Happy Trails, Dear Don Mittelstaedt

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:

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.

Don Today“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.

Don as an underwater photographer

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.

6 Responses

  1. Jennette Marie Powell
    | Reply

    What a neat story – so cool how your connection with Mr. Mittelstaedt in turn helped him reconnect with others! Thanks for sharing – and inspiring!

    • Debra Eve

      Thank you so much, Jennette. He’s been such a role model.

  2. Lindsay
    | Reply

    I am grateful you blogged about this wonderful man. You told his story to people who would not have known it otherwise. He did indeed keep going.

    • Debra Eve

      Thank you, Lindsay. When I think of this amazing man reaching out to me over the Internet, I’m completely humbled. I hope when (an if!) I’m 92, I have the same curiosity and courage about technology and about life.

  3. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    “Keep going until the wheels fall off.” That has got to be one of the most inspiring phrases I’ve ever heard Debra. I feel a little faklempt myself. In a good way. I remember your last post about Don. What an amazing happenstance to have had the opportunity to get to know that man. You Debra have something so special to hang onto. What a wonderful memory. 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks. That is a wonderful quote. To think, without the Internet, I would never have met Don (or you, Karen!). It brings “coincidence” so much closer.

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