Veteran Don Mittelstaedt Makes His Movie!

by Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Don Mittelstaedt, World War II Army Photographer

From World War II battlefields to freezing Bering Sea research to Pan Am World Airways glamor, Don Mittelstaedt has shot it all.

His life reads like a movie, and now, at age 92, he’s made one, despite the interference of capricious computer hobgoblins.

I first profiled Don, a WWII photographer, for Veteran’s Day. If you can’t read that post, here’s the quick version:

Don and I became friends through The Pacific War Photographs of Pfc Glenn W. Eve, my tribute to my father. Imagine my excitement when someone who might have known my dad back then contacted me!

Alas, Don and my dad just missed each other, but Don told me many brave and horrific stories about life as a combat photographer. He helped me understand things my father could never talk about.

Don’s blind in one eye and finds walking difficult, but he has never lost his zest and sense of humor. One day he wrote, excited about a new project.

Don as a filmmaker at 92, with his big screen

Don as a filmmaker at 92, with his big screen

He got himself a 32-inch monitor so he could raise the font to 24 point, then taught himself to scan and edit his photographs in high resolution.

Tragedy Strikes

Then, on November 16, just two days after my Veteran’s Day tribute to him, this arrived:

“Technicians building my producer, Mercedes Maharis Productions, new three terabyte water-cooled computer, messed up. They lost three years of memory, including the finished, edited version of our WW2 documentary with its narration, background music, sound and 1000 photos.

“Que sera, sera. You pick yourself up, shake off the dust, and put your first foot forward on the new journey. It will be easier to re-do than the first editing was, but still a huge project. I hope I will be able to see it through, especially the narration. I still have all the HD pictures safe on my computer, for a  new start.”

Is your heart breaking for this man like mine did? It was so unfair. Don mastered all this new technology only to have the computer hobgoblins strike! I could only admire his attitude and try to emulate it.

The New Year Dawns

On January 3, I found this in my inbox:

“Happy New Year. May all your activities, and especially Late Bloomers, flourish in 2012. My WW2 doc is saved and ready to market. I will keep you informed as things develop. Keep on growing. I am very impressed with your accomplishments!”

Can you believe it? His life’s work almost lost, and he’s encouraging me. And so, it’s my great joy and honor to announce to the Interwebs:

Defeating Bishamon (Trailer)

A new social documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Mercedes Maharis (Cries from the Border) celebrating the unsung heros who photographed it all on their South Pacific tour of duty during World War 2.

We follow Lt. Donald E. Mittelstaedt and his men in Combat Photo Unit 10 on their photo odyssey through islands and jungles… 91-year-old veteran Mittelstaedt demonstrates the painstaking difficulty of shooting each photo and shares his thoughts on war.

You are invited to attend a sneak peek screening at:
The Cochise Theater
Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Sunday 18 Mar 2012 at 5 PM

I can’t attend since I’m too far away, but I wanted to extend that invitation to you.

Because it’s not just an invitation to a documentary screening, it’s an invitation to live your best life and never give up on your dreams, no matter what obstacles come your way.

It’s a reminder to “pick yourself up, shake off the dust, and put your first foot forward on the new journey.”

Please join me in congratulating Don in the comments, if you feel so moved. I’ll make sure he sees them, even if I have to cut and paste them into an email!

(Update: I’m so heartbroken to report that Don passed away on his 94th birthday — August 3, 2013.)

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Leave a Comment

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

K.B. Owen

Wow! What an amazing life journey. And so inspiring to the rest of us, especially those of us who have already crested the hill, so to speak. Congratulations, Don, for such a fabulous accomplishment, and for not letting that huge setback stop you!

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Kathy! It’s so wonderful to discover “real-life” heroes like Don.

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Lindsay

If someone fictionalized that story, people would say “no, I don’t believe it.” But life is always more surprising than fiction and sometimes in a GOOD way.

“it’s an invitation to live your best life and never give up on your dreams, no matter what obstacles come your way.”

I really like your posts.

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Debra Eve

An amazing life. Whenever I want to make excuses, I think of Don. Thanks for stopping by, Lindsay!

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Wendy Krueger

Hi Debra:
I have enjoyed your blog since I discovered it. I think you have a very unique niche in the blogging world.

Sweet story and very impressive to be 92 and making a film.
-Wendy

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Wendy! I have the best “job” in the world.

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K.W. King

Another smashing blog entry. Just beautiful and so inspiring. Congratulations to Don Mittelstaedt and my thanks to him for being an amazing photographer and wonderful human being and proving that age is merely a number. And thanks to you, for bringing his story to us.

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Debra Eve

Thanks for stopping by, my dear. You’ve heard me talk about this wonderful fellow a million times.

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Don Mittelstaedt

Hi Debra…I am overwhelmed with all the fuss you are making about me, but I feel secretly honored by your blogs. I will share how the premier goes, including the vegetables if the audience doen’t like it…..Don

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Debra Eve

Don, you deserve every bit of fuss I make over you! Looking forward to hearing how it goes.

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Johnny Lewis

It is very impressive for a man of 92 to create his own films. His life was never boring, and at that age he doesn’t stop from learning. Thanks for sharing. This post is very heartwarming.

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Debra Eve

Hi Johnny, your comment went to spam, but you have a nice site :) Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the story.

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Alica

What an amazing story!

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Debra Eve

Isn’t it? I feel so honored to chronicle it. Thanks for stopping by, Alica!

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florence fois

This is a great wake-up call for any geezers who are thinking of giving up because they think they are too “old.” I’ve instructed my children that they now have my permission to use any four letter word they wish, but that three letter word is forbidden :) Great post, great story and yet another shinning example of “later” bloomers!

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Florence! Puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?

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Rob Monley

Here’s a trailer story for you. Way, way back in 1972 I went to work for Don in Langdon, North Dakota as one of his photographers. The government was building a missle defense system and Pan Am was doing the support services part and photographic coverage was one of the services. Don never talked much about his World War II service, just that he’d served in the Pacific and that he’d been through some tough action. He was a terrific boss and teacher. Three years later my wife and I moved to Arizona and I never heard from Don again……until about two years ago.
I remembered all of the war pictures he’d show me and I wondered if any of them ever made it to the Smithsonian, so I started to look for them on Google. It was at that time that I read a comment from a retirement village administrator about Don and his work! Don was still going strong in his 90’s. I called the administrator and got Don’s number and after almost forty years we reconnected. He remembered who I was and we have been in contact ever since.
Don Mittelstaedt is truely an American Hero and I had the honor and privilege to work for him.
Rob Monley
Cass Lake, Minnesota

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Debra Eve

Thanks so much for sharing that story, Ron. I’m so happy Don completed his WWII documentary. I’m not sure if Don and Mercedes have found distribution yet, but I hope they can get it to a wider audience.

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Kate MacNicol

What an inspirational post and what a fun inspirational blog. I’ve often sheepishly referred to myself as a late bloomer— but sheepish no more, you’ve made it cool!
Thanks!

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Debra Eve

You’re welcome, Kate! That’s exactly my purpose — to make late blooming cool and something everyone wants to aspire to.

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Karen McFarland

I am standing up and applauding Don!!!!!! Cheers to you for pressing on!

And you thought it was hard enough to take pictures during a war. That was before the computer! I think it was a conspiracy! You were hacked. I hate computers for this very reason. All that work lost. I wanted to throw up Debra.

And I just moved back to SoCal from Arizona. But I know the people are warm and friendly there so Don will get great support. Congratulations Don! And thank you Debra for sharing his story with us! :)

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Debra Eve

Thanks so much, Karen. I couldn’t believe that about the computer either, but I just knew they’d recover it. I just couldn’t believe the universe would let that happen to such a nice man!

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Debra Kristi

Absolutely fantastic! Congratulations on Don’s book. What a wonderful thing. I know many will be inspired by his story. You covered it so beautifully. You always do such an excellent job. Kudos, Debra and Don.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Debra! Don is truly a living hero.

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Marcy Mittelstaedt

Impressive. My father was Donald S. Mittelstaedt and my brother is Donald D Mittelstaedt. We all hail from Milbank, SD. Have you done any family history?

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Debra Eve

Marcy, Don’s an internet friend. I haven’t asked about his background. I wouldn’t think Mittelstaedt was a common surname though. If you’d like me to make an introduction to Don, email me at elle.b (at) laterbloomer.com and I’ll get in touch with him.

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Don Mittelstaedt

Well, Debra…The screening at the Ft. Huachuca theater went well…the comments were all enthusiastic and favorable…no one threw vegetables…people asked for autographs (unbelievable),..But the attendence was low!
The weather refused to cooperate. We had the worst storm of the season. Forty mph winds, driving rain and sleet. Many people who planned to attend were thwarted by the elements. The capacity of the theater is 400 and less than a fourth was occupied.
Not to worry. We have requests for other showings. So far no national exposure, but we now have to learn the marketing skills that are more important than producing.
Again, que sera sera! We will prevail. Thank all of you who are following Debra’s wonderful blog, and rooting for my success

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Debra Eve

Don, one hundred people to a documentary screening is still fantastic! Please let me know if you need help with marketing. I’ll do my best to get the word out!

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Don Mittelstaedt

Family history for Marcy Mittelstaedt; Wilhelm August Mittelstaedt immigrated with family in mid 1880s to Chicago Oak Park area, where he worked as a brick mason. The family moved west and started wheat farming in eastern Washington around 1900. The off-spring have scattered the globe, but many of the younger professionals are concentrated in the Seattle area.
My father, Emil, was born in 1885 and became a banker in a little Montana cattle town, smack out of “Gunsmoke”. We moved to Missoula in 1925, where I grew up, graduating from the University of Montana with a BA in Journalism, in time for WW2.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Don. Hopefully this will help folks searching out their family history!

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Bonnie Cline

Don, (Mittelstadt)
I don’t know if you will remember me but at the time I knew you I was Bonnie
Sevin. You moved to Houston, Texas, and I stayed in Westwood and finished graduate work at UCLA in 1950. I met Verne Cline, we married and settled in Denver, Colorado where he practiced law. Ten years later Verne’s company sold out.We moved to Sacramento, CA. where he practiced law with the state of Calif.At retirement we decided to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We lived in Santa Fe until Verne’s demise last summer. I now am back on Tiverton Ave in Westwood where I met you. I looked you up on the computer and thought it would be fun to contact you. If you are interested my E-mail is Bonnielee.Cline @gmail.com

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Debra Eve

Hey Bonnie, I forwarded your comment directly to Don. Hopefully you’ll hear from him shortly! Warmly, Debra

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Don Mittelstaedt

Thank you, Debra Eve, for reconnecting me with a long ago friend. Of course I remember Bonnie Sevin, a beautiful young lady I dated. I tried to win her heart.
We were two poor college students struggling to make ends meet, and follow the uncharted twists and turns down the road of life.
Obviously, she picked the right life partner with whom she spent more than 60 years. I am sorry for your loss, Bonnie, but you must have picked a “keeper” with husband Verne. Besides, I was a real son- of-a-gun after WW2. It took me about 10 years to mellow out.
Bonnie, I will remind you of one date…we must have sipped a bit of the grape…because we climbed the wall of a Westwood mansion and went skinny dipping in their pool, in the middle of the night! I don’t know how we suppressed our shrieks and giggles in that cold water, but we were not apprehended. We spent no time in the California penetentary for “swimming under the influencc”.
I won’t relate any other memories on this blog, but I am so thankful Debra Eve has made it possible to reconnect

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Debra Eve

Oh my gosh, Don, that’s precious! When you’re ready to write your memoir, just let me know. I stand by ready to assist :). And email that woman!

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Thom & Kathy Mansur

My husband and I had the great honor of meeting Mr. Mittelstaedt this morning as he was embarking on his Honor Flight from Tucson to Washington DC to visit the WWII Memorial. We were so taken with his stories: he is so unassuming about his great accomplishments! Still giving back after all these years – yet another WWII Hero that reminds us of why we need to thank these men and women who enabled us to have the freedoms we enjoy today. Can’t wait to see the documentary!

Kathy & Thom Mansur, Honor Flight Southern AZ volunteers

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Debra Eve

Thank you so much for letting me know. What an exciting adventure for Don! He is such a gifted storyteller. I’m encouraging him to write his memoir now :)

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