny Point?

Doris Ayers: That's right. I was not in accounting. I worked for the plant engineer, yeah. I was just in a-- in administrative then.

Hayes: For those who don't know what Sunny Point is, why don't we give them a sense of-- in other words, you and I know what it is but...

.

Doris Ayers: It's an army ammunition depot.

Hayes: Right. I think it's the largest on the east coast, isn't it?

Doris Ayers: Right, right.

Hayes: So all of the ammunition traveling wherever comes through...

Doris Ayers: Comes through uhm... and then...what's the inlet?

Hayes: So how long...

Doris Ayers: I was only there just a couple years and then I married and moved to Fort Bragg or moved to Fayetteville and lived at Fort-- worked at Fort Bragg.

Hayes: Was your husband a military person?

Doris Ayers: Mm hm, he was, yeah. That was my first marriage, yeah.

Hayes: And what did he do?

Doris Ayers: And then he was in hm.... the AG section, I guess, yeah.

Hayes: Is this the gentleman who was in World War II or not? This is a different one?

Doris Ayers: No, no. Now, now, John Steele is the stepfather and he was in World War II.

Hayes: Right. But he was also...

Doris Ayers: My first husband...

Hayes: This is the one we're talking about now.

Doris Ayers: Right, right.

Hayes: And what was his name?

Doris Ayers: Was Milton Bridges.

Hayes: Milton Bridges.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh.

Hayes: And he was World War II generation as well, then?

Doris Ayers: No, uh-uh. Uh-uh. Uh-uh.

Hayes: Okay.

Doris Ayers: So he was, he was born in 1930 and this was in 19-- in the 19 early '50s so he was 20-some years old. What war was-- you know, it was not World War II...

Hayes: Korea, probably.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: Could have been in Korea, then.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: It doesn't matter. I just-- I'm trying to get them straight.

Doris Ayers: Right. Sure. We'll talk about another husband, too. (laughter) Yeah. So uhm...

Hayes: So you're-- so what happened...

Doris Ayers: So then, let, let me go on...

Hayes: ...at Fort Bragg?

Doris Ayers: Okay. We moved from Fort Bragg down to Eglin Air Force Base and he worked for uhm... I can't remember what he was. Some of these memories are not important to me.

Hayes: Yeah. No, I agree.

Doris Ayers: So-- but I did have some-- a couple special jobs there, though. I worked for a Appeal 313 and-- Appeal 313.

Hayes: What is that?

Doris Ayers: That is a public law-- it's a real high civil service job.

Hayes: Oh, okay.

Doris Ayers: It's a presidential appointment. I think I'm correct there. Yeah. William Lazarus, yeah. And, at one time, he was uhm... he was uhm... oh, uh... oh, what's the word I'm lookin' for? A pilot, a test pilot.

Hayes: Oh, wow.

Doris Ayers: Yeah, so that was, that was interesting. Yeah, but uh... and then uh... I worked for the senior colonel at Eglin Air Force Base at one time.

Hayes: Wow.

Doris Ayers: So, and then, and then it was in 19-- was it-- I was only there three years and it was in 1962 that I moved back to Wilmington and went with Internal Revenue. Yeah.

Hayes: Wow. Now, that's an interesting choice because you hadn't, at this point, worked for the IRS at all?

Doris Ayers: No, uh-uh.

Hayes: So what prompted that?

Doris Ayers: It was a job available.

Hayes: Job available.

Doris Ayers: Yeah. And I needed to come back home. I was divorced and I needed-- I had two, two small children and I needed to come back home. And so that was uhm... I heard, I heard about the job and got the job.

Hayes: So you came back...

Doris Ayers: In 19...

Hayes: ...probably in '62?

Doris Ayers: 1962. I lived here for four years and then moved to Raleigh in 1966. And that was with the Treasury Department and then, in '66, let's see, I moved-- I was there eight years and then moved onto Greensboro in 1974 and lived in Greensboro until 1998.

Hayes: And then you moved back?

Doris Ayers: I came back in '98.

Hayes: Wilmington.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh.

Hayes: So you always come back. That's an interesting...

Doris Ayers: Right. Well, you know, my mother lived here and, although I don't have, you know, uh... brothers and sisters, my mother lived here as long as she lived, always came back and...

Hayes: So you had kind of seen Wilmington go from...

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.

Hayes: Tell me about-- when you're graduating from high school, if you characterize Wilmington, what would you describe it? I mean, that's-- I think...

Doris Ayers: You know, my, my memory of Wilmington was, when I came back here, my best memory, in 1962 and the coastline had just moved out, the Atlantic coastline had just moved out and it was just a ghost town.

Hayes: That's what I remember.

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, yeah. It was some time after that that the Committee of 100 was formed and then they brought in GE and DuPont and Hercules and...

Hayes: Got better.

Doris Ayers: Right, right.

Hayes: And you kept coming back all those times to visit your mom, you watched it just explode.

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I can remember, my mother was at Plantation Village before, before she died. She was a charter member there and, sometime after that, there was a headline in the paper and my mother went in there in 19-- uhm... 1987, maybe, I think that's right, and there was a headline in the paper sometime after that about Wilmington and their culture, that we were on the very bottom culturally, so Wilmington, since, since the late 1980s, has made a lot of progress, culturally. (laughter) I can remember when UN-- when UNC Wilmington was on Market Street.

Hayes: Well, that's right. I wondered about that because...

Doris Ayers: Right. That's where it started.

Hayes: When you finished high school, they were just...

Doris Ayers: Yeah, over there on the old Isaac Bear building. Yeah. You're bringin' back a lot of memories here.

Hayes: Well, that's why we're talkin' to you.

Doris Ayers: Right. And I appreciate that. Yeah.

Hayes: Yeah, that was just right across the street. It's gone now, I guess.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: Because that started in '47 and then, shortly after that, they got the building. In fact, William Madison Randall was uh... the president down there even, the library that we're named for, and-- so that was interesting. And I guess the high school was actually very similar. You went to New Hanover. The school was the only...

Doris Ayers: Exactly. Uh huh.

Hayes: ...that or Williston.

Doris Ayers: And to give you a little bit of, you know, background there. I graduated in three years, yeah. I took, from high school, we had the four years then and I took history, uhm... one, you could take-- I guess school was out at 3:15 and another class started at 3:30 if you wanted to take one of those late classes and I used to run the bus home after I took that class and I took history and then uhm... one summer, maybe, I took English and so I had-- we had- we're supposed to have 16 units and so I had 17 units when I graduated; I graduated when I was 17.

Hayes: Wow.

Doris Ayers: And, you know, a member of the National Honor Society and little bit of-- yeah. And then won-- and then I will have to tell you this, I won the Sepitan[ph?] Scholarship and that was one of the first years uh... that the Sepitan Scholarship was, was awarded.

Hayes: And that was at Greensboro, right?

Doris Ayers: No, that was here. That was here. To Greensboro, yeah. I could use it anywhere, yeah. But uhm... that was one of the first years that that Sepitan Scholarship was awarded, yeah.

Hayes: Good. Although I don't want to dwell many years on the year IRS but, you know, how long of a career was that? That was a long one or...?

Doris Ayers: Well, let me see. I went with Internal Revenue in 1962 and I retired in 1991. So...

Hayes: 29 years.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh. Yeah. And...

Hayes: What kinds of duties did you have there?

Doris Ayers: I went from an auditor to a revenue agent and then, the last ten years, I was an appeals officer.

Hayes: Now, tell us a little bit about what that means. What's an appeals officers?

Doris Ayers: Well, if you-- okay. If you, if you're examined, if your income tax return is examined and you're not satisfied with the findings, you can go, you can request an appeal and they're people, just like myself. And so we settle-- the mission was to settle income tax cases and, of course, you had to back up your, your decision with, with research and uhm... it was...

Hayes: You weren't a judge and a jury, you're really trying to help somebody finish up the process?

Doris Ayers: Right. Exactly. And I, I really loved it. Yeah. I did. I did. You didn't see many people who were glad to see you, of course, and (laughter) you know? But I really, I liked uhm... I met a lot of interesting people. Uhm...and learned...

Hayes: Now, did you have the lawyers and, you know, agents who worked for the public, did you get to know some of them or...

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: ...were they the same people?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, sure. Sure. Yeah, just uh...

Hayes: They'd say, "Hi, Doris," or...

Doris Ayers: Right, you know? But I, I enjoyed that. It was a-- was a challenge and uh... any time you go into a different phase, it used to be anyway, I guess it's the same, same way now, Internal Revenue trains their people, regardless of your educational background. You may go to several schools and, of course, you had continuing education so uh... but I, I enjoyed that. And then I traveled some in that job.

Hayes: Oh, did you?

Doris Ayers: But, but just in North Carolina. Yeah, yeah.

Hayes: So you had to go to other...

Doris Ayers: Posts of duty, mm hm.

Hayes: ...jurisdictions. Did you ever serve in Wilmington or not?

Doris Ayers: Oh, I came here to work, yeah.

Hayes: Oh, did you?

Doris Ayers: Yeah. The appeals division, they don't have appeals officers in each office, you know? Just, just the main office out of Greensboro and then you do-- you go to the outlying offices and, and meet your people there and work your case.

Hayes: So they don't have to come to Greensboro?

Doris Ayers: No.

Hayes: You come to them?

Doris Ayers: Right. Right.

Hayes: That's interesting.

Doris Ayers: But it was uhm... you know, it was rewarding and learned a lot. I learned control.

Hayes: And that's a very high level within the Internal Revenue Service.

Doris Ayers: Yeah, yeah. But I started at the bottom.

Hayes: You started at the bottom. (laughter)

Doris Ayers: Yeah. My career, I'll be honest now, my career really meant a lot to me.

Hayes: Well, that's good.

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Yeah. So uh...

Hayes: Well, I think that's good to hear because I have worked on the other side in taxes and uh...

Doris Ayers: That's right, you told me that. Yeah.

Hayes: We forget sometimes that the Internal Revenue Service are real people, you know? (laughter) It's as if they are some sort of automons, you know?

Doris Ayers: Well, you know, you know, an appeals officer, still, if you don't settle that case, they have uhm... another division called District Council and that's where your attorneys are and, and that's when you can go to court and uh... yeah. And you know...

Hayes: But your goal was to try to settle?

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: Right. I mean, this was...

Doris Ayers: But if you had a case that went to court, you went over to, to Winston, maybe, or to wherever and you assisted the attorneys and that sort of thing. So that was-- and then you heard your taxpayer talk about the case.

Hayes: Did you ever have to actually go and testify?

Doris Ayers: No. Uh-uh. But I did go and, if they thought they would settle a case, I would work behind the scenes with the attorney and, yeah. It was, was an education, yeah.

Hayes: (laughs) You probably-- I don't suppose you can tell us any of those cases but you must have seen some very interesting...

Doris Ayers: Well, yeah.

Hayes: ...maneuvers that people would...

Doris Ayers: Right. Well, let me just tell you one.

Hayes: Okay.

Doris Ayers: I, I had a case with a highway patrolman and we had talked on the phone and he came in and he just was not happy. And then he-- you know, I really think people may froth at the mouth but that guy was so angry when he left. But he came in with his, with his weapon, with his weapon. We should have asked him, up, up at the front, to take the weapon and, and let us, you know, keep the weapon but they didn't do that. But, anyway, the guy was very, very upset but, within just a few minutes, he uh... first of all, he shouldn't have come in in uniform and, secondly, certainly not with his weapon on him, yeah. But he called shortly and, and apologized and I-- and I did let him know, though, that uh... it was noticed that he had his weapon and, and he apologized, yeah. So we get a lot of interesting cases, really. Yeah. I could go on and on and on...

Hayes: But you were working then, I would say, at your level, what you would call the grey area of the code, right?

Doris Ayers: Exactly. And, you know, I really worked as hard for a taxpayer, if I felt like they were right, as I did if I felt like they were wrong. Yeah. So-- and then one other thing that I used to do, uhm.. if a person was so uhm... upset with what was going on, I'd just ask or suggest it or advise them to get somebody and remove-- get somebody to help you and remove yourself from that. And uh...

Hayes: Yeah. In fact, many times, on the other side, I'd recommend they not even bring the client along.

Doris Ayers: Yeah, right. They just muddy. (laughs)

Hayes: Or they can get emotional because, to them, it's...

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: And they think you're accusing them of something or, you know, and challenging their integrity and it's all a legal question about what the code is, right?

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: Interesting.

Doris Ayers: Let me just tell one-- these stories are coming to my mind now.

Hayes: Sure. These are great.

Doris Ayers: Okay. I had-- I used to leave home at 7:00, drive hard, drive hard and this case was in Greenville and uhm... the taxpayer-- the husband and wife came in and he was intoxicated.

Hayes: Oh, no.

Doris Ayers: And I kept thinking, how on earth am I gonna finish this case? So I just kept thinking and I put my pencil down and I said, you know, I just can't do my work with you in the condition you're in. And he got up and he-- and I had an attorney wor-- waiting outside and he got up and he left and then he came back, though, and, and he just was quiet. But I-- there was just no way I could finish my work that way. I didn't settle that case and it went to court and then we had the case in, in Winston and uhm... his wife was pretty astute and uh... he called himself his-- her house husband. I think her first husband had gotten killed and she uh... married this guy. And he crabbed for a living but, anyway, so they came in the courtroom late and they had gone to the wrong location but she put him on the witness stand, that was interesting, and she, she questioned him herself, yeah, yeah. They didn't, they didn't win their issue but that, that's one of the cases that, that I can remember.

Hayes: That's unusual, isn't it?

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Yeah. But uhm... and then there was another case uhm... with a professor from ANT and that was unpleasant and uh... he really threatened me, yeah. And I think I can say this...

Hayes: I mean, what would be the sense of upsetting you? You're not by yourself, are you?

Doris Ayers: Well, I think I-- no, no, it was, it was on a telephone and he had been in a couple of times but he threatened me on the telephone and, and there is uhm... a division of the treasury, of the inspection service, and they protect their-- the employees as, as-- they protect the employees. And uh... as well as keep 'em straight. And we did get inspection in on that case but uhm... yeah. But that was really, I guess, the only person that, that ever threatened me, yeah.

Hayes: Would you have any pattern in the sense of all those years you were doing it, were most of them always around, like, real estate or businesses? I mean, there's...

Doris Ayers: There was just...

Hayes: Everything?

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Mm hm.

Hayes: Just everything. That's interesting.

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Learned a lot.

Hayes: But you didn't-- you weren't forced to do some sort of specialty one way or the other, they really wanted you to hear the broad set of cases...

Doris Ayers: Right. I worked the small cases.

Hayes: Well, what's small, though?

Doris Ayers: Well, up to $50,000.

Hayes: Yeah, see? (laughter)

Doris Ayers: Back then, back then, yeah.

Hayes: For many of us, that's a lot of money but I think people don't realize the IRS considers those-- up to $50,000 as small cases, right? (laughter) That's...

Doris Ayers: But it was just a, a wonderful...

Hayes: And if it was under $5,000, it would seldom get up to your level, right?

Doris Ayers: It may if you're upset enough.

Hayes: Oh, is that right?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, yeah. But I really enjoyed, I enjoyed those last uhm... well, when I first moved to Greensboro in 19-- I remarried and I moved to Greensboro in 1974 and I worked in the estate and gift tax group. And I was an auditor in estate and gift.

Hayes: Now, that's interesting.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh. And I learned, I learned a little bit about-- and, of course, I went to school in Washington and learned a little bit about estate and gift but uh... I was only there 15 months and then I went up to the appeals division.

Hayes: And all the way through this long career, they were always sending you to school, right?

Doris Ayers: Mm hm. That's right.

Hayes: I don't think people realize that because, even though you probably have-- you have a bachelor's in accountancy?

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: You probably got the equivalent of a master's degree from the government, right? (laughter)

Doris Ayers: Well, could be, could be. Sure.

Hayes: For the number of courses...

Doris Ayers: Yeah. You st-- they still do it.

Hayes: Yeah. And you had to take courses, right?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: It wasn't...

Doris Ayers: It was something that was, was mandatory.

Hayes: Right.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: To keep up. And, of course, every time the...

Doris Ayers: Law changed.

Hayes: ...law changed.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: They said lawyers have job security but I guess the IRS had job security, too, is that...

Doris Ayers: Well, today, from what I understand, I'm, you know, I'm glad I'm on the outside. Morale is pretty low.

Hayes: Oh, is that right? That's too bad.

Doris Ayers: Mm hm.

Hayes: Well, now they're going to have another major tax change so...

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: So an exciting life as a tax person.

Doris Ayers: That's right.

Hayes: But, interestingly enough, the military connection keeps coming back.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: So what is the-- is it your second husband's father? The gentleman who was in World War II?

Doris Ayers: That is-- was my mother's. My father died and then, in 1954, and then in 1955, I think I've got the year wrong, '55/'56, '55 I think, my mother married John, John Steele.

Hayes: John Steele.

Doris Ayers: And John is the famous paratrooper.

Hayes: And tell us...

Doris Ayers: And he was my stepfather.

Hayes: And tell us why he's the famous paratrooper because, you know, I know the story but other people don't know the story.

Doris Ayers: Well, he fell on the steeple. He was in the Invasion of Normandy on June the 6th, 1944 and fell on the steeple and-- of this church in Ste. Mére-Eglise, France. And...

Hayes: So he's a paratrooper coming in?

Doris Ayers: Uh huh.

Hayes: And landed on the steeple?

Doris Ayers: Right. Right.

Hayes: And why would that be famous?

Doris Ayers: Well, and then he was injured in, in his foot and, of course, he pretended to be dead and then he was captured and, and escaped and uh... now I'm gonna be honest here, he didn't do anything miraculous (laughter) that, that I ever learned. (laughter)

Hayes: That every other soldier would have wanted to do.

Doris Ayers: Right, right.

Hayes: But was it-- did they have an image of him on the steeple or was it that later movie that got that? I mean, how-- why would anybody remember that he was on the steeple? I think that, in a later movie, you know, that very famous movie of...

Doris Ayers: Oh, and Red Buttons plays his part.

Hayes: Yeah, "D-Day."

Doris Ayers: Yeah, yeah.

Hayes: They captured that element and so it kind of brought back to mind but I don't know, at the time, was-- of course, you wouldn't necessarily know. You were-- at that point, you were-- were you at home at that point or...?

Doris Ayers: I was nine years old.

Hayes: Nine years old, yeah, so it's hard to...

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Yeah.

Hayes: Interesting. So the story is that he faked being dead.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: And then why did they cut him down? Did he ever tell you that?

Doris Ayers: Well, John never talked-- oh, okay, now. You're going to get some truth here. See, I was young, I was young and, and uhm... of course, he was taking my father's place. That's the way I looked at it and so, well, it took me a long time to ever warm up to him and uh... had a lot of charm, you know, and, and he was nice to me but, you know, he was just taking my father's place. And so it took me, took me a long time, yeah. But finally I passed that, I passed all that but it took, took awhile. Yeah. But he never really discussed much of his-- much of that part of his life with me. Uh... of course, I knew that he was considered to be uh... famous but didn't particularly...

Hayes: So he got captured and then he escaped from the Germans?

Doris Ayers: Right. Right.

Hayes: And did he get all kinds of honors for all this or just-- he was just a regular soldier?

Doris Ayers: Just a regular soldier.

Hayes: Interesting. That, that one moment where he is captured in history on top of that tower or the steeple, he's forever frozen in memory.

Doris Ayers: Right. And they have an effigy of him hanging from the steeple, oh, yeah.

Hayes: In this town?

Doris Ayers: No, no, no, in Ste.-- oh, yeah, in Ste. Mére-Eglise.

Hayes: Really?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes.

Hayes: You mean, a little statue of him?

Doris Ayers: They have an effigy of John hanging from the steeple from this little church in Ste. Mére-Eglise.

Hayes: To this day, you mean?

Doris Ayers: To this day. Now, I was there-- my younger daughter, who was ill, I was there in 1997 and uhm... we had, you know, we were well-received and then they told us then they take the effigy in in bad weather and then they put it out in, in good weather. Now, they, they had a new one for the 60th anniversary, though.

Hayes: So, in essence, he became part of the tourist...

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: ...traffic?

Doris Ayers: There is a restaurant and bar/motel named after John.

Hayes: In this town?

Doris Ayers: In Ste. Mére-Eglise. That's right.

Hayes: So they have kind of adopted him as their...

Doris Ayers: Well, he was quite a character.

Hayes: Oh, was he?

Doris Ayers: A lot of charm, quite a character, you know?

Hayes: Did he go back himself?

Doris Ayers: He went back in-- he went back in 1964 for the 20th anniversary. Yeah. And some of the, some of the articles I have say he went back again but, but I, I don't remember that. I don't remember that. Now, one little interesting story: Alexandre Renaud was the mayor of Ste. Mére-Eglise in 1944 and his picture is shown in, in the movie. Well, Mr. Alexandre Renaud had three sons. The youngest one was Maurice. Maurice-- now, I don't know who, in the family, came to Wilmington but Maurice was one of the family members who came and visited-- with Mr. Alexandre Renaud, visited my mother and John on Rogersville Road.

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Doris Ayers: My daughter, Doane, the one that was with me this year, she was seven years old and so she met Maurice and, of course, he was 21 and a young, handsome guy but she was old enough to find him attractive. And here is a picture of-- we-- Maurice was the first person we saw in the parking lot after we got to Ste. Mére-Eglise on that...

Hayes: So this is Maurice...

Doris Ayers: And he's...

Hayes: ...a few years later.

Doris Ayers: Right. And my daughter, yeah. But that was, that was exciting. Yeah, yeah.

Hayes: That's great.

Doris Ayers: So uh...

Hayes: So...

Doris Ayers: I'm getting off-track here.

Hayes: Those years that John Steele stayed in Wilmington and lived the rest of his life here pretty much?

Doris Ayers: Right. Yeah. He was here 13 years I think. I've got some notes here. He married my mother in uh... well, I said 1955, and then he went-- he was a cost engineer with uhm... when he came here, with the Basco Services, and then he transferred to Indianapolis, Indiana, with the Indianapolis-- uhm... Indianapolis Pair and Light and then came back uh... of course, he had uh... cancer of the throat and he came back here some time after that and then he lived here, he lived here at, at the V.A. Hospital in, in Fayetteville the rest of his life.

Hayes: Really, so it was really a bad...

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: ...cancer then?

Doris Ayers: And he died in uh... 1969, May the 14th.

Hayes: 1969. He probably would have been roughly...

Doris Ayers: 59 years old.

Hayes: 59.

Doris Ayers: I think that's right. Mm hm.

Hayes: And was the cancer attributed to World War II, not necessarily...

Doris Ayers: No, no. Uh-uh. Uh-uh. It was the throat so I, I don't know, yeah.

Hayes: I mean, it wasn't due to his...

Doris Ayers: Yeah. No, no service...

Hayes: And you said he was a character?

Doris Ayers: Quite a character. A duck call was his, was his thing that he liked to use and he always carried, I guess a duck call is a proper word I want to use here...

Hayes: You mean, a little thing that you...

Doris Ayers: Right, right. He always carried-- he always carried that with him. He always went to the 82nd Airborne Conventions, always. Yeah. So he was, he was...

Hayes: I wondered-- that was my question I had. So he was proud of his service.

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, that-- he lived it. He lived it and the little house where they lived on Rogersville Road had a separate garage and that was John's-- that was John's hideaway. And he had it decorated with the flag and all of that.

Hayes: That's kind of interesting because, in the sense, that was the peak of his life and the rest of his life, people held that up more than anything.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: I mean, by falling on a steeple, isn't that a tad...

Doris Ayers: Well, so-- uh... could be some myth here.

Hayes: Yeah.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: Well, and you said Red Buttons played-- even...

Doris Ayers: Played his part.

Hayes: ...had a-- but wasn't that the movie "D-Day"?

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: That's what I'm thinkin' because they used all those actors; in every little part was a famous actor.

Doris Ayers: Right, right.

Hayes: So Red got the-- and was he a small person? I mean-- or is that just...

Doris Ayers: No, he was not a small person. I'd say John was probably 5'9 or '10, a little bit on the stocky side, yeah.

Hayes: So he wasn't Red Buttons?

Doris Ayers: (laughs) Yeah. Talkin' about the little garage where-- was his hideaway, uhm... he had built a shadow box and put his medals of the invasions that he had been in the shadow box. And so, after he died, my older daughter kept that shadow box, yeah. So, in 1994, my mother died in '93, in 1994, during the 50th anniversary, my daughter called and said, "Don't you think we ought to do something with the shadow box in memory of Grandma?" So I did. I did. I called Fort Bragg and then Washington and then they put me in touch with uh... the curator of the museum in Ste. Mére-Eglise.

Hayes: Oh, neat.

Doris Ayers: Yeah. So we sent the shadow box with John's medals to Ste. Mére-Eglise in 1994 and wanted some recognition that it was donated in memory of my mother. Well, when we were there in '97, there had not been anything done. But when we were there this year, with their permission and-- the curator of the museum, though, at that time, was an American and he had met uhm... a French girl. Uh... he was in the invasion uh... and after-- he met a French girl, came back to the States and lived and then went back to France and married this woman and remained a curator of the museum for many, many years and he died this year, Phillip Jutras was his name. Uh huh.

Hayes: Sounds like a French name, though.

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Yeah. But...

Hayes: After he escaped, did John Steele go on and just have normal duty as a soldier or...?

Doris Ayers: Well, he was in some other invasions but I can't...

Hayes: Yeah, so he-- it didn't get him pulled away from...

Doris Ayers: No, no. No.

Hayes: He just went on through the war.

Doris Ayers: Right. And, and I don't know what he-- he was not-- he retired. He was not uhm... not a career man is what I'm trying to say.

Hayes: Right. He just served his time and went on.

Doris Ayers: Mm hm.

Hayes: Interesting. Hanging from-- and they still have an effigy.

Doris Ayers: I'm telling you, yeah. (laughter)

Hayes: Now, as his step-daughter, then, recently, you went-- this is a good time to tell a story...

Doris Ayers: Let, let me back up. I do have one fond memory. Well, I have a lot of memories but one fond memory. I went to see John at the V.A. hospital in Fayetteville and this was the day before he died and uhm... I was living in Raleigh at the time and so I had on a red, white and blue dress. I don't think I wore that dress intentionally but it just happened to be this red, white, and blue dress. And this man was actually dying and I went in to see him and he whistled at me. He whistled at me and I thought that was pretty spectacular. Yeah. (laughter) And then, later on that day, I talked to his doctor and uhm... his doctor said, "Well, you know, people cling to life and that's what John's doing." And he died 5:00 the next morning. And then my mother and I accompanied his, his body to, to Metropolis, Illinois. That, that was an experience, too.

Hayes: That was his hometown?

Doris Ayers: Uh huh.

Hayes: And he wanted to be buried there?

Doris Ayers: Right. Or-- either in the uh... National Cemetery in, in...

Hayes: Yeah.

Doris Ayers: This is uhm... Masonic, Masonic Cem-- Tem-- excuse me, Masonic uh... Cemetery in uh... Metropolis.

Hayes: Where is Metropolis? Is that near Chicago?

Doris Ayers: Illinois, near Paducah, Kentucky.

Hayes: Oh, so it's way south.

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Uh huh.

Hayes: Okay.

Doris Ayers: But-- okay. I got, I got sidetracked there.

Hayes: That's okay. You said it was an interesting experience to go back. And was his family still around, from that territory?

Doris Ayers: Then, back-- when he was buried?

Hayes: When he died, when you went back?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah.

Hayes: Was there still extended family...

Doris Ayers: He had, he had sisters, a couple of sisters, I think, and maybe a brother, a nephew, a nephew and my mother stayed in contact with him for awhile but it sort of, you know, how those things go sometimes.

Hayes: Well, they were married for quite awhile, though.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: I mean, it was...

Doris Ayers: It was 13 years.

Hayes: And he had that poor, ill health almost all of that time?

Doris Ayers: They moved, they moved to Indianapolis and they weren't there very long and uhm... maybe just a couple of years and that's where he had the first surgery and then he came back here and he was in and out of the V.A. Hospital for many years, yeah.

Hayes: Could he keep working, too, or...

Doris Ayers: No, no.

Hayes: Never worked?

Doris Ayers: No. Mm-mm.

Hayes: That's sad. Now, tell us about the excitement of just recent months where you went back representing, I guess, his extended family back to the same site and...

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: Walk us through that.

Doris Ayers: Well, this was the beginning of the day right here. (laughs) So we walked through Ste. Mére-Eglise...

Hayes: But this was a program where people were going back for the 60th anniversary...

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, yes.

Hayes: ...of D-Day?

Doris Ayers: That's right.

Hayes: And so this village is how far in? Quite a ways?

Doris Ayers: You mean from the coast?

Hayes: Yeah. I don't...

Doris Ayers: I've got a map.

Hayes: Yeah. It's a ways in, right?

Doris Ayers: Got-- it's not, it's not far. I never...

Hayes: And Wilbur Jones organized various people going from this area and others, right?

Doris Ayers: Wilbur represented-- he was there to cover the events for the newspaper.

Hayes: For the newspaper.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: Wilmington Star, right?

Doris Ayers: Right. Right. And the only part that I was involved in was, was uhm... the John Steele thing. Yeah.

Hayes: And did they invite you?

Doris Ayers: No, no. Wilbur gave me the push, you know? (laughter) He gave me the push.

Hayes: As Wilbur can do.

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Right. So then, though, I had connections and we-- my daughter and I were there in 1997. The only person I really uh... had any correspondence with after that was a guy from Montguyard, Morde-- Montmartre by the name-- and I'll call him Bobby because that's how-- the name I knew. So I had-- I contacted Bobby but he-- let me think. In uh... 2002, when Wilbur first started getting information about John, I contacted Bobby and he sent me some things. And he said Mr. Bush was gonna be there in 2004 and he'd like for us to come.

Hayes: Wow.

Doris Ayers: So then-- so he was my main contact. So then, after I got involved in trying to get this trip together, I uhm... I tried to contact Bobby but there was no-- his email came back. So then I guess, in the meantime, I contacted Andre Jean Renaud and he was one of the sons of Mr. Alexandre Renaud and then the curator of the museum. Yeah. And, in the meantime, I had learned that, that Phillip Jutrus was dead. So that is-- the, the army didn't know that I was coming. Army had no knowledge of it.

Hayes: Really?

Doris Ayers: Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Hayes: And your oldest daughter went with you?

Doris Ayers: Mm hm.

Hayes: Did she also go in '97? Was this her second trip?

Doris Ayers: No, no.

Hayes: The youngest one was.

Doris Ayers: My younger one.

Hayes: So both of them at least have been to see...

Doris Ayers: Right. Yeah. I would like for Kim to have gone in, you know, this year, but she just was not able to do it. But she was excited that, that Doane was excited. My older daughter is-- her name is spelled, Doane, D-O-A-N-E, and uhm.. so she was excited that, that Doane was excited about going and so we went with her blessings, yeah. Yeah.

Hayes: So you arrived and first you see the person who had came to visit you those many years ago?

Doris Ayers: Yeah, that was just uhm...

Hayes: Amazing.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: Was that a good omen? You must have thought, well, this is a good start.

Doris Ayers: Well, this was the first person we saw, you know, uhm... in the parking lot as we were parking and I thought that was pretty interesting. So...

Hayes: So what other things were involved in the day?

Doris Ayers: Well, you know, they had been working so hard. Well, I mean, let me just build up a little bit here. They had been working so hard to try to get-- and there were only about 16 or 17 people trying to get this together for this event and uhm... so there had been a lot of work, yeah, and it was just like, you know, a big party sort of, you know, with your, with your street uhm... vendors and that sort of thing. But then we went on through this day, we went on through Ste. Mére-Eglise up to the grandstanding area and I mentioned that to you and so uhm... once uh... and I think the guy that Wilbur was affiliated with uhm... Pat Mooney out of uh... Northern Virginia and he has the company uhm... Battlefield Expeditions. Yeah. Well, he and Wilbur together, I guess, let people know that we were going to be there. So we were just gonna be seated with, you know, representative Moran and I didn't know who he was and then, when they realized that we were connected with John, then they put us with General Bell and, as, as, as I told you, uh...

Hayes: Well, tell...

Doris Ayers: All right. General Bell is the uh... well, he's over in NATO, I guess, over the army in Europe. Yeah. Four-star general. In fact, he was over the Ste. Mére-Eglise event, yeah. So uhm...

Hayes: He was high-ranking officer there then representing...

Doris Ayers: Right. Right. And then, of course, a three star general from Fort Bragg was there and, and I met him.

Hayes: Well, that's interesting. Another whole connection, I think that's kind of funny.

Doris Ayers: And then he made the comment to me, he made the comment to me that he had been in the John Steele bar the night before and my response was, "If John were here, he would have been in the bar with you, probably." Yeah. But, anyway, so, so, when General Bell arrives and he knows who we are and I know who he is at that time, then I mentioned to him that I had these two female uh... friends in Germany in the military and I mentioned Susan Sowers, and that I was a church friend to her mom and dad, and he says, "Well, I know Susan." Then I mentioned Becky Halstead. And he said, "Becky works for me." And so then he had his aide uhm... a colonel to call Becky but I had been emailing with Becky just before uh... just before uh... I left. I'm gonna back up a little bit.

Hayes: Alright.

Doris Ayers: Susan was promoted, Susan Sowers was promoted to full colonel in Washington in uh... 2003, I guess, and I was invited. So I went for that. And then this Becky Halstead...

Hayes: Tell us some more-- what happened? What does that mean when you said you went to that?

Doris Ayers: I went to her promotion ceremony.

Hayes: What is that like?

Doris Ayers: Well, of course, she was promoted to full colonel and it was held in the church rather than, than some other location and she got permission to, to have it held in the church. She is going into the Episcopal ministry when she, when she retires. Susan is 45 now. She has...

Hayes: But she's not a chaplain now?

Doris Ayers: No, no, no. She's 45 and she has two years to go and so I've gotten, I've gotten to know her through her mom and dad when she would come here to visit so I was promoted to-- I was invited to, to her promotion ceremony and I went. And then I met Becky at that time and Becky actually presented Susan for the promotion ceremony and then it was talked a little bit that she was going to be uhm... considered for brigadier general. And so that's how I really got to know Becky and uh... and then, later on that year, Susan was transferred to Germany and then Becky is, is in Germany and so, so that's-- you know, that's how the friendship started. So when she gets, when General Bell gets Becky on the phone, it's sort of a, you know, a surprise to Becky, a surprise to me, and then he made a comment...

Hayes: So he called her right there on the spot?

Doris Ayers: Yeah. Here I am talking with her. (laughs) Here I am in Ste. Mére-Eglise and she's in Germany, you, you know? So then he made the comment, he said, "Are you goin' to her promotion ceremony?" And I said, "Well, you know, I'll consider it." So then, as, as uh... time progressed, I did go to the ceremony in, in August, yeah.

Hayes: And where was that held?

Doris Ayers: It was in uhm... okay. Promotion ceremony was in Kaisersalutern, and then the change of command was in Wiesbaden, and that's where she's located.

Hayes: Wow.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: That's real active right now.

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah. She is uhm...

Hayes: (inaudible)

Doris Ayers: She is uhm... with Coscom and that is the third corps-- I wrote it down, let me see here, I've got to go to my notes here, third corps support command, yeah. Yeah. And she was-- I, I speak about General Bell. After her uh... promotion and change of command ceremony, she was to report to General Bell the next week. So, you know, all of it just comes into place, just been incredible for me.

Hayes: That is amazing.

Doris Ayers: And so it's just...

Hayes: Who do you know that I know? You could have asked that question... (laughter)

Doris Ayers: Right. So it was just uh... you know, it was, it was...

Hayes: And what was the day like for the ceremonies? Was it...

Doris Ayers: Beautiful day. The, the thing-- one thing, they were in fatigues, their fatigues, and, and I just, you know, it would have been wonderful had they been in their dress uniforms, you know? But uh...

Hayes: And did quite a few of the guys come back? I mean, was there a big representation of American...

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Let me, let me back up here a little bit. Uhm... I guess that pretty much co- covers uhm... I did not go-- and that was June the 5th when we were, when we were with General Bell and, and that sort of thing. He gave, he gave us a military escort and so we had an escort for the rest of that day and the next day.

Hayes: Wow.

Doris Ayers: And so we went on June the 6th, we went to Omaha Beach with Mr. Bush and President Shirak gave their addresses and uhm... so I, I just had never been afforded such uh... care, yeah, and then back to Ste. Mére-Eglise and let me talk about the shadow box now a tiny bit. Okay. So the shadow box now and all of John's uh... mementos, I guess is what I want to call 'em, uh... they're behind uhm.. they're in a glass exhibit that's locked, yeah, but all this while, see, there had been no recognition where that shadow box came from. So with the uhm... information from I guess it was a curator of the museum before I went, I had uh... a brass plaque made and uh... and let's see, it was worded, "Donated in 1994, in memory of my mother by her family." And they made a little ceremony there at the museum. We, we placed the, the plaque on, on the shadow box. So...

Hayes: Is this on this trip...

Doris Ayers: Uh huh, yeah, yeah. So that's what uh...

Hayes: It looks good, you're happy with it?

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah, yeah. A little recognition there, so uh...

Hayes: It's important that people do. So many mementos just get dissipated away and that was-- and that they elevated him up to the local hero that...

Doris Ayers: Well, that, that's it. And I just felt like, you know, it was, it was-- would be nice and so I followed through with that and got that done.

Hayes: That's great.

Doris Ayers: But they had their media there and uh... you know. But, you know, I made the comment to them and I'll make it again, uhm... the shadow box is, is where it needs to be. Yeah. And-- because it was so important to him. And then, of course, they made him the hero so that's, that's how I feel about that, yeah.

Hayes: That's interesting. He became a symbol of the whole invasion almost.

Doris Ayers: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: He was smart enough to not get killed when he had the unlucky ____of falling on the church. And so there's a bar there named for him?

Doris Ayers: Motel, motel, restaurant and bar. In fact, we went there, in fact, on-- after, after we uh... after the uhm... events uh... at the grandstand and, of course, this was the kickoff for the ceremony, for the American ceremonies, uh... then uh... let's see, Wilbur and his friend, uh... Wayne and Doane and I went to-- we went to the restaurant and then we had this interview, we had this interview that, that, that I promised Wilbur that I would give to him so, so-- and we, of course, you know, we had to pay for the sandwich and the beer so...

Hayes: They didn't give you a free sandwich...

Doris Ayers: Oh, no, uh-uh, uh-uh, no, so...

Hayes: And I don't suppose John Steele ever got any money from all of those bars and restaurants and...

Doris Ayers: No, no.

Hayes: ...or the hotels? (laughter)

Doris Ayers: No, I'm afraid not. Yeah.

Hayes: Or all the pictures that have been taken of that steeple...

Doris Ayers: He's still hanging there.

Hayes: They still... (laughter)

Doris Ayers: Yeah. But, anyway, so, on Sunday, after we attended the, the service at Omaha Beach and back to Ste. Mére-Eglise to, to uhm... put the plaque on, on the shadowbox, and then the escort left us and we went back to Feliz. Yeah. But it really-- and then, well, it was just an incredible day. It really was. And, and I just uh... and I signed a few autographs and...

Hayes: Oh, isn't that nice?

Doris Ayers: Yeah, yeah, so uhm... just-- it was truly an incredible day for me.

Hayes: And a good memory for your stepfather, I mean, that's...

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: ...he couldn't come but those many years ago, and the way he's remembered as a symbol...

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: ...of all the soldiers, really.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: Because he himself didn't do necessarily...

Doris Ayers: No, he really didn't. And then, you know, and then I went to Becky's, Becky's, you know, promotion ceremony and...

Hayes: Oh, isn't that wonderful?

Doris Ayers: Well, I just-- well, I had the opp-- I might never have that opportunity again and so I just decided that I would do it and, with the...

Hayes: Did you take anybody with you this time?

Doris Ayers: No, no. I, I really stayed at her, at Susan's house and Susan's mom and dad were there, so I was there at the same time they were so uh...

Hayes: Some old friends to talk to.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh. Oh, yeah.

Hayes: And this other lady is up and coming, right? You said she's the highest ranking?

Doris Ayers: She's the first brigadier general from West Point, yeah. Yeah. I'm just gonna share something else here. Becky and Susan were at West Point together, and Becky is 5'1". 5'1". I'm telling you (laughs) so not very popular, you know, and, and she's not really attractive and all of that so, so, anyway, so then Becky had a friend who was all the guys wanted to date her friend and-- so Susan made the comment, Susan made the comment that uhm... and this was maybe the day before her promotion ceremonial or sometime during the events, she said, you know, she said, uhm... and she told-- well, she told how she became friends with, with Becky and she said, "I felt sorry for Becky" and I made the comment to her, "Do you feel sorry for Becky now?" (laughter) But, you know, another nice memory I have, Susan being-- Susan and Becky both are religious girls but another nice, nice memory I have: The day that we went to Becky's promotion ceremony, we started our day in Susan's office, and Susan has a very responsible job. We started our day in, in Susan's office with a prayer for Becky. So that was nice, that was nice.

Hayes: So she's not a wallflower now?

Doris Ayers: No, she's not. (laughter)

Hayes: A whole lot of people who have to pay attention...

Doris Ayers: Right, right. So...

Hayes: It's yes, sir.

Doris Ayers: So, they say her wonderful asset, her best asset is her ability to focus, yeah.

Hayes: That's great. Those are great stories. You had military connections...

Doris Ayers: Well, then I went just-- it just goes on and on and uh... I'm very grateful.

Hayes: Now, who was the Pearl Harbor connection?

Doris Ayers: Okay. That was my second husband. That was Jim. That was Jim. And I married Jim in 1974 and that's when I moved to Greensboro. Yeah, yeah.

Hayes: And he was a World War II veteran?

Doris Ayers: He was, he was, he was at Pearl Harbor on uh... December the 7th, 1941, and he was 17 years old. And then we went back-- and the only thing that I really can recall, and I have some pictures here, the only thing that I can recall was that Jim said he ran for a foxhole. Yeah.

Hayes: Smart move.

Doris Ayers: Right, right. And then we went back in uhm... 1975, '76, we went on the Arizona.

Hayes: Really?

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: So there was...

Doris Ayers: And he was very moved about that but didn't say much about it. Yeah. He was not a real outgoing guy.

Hayes: And where-- and he continued to serve in the air force the rest of the-- World War II as far as you know?

Doris Ayers: Right, right. I don't know. I, I can't tell you how many years he was in the service 'cause I just, you know.

Hayes: And you said he lied about his age because...

Doris Ayers: Yeah, he did. That's right. He had-- let me give you a little bit of background. His mother and father, he was from Commerce, Georgia. His mother and father died when he was eight and nine years old.

Hayes: Now, tell me his name again.

Doris Ayers: Jim.

Hayes: Jim.

Doris Ayers: Uh huh. Full name?

Hayes: Yeah.

Doris Ayers: James Thomas Ayers, A-Y-E-R-S.

Hayes: Good. In case somebody's looking.

Doris Ayers: Right. And his uh... his mother and father died when was eight and nine years old and then he lived with family, an aunt and a grandmother and wound up in an orphanage in, in Tallulah Falls, yeah. And then he went in the Service when he was very young and he said, you know, the Service can really make a man out of you. So uhm... yeah. He was truly a self-made man.

Hayes: It's fascinating that you-- World War II continues to intersect in your life because you were connected with so many people tied to that.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: You parents both working at the shipyard that produced hundreds of ships here.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: People don't remember that Wilmington was the huge boom town so, when you're growing up, it's a boom town in World War II.

Doris Ayers: Yeah.

Hayes: Then the stepfather who became this icon in European war.

Doris Ayers: Right.

Hayes: And then later, marriage to someone who was at Pearl Harbor, the very start of the Pacific War, and you've visited the memorial of Pearl Harbor and you were an honored guest of the memorial at D-Day. I just think... (laughter)

Doris Ayers: And then I, I get to Germany...

Hayes: And you lived at Fort Bragg and moved to...

Doris Ayers: Really, I've had a pretty interesting life.

Hayes: And two of your friends are the highest ranking women in the uh...

Doris Ayers: In the military, yeah.

Hayes: ...service.

Doris Ayers: Susan. Susan is over the command of the 37th transportation corps in Kaisersalutern and she's already been to Iraq twice. Yeah. She was due to go to Iraq for Thanksgiving and her dad has been quite ill and now her father and mother-- that's the couple I went with over to, over to Germany, and her father has been quite ill so she, she came home for two weeks and she just went back on Saturday. So it's just...

Hayes: Thank you so much for talking to us. I don't know if you have any closing remarks for those supporting the military. You've been connected for your whole life, I guess.

Doris Ayers: With the government somehow. Yeah. (laughter)

Hayes: And you've seen, I guess, the good and bad of war and military but you've been at fascinating points. You were right there.

Doris Ayers: Well, you know, today I feel uh... very blessed, yeah. I've had wonderful opportunities and uh... I just feel very blessed and uh...I guess that's my closing comment.

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