I thought February 28, 2011 was just another day.
But my inbox held a surprise — an email from World War II veteran Donald Mittelstaedt.
He’d found a site I’d dedicated to my father’s WWII photos and recognized many of the images. He, too, had been a combat photographer in the Pacific. He wrote:
As far as I can tell, your father joined the 832nd at Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea, and went to Hollandia, halfway up the New Guinea island. It is a large, long, mountainous thick jungle area . . .
With those paragraphs, we began our Internet correspondence.
My father passed away in 1994 and never talked of his war experiences. Some of his photos were grim and heart-breaking (I kept those off the web). But Don’s beautiful prose helped me fill in the blanks and find closure.
Don passed away a few weeks ago on August 3, his 94th birthday. I wrote about him twice:
- Veteran Don Mittelstaedt: Still Blooming at 92 came out on Veteran’s Day, 2011. It’s a great retelling of his life in his own words.
- Veteran Don Mittelstaedt Makes His Movie recounts how he almost lost his documentary in a computer crash. He’d gotten himself a 32-inch monitor so he could raise the font to 24 point, then taught himself to scan and edit his WWII photographs in high resolution for it.
What I love about the Internet — these pieces will forever remain a tribute to Don’s life and work. He has also been profiled at Combat Camera.
“Until the wheels fall off…”
Don, at age 92, was blind in one eye and found walking difficult, but he has never lost his zest and sense of humor. He made friends all over the Internet and often dropped by the blog.
I received my last comment from him on July 22, less than two weeks before he died:
Dear Debra, You have been an inspiration for me, have brought friends back from the past, and rattled a few skeletons from my past. Good skeletons, for the most . . .
I want to thank you for you blogging about my WW2 documentary “Defeating Bishamon.” We still do not have a major distributor, but at least the DVD is available through me or through Mercedes Maharis Productions. We have it entered in a film festival this October.
I, too, have taken a health hit, and have moved into an “Assisted Living Facility.”
Age has also caught up to me. I will be 94 in about a week. I am trying to keep going until the wheels fall off and prove the doctors wrong. I am also trying to collate all my previous writings into a book, but don’t think I have enough time left on the clock.
I wish you well.
I’m tearing up as I think how lucky I was to know Don for 30 months and to have in him such a joyous role model for aging. Until the wheels fall off indeed! I’ll bet those wheels are still going and Don has merely rolled on to his next adventure.
Happy trails to you, Don.