My grandfather, Don Donnel, 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.
childhood was spent in Detroit, Michigan, where he was born on
October 20, 1953. Don had two sisters, Debbie and Delores. 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.
family did not have
much money. His
father worked at whatever job he could find. He has 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.
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. Outside of his
street it was all big cities. Detroit was mighty rough. It had
many types of gangs. They seemed to be everywhere and caused
problems. The park was safer 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 every 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.
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.
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
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.
next decade was spent in the Navy, and he had the opportunity to
live all over the world. He did 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.
his time in the Navy he moved a great deal. He met Grandma Lin at a
Dairy Queen in Maryland. They have two children. 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 life
time!” he declares.
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 NSA.
He learned how to speak eleven languages in the Navy. Grandpa Donnel
stayed in the Navy for over 26 years until he retired.
the Navy Grandpa Donnel 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.
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
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