was born in Boston on July
16th, 1923 to an Irish father and a Belgian mother, Katherine Bogart
Donlon. His sister Jeanne was born 2 years later. Bill received his
early schooling in parochial schools and, while a good student, received
his normal share of raps on the knuckles with a ruler for misbehavior.
His Uncle warned him one year shortly before
Christmas that if he did not behave Santa Claus would leave him a lump
of coal in his stocking. And, true to his word Santa Claus did indeed
leave nothing but a lump of coal in his stocking. Virtue did prevail,
however, when one day his impish twin boy cousins informed him that free
samples of chocolate were to be had simply for the taking. All one had
to do was follow the man dispensing at a safe distance. Young Bill
declined and was spared, I am sure you have already guessed, the
consequences of the newly introduced EX-LAX.
Bill's father was in the insurance business and
they moved for a few years to St Louis, Missouri. The picture you see of
fisherman Bill shows him proudly holding the groups combined catch of
the day and the only caption one can think of is: "Guess what's for
dinner Mom!". But his parents missed Boston and their families and
returned a few years later. Bill's mother was a wonderful homemaker.
Everything should be perfect. Her Christmas trees were lovely and
always, the glowing 3-candles of Boston tradition shown in each window.
So it was on to Boston University and settling in
until Pearl Harbor changed his and our lives forever. Bill immediately
quit and enlisted on November 16, 1942 reporting to Active Duty February
1943 at Fort Devans, Mass. North Africa was their destination, a harsh
introduction of blowing sand and bleakness. Bill celebrated his 18th
birthday there. His only Thanksgiving meal was unforgettable in that the
turkey had been too long enroute with dire consequences.
The war zone suddenly shifted for his unit and
they were transported to what is in the records called the "Naples-foggia
and rome-arno campaign in the Mediterranean Theater. Cold, unrelenting
rain fell for week after week. The men could only huddle in their sodden
trenches - not even a change of clothing for a month. Trench foot and
other miseries were inevitable.
There is a blank in his recounting of their
capture and imprisonment by the Germans. His family received the news'
that their only son was Missing in Action for, I believe 15 months. The
first wonderful news that he was alive was delivered by a letter from a
patriotic young English lady who monitored the short wave radio. She
jotted down their names and sent on to the grateful families. Prisoner
though he was, Bill diligently applied himself towards making things
difficult for his captors. Soon the great mounds of potatoes (their
principal source of food as supplies dwindled) began to rot and
collapse. More intense scrutiny was directed towards Bill.
He had other, smaller unpleasantness. Awaking one
night to a strange sensation, he realized that the movement he felt on
his chest was that of a large and hungry rat! But he had far graver
problems. The firing squad was imminent when the forces of the United
States rolled in blessed deliverance! Bill was shipped home and had to
remain hospitalized for many months suffering malnutrition and numerous
ailments incurred in prison. Thankfully he finally recovered and
reentered Boston University majoring in Business Administration. He
developed several outside interests. One document in his study states:
"This is to certify that William E. Donlon has earned the right to wear
the CREW 1945". Every time I see pictures of young men rowing on the
tranquil Charles River I can imagine young Bill doing the same.
His greatest joy was taking up skiing and trips to
Stowe, Vermont. Conjure up the Christmas scenes we all love pristine
little villages, crystalline snow all true; By contrast, on other
weekends Bill would catch the train to Harlem, where jazz was king; that
was when he started collecting his many records of all the emerging
greats of that era.
He joined the ROTC (the Reserve Officers Training
Corps) later being elected president of the Scabbard and Blade Society.
Bill was pleased to graduate Cum Laude although later he said he should
have tried a little harder and earned a Magna Cum Laude. After his
ordeal - Cum Laude was just Fine! Upon graduation Bill was offered a
Regular Commission in the United States Air Force. His decision to
accept was based partly on his permanent dislike of being cold skiing
Las Vegas AF Base was his first assignment coming
up from Randolph Field, Texas working for the Provost Marshall. Noting
that his young 2nd lieutenant knew no one, he introduced Lillian/Terry,
his newly hired legal secretary, to Bill and announced that City Hall
was having a big Valentines Day event with no less than Frankie Lane
and band. On December 31 the) happy couple were married and soon Bill
was transferred for his first of 3 tours at the Pentagon. His assignment
was with Latin American Affairs and he did background papers for
President Eisenhower. Four years later his expertise led to the coveted
assignment to JBUSMIC (one of those infernal jumbles of letters that
stand for Joint Brazil United States Military Command - I think).
The appointed officers were given 6 months of
concentrated Portuguese language at the State Department School of
Languages. Strange indeed were the fractured pronunciations of this
fascinating language. The wives were given a 6 week course and needed
every minute. It was the era of the Ugly American. All of our group
strove to represent our Country in the best light. But one often
wonders; for the dozen good people it only takes one bad person to
negate their image. Bill was assigned to dealing with Customs and his
ability to speak Portuguese was invaluable. The people learned quickly
that Bill was a man of his word "un pessoa de confianca" they called
him A Person of Confidence who could not be bought nor sold.
Part of his duties involved traveling to every
country in South America. Anyone who has ever had to make the flight on
the reliable Gooney Bird (a C47) will understand. Returning from Chile
they had to fly between the Andes Mountains, not over them. The crew had
to pray that the fog mists did not close in once the final turn had been
made. The most dangerous trip occurred over the Amazon jungle. The same
Gooney Bird lost an engine and the trees beneath loomed bigger and
bigger. Bill was the escort to the Brazilian general and his staff.
There were many pale, sweating faces on that plane. Thankfully a tiny
village appeared ahead with a landing strip and they made it in. It was
Bill's fellow officer who told me that the only cool person aboard was
Donlon who strolled down the aisle combing his hair and cracking jokes
while others mopped their faces.
To Bill's delight he was able to afford and join
the Sociedad Ipica Brasileira (the exclusive riding club and stables).
It was only a short distance from the Botanical Gardens and our house
nearby, where he would stop off from the city and ride his wonderful
horse from Argentina, which was the tallest in Buenos Aires 17 hands
as they designate. Bill delighted in commencing training in Dressage
with the intricate steps we all admire, as well as taking the low to
Our most unforgettable trip was the flight into
the interior of Brazil into what is called the Gran Pantanal, the vast
area that is flooded part of the year. The fazenda (like a large
hacienda in Spanish) skirts this flooded area and the Picari River
swarmed with piranha and jacaree their word for alligators thousands
of them lining every inlet. Bill caught an 8 inch piranha, stabbed it
and tossed it on the floor of the boat. As it lay there he placed a
large spent cartridge between its serrated teeth. It neatly bit the
Three years of fascinating tropical life passed
and a 2nd assignment to the Pentagon. One of those severe winters
occurred to which they make mention this year with snow and icy streets
that refused to melt. Bill, with his Bostonian expertise was one of the
few who negotiated the streets safely.
Next assignment to the Canal Zone. This was true
tropical living. No central air conditioning - just louvers. But ask
Madeleine and Spence Creider who had honeymooned there when it was even
worse. Son Rick and his friends had all sorts of events to keep them
busy, though not always out of mischief. The military provided many golf
courses at nominal cost and that is where we both started playing. What
could be more pleasant than to meet your husband after work, get in 9
holes before the abrupt tropical sunsets, then enjoy an open air
restaurant under the stars.
The third and final tour at the Pentagon was just
with the two of us. Son Rick had joined the Air Force and was sent to
Syracuse University to study the Russian language. Later he was sent to
monitor the same in Turkey and one of the Aleutian Islands.
During this third tour Bill was promoted to Lt
Colonel. But fate intervened. One of his officer friends who had also
been assigned to Panama put in a highly complementary word to a vice
president of Corn Products, later to be titled CPC International, a
conglomerate we recognize as Best Foods, Skippy, Argo etc, etc.
With regrets yet anticipation Bill resigned and we
moved to New York City to headquarters on 5th Avenue and across to New
Jersey when the company built its new and larger structure overlooking
the Hudson River. We had just settled in our pretty colonial 2 story
home in the beautiful hilly part of New Jersey with the garden showing
off when the word came; they needed Bill to take over an important
position in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Goodbye lovely home, farewell to
our pet squirrels, chickadees and chipmunk who visited us every morning
for his breakfast from Bill's hand.
We had to live for months at the Plaza Hotel in
downtown Buenos Aires. Bill was soon visiting distant cities. He
encountered real gauchos with their colorful attire and true horsemen of
The most memorable event was our invitation from a
company officer who invited us to his Estancia in the country for the
weekend. Bill was invited to ride any of his horses while I admired the
lady of the house who donned her proper riding attire and proceeded to
play a round of polo on their own field. Bill and I agreed it was like
living the part in the movies of glamorous Argentina in its heyday
golden wheat fields against azure blue skies, herds of cattle, the white
stallion guarding his harem, and a proper English tea.
Then, quite out of nowhere, Bill experienced
strange symptoms that later proved to be hyperthyroidism. Good treatment
in the United States corrected the problem. We had left Argentina just
as more troubles were brewing. Bill loved our time on Marco Island,
Florida. I did too except for the incessant mugginess of summer that
air/conditioning could not quite overcome. What pleasure it was to have
a Jack Nicholas and a Perry Como teeing off only feet from your back
When I finally had to tell Bill that as much as I
enjoyed our life on the Island, that I had always gone anywhere he went,
at this time in my life my mother was growing old and needed me. Not
once did he object though I knew he loved his life there. We packed,
drove cross country through tornado warnings and ugly skies and wrong
roads through the Anza Borrego desert (they had looked so direct on the
But we had the good fortune to find Stoneridge and
the wonderful people whom we have known all these years. His last
illness was a grave one. He bore it bravely as he did every challenge in
life. We were able to be together every day to the very last.
While searching for needed I.D. cards in his
wallet a small wrinkled piece of paper lay in the very last opening.
Unfolding it carefully for it is so fragile, and with the help of a
magnifying glass appeared these words: "Last full measure of devotion,
Success to the Brave, With Dedication". To the side carefully printed
is a list of what I now realize are those of his fallen companions. He
has honored them in silence all these years. Now I put his named on this
hallowed list to join his fellow soldiers. May the Lord hold him in his
tender care and may they all dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
by Terry Donlon