My grandfather, Don Donn, has led an exciting life. Don can speak eleven languages. He learned all about the world in the Navy. His family had very little money and his whole world was so small growing up that he decided to stay in the Navy after being drafted for Vietnam. He chose this path so he could have a new life and see the world.
His childhood was spent in Detroit, Michigan, where he was born on October 20, 1953. Don had two sisters, Dawn and Donna. His family was extremely close. Every Sunday after church the whole family would all gather at Grandma Bow’s house for Sunday dinner. Grandma Bow’s eleven children, Don’s aunts and uncles, plus all the cousins, about 50 people in all, were there every Sunday. He had a massive family.
Don’s family did not have much money. His father worked at whatever job he could find. He worked as a maintenance man in a hospital, waiter, dishwasher, salesmen for Hoover vacuums, and lawn maintenance man. His mother stayed at home with the children.
He had many cultural influences in his tough Detroit neighborhood. He lived across the street from a huge park about four miles long and a half-mile wide with a creek running down the middle. Their house was on the only gravel road in the city of Detroit. Detroit was mighty rough. Michigan had many types of gangs. They seemed to be everywhere and many young people were lured in to a life of crime. The huge park near his house attracted lots of kids. It was safer in their neighborhood and most of the kids on his street never joined gangs.
There were many German influences in his home. His dad spoke German when he was mad, but his dad wanted to be like everybody else in the neighborhood so he did not let the neighbors hear. He ate many types of German food including sauerkraut , schnitzel, all kinds of sausage, and German kuchen. They also had traditional German dishes of veal and rabbit for Sunday dinner.
Don did not always enjoy school. “School was dull, but sports were fun. In elementary school I was a very good student, mostly A’s.” However, in Junior High and High School he became an average student earning B’s and C’s. He felt like there were too many other activities, particularly sports and clubs. Don enjoyed high school and played hockey and baseball and ran cross-country. He was in the Drama Club for a year and the Computer Club for a several years. He also belonged to a couple of outside clubs. He played American Legion Baseball, and down at the YMCA, he was part of the boxing program.
When he turned 18, the United States was still fighting in Vietnam. The Vietnam War changed everything for Don. He had been awarded a National Merit Scholarship and a hockey scholarship from Michigan Tech University, but he could not use them because he was drafted. Being drafted means one must go to war even if one does not want to go. He did not like the idea of going to war, but he was forced to go. His draft number came up and he was going to be drafted into the Army. He did not want to join the Army and go to Vietnam. Instead, he joined the Navy. He still was sent to Vietnam. Don is unwilling to speak about his time in the Vietnam War.
The next decade was spent in the Navy, and he had the opportunity to live all over the world. He went to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, was sent to school in Florida to be a torpedo man and then was sent to Vietnam as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal EOD. He went back to Florida for more school, then on to Charleston, South Carolina. Next, he traveled to Japan, Virginia, San Diego, California, Honolulu Hawaii and Guam. During his time in the Navy he moved a great deal. He met his future wife Lin at a Dairy Queen in Maryland. They had two children in the next few years. Their son Doug is 29 and a professional diver. Their daughter Loren owns her own business and has two children.
He decided to leave the Navy after ten years because of family issues. His wife missed him when he was out on his world adventures with the Navy. He moved to Goodyear, Arizona, where he worked at a nuclear power plant. He became bored with this job and joined the Navy again, this time as an Intelligence Collection Agent. He actually worked for the National Security Agency (NSA), but the Navy wrote his paycheck. “NSA was the adventure of a lifetime!” he declares.
The Navy let Don use all of his language skills. His job in the Navy and then in NSA was learning languages. He was an Interpreter for the NSA. He learned how to speak eleven languages in the Navy. Don can speak English, Italian, Spanish, German, Farsi, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Armenian and Berber. Don stayed in the Navy for over 26 years until he retired in 1998.
After the Navy Don went to Towson University in Maryland and earned a degree in teaching. He loved teaching. He would arise each morning and say to himself, "Wow, I get to go in and teach, and they pay me for it, too.” After fourteen years, Don continues to teach high school social studies.
Don led a fascinating life after leaving Detroit. He used his intelligence to learn how to speak with half the world while in the Navy. When he retires from teaching, he plans to travel the world again using his language to engage other cultures. Instead of traveling with the Navy, this time he plans to travel by cruise ship.