WWII veteran with Pittsburgh ties travels country to mark special birthdays

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Harold Hayes is a seasoned road tripper.

For years Hayes, who turned 90 on May 7, led his two children and wife on adventures throughout the country with his keen sense of direction.

The family toured Thomas Jefferson's villa at Poplar Forest in Virginia, explored national parks and took scenic back roads that led to the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia on a few of their trips, Hayes' son Hal said.

“There wasn't a month that would go by that we didn't all pile into the car and go from one place to another,” said Hal Hayes, 53, of New York. “He just loved to drive, to be in the car. He loved to explore.”

Last week, Harold Hayes embarked on a special road trip with his family — to celebrate his mother's 110th birthday in Winston-Salem, N.C., and then his 90th birthday with his Pittsburgh family in Dormont.

He lives in Mission Viejo, Calif., with his wife, Betty, who grew up in Dormont.

Born in Winston-Salem, Hayes served as a technical sergeant and radio gunner in the Army Air Corps and flew in more than 50 missions throughout Europe during World War II. Shrapnel from an attack remains in his right arm. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

After the war, he moved to Pittsburgh to work for a financial company and later met his wife of almost 55 years.

The couple lived in Mt. Lebanon, Coraopolis and Scott before moving to Williamsburg, Va., in 1967. They later moved to California when Hayes became a regional manager for C.R. Gibson, a gift and stationery company, and have been living in Mission Viejo for more than 40 years.

“I loved (Pittsburgh) because I came out of Raleigh, N.C., and every other word was ‘y'all' all day long,” Hayes said. “Finally, they taught me to learn the English language so I would be understood by everyone.”

Hayes' mother, Sina, worked as a machine operator for a knitting mill in Winston-Salem. Hayes has another living brother, Carlyle Hayes, 88, of Fort Worth, Texas. He also served in World War II, in the Coast Guard.

To her family, Sina Hayes, who turns 110 years old on Thursday, is a fighter.

She worked during the Great Depression, survived breast cancer with a double mastectomy and three heart attacks.

“More than anything, it was her positive attitude,” Hayes' daughter Holly Mosier said. “She didn't have an easy life.”

Sina Hayes is among about .02 percent of women born more than 100 years ago still alive today, said Dr. Anne Newman, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Aging and Population Health. Harold Hayes is among about 1.4 million surviving World War II veterans, Newman said.

Mosier, 52, of Los Angeles said she and her brother grew up with a father who demanded perfection. “Now, we get this warm and fuzzy guy, which, of course, will be my final memories of him,” she said.

His focus on success transferred to his children.

Mosier is a civil litigator and author of a weight-loss book, “Stress Less Weigh Less.” Hal Hayes is an architect and professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Harold and Betty Hayes also have two grandchildren and two step grandchildren.

Hayes said exercise is his secret to longevity. He hits the gym daily.

“It's the first thing I do every morning, seven days a week. Been doing it 26 years,” Hayes said. “As far as I'm convinced, my health is because of that.”

Christina Gallagher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5637 or cgallagher@tribweb.com.

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