One hero's story: from dusty road to dusty road


From: James Puz

We first met in 1983 at the pharmacy. With his rank, the address on the prescription, showed we lived only a few streets apart.

Noticing that, we struck up a brief conversation and he said he had served on submarines in WWII. That explained the unusual name on the ranch fence in front of his home.

Not long after, he invited my wife and I to his home where we were treated to freshly sliced tomatoes, just picked from his garden, seasoned with salt and pepper. We washed them down with whiskey and water. It was a wonderful meal!

With a faint smile, he said he was in Arizona because he had always wanted to retire there. His naval career had begun in 1923. A man had driven down a dusty road in a rickety old Model T, stopped where the young Texan was toiling in a field, and told him he was going to Annapolis.

His yard, running along a dusty road, could be likened to Paradise with no stretch of the imagination. Several truckloads of rich topsoil had provided everything needed for fruit trees, a country club-like lawn plus colorful and lush gardens, expertly maintained by a service. A Lincoln was parked in the drive. The double-wide mobile home he shared with his wife of 53 years was modest but comfortable. On a den wall was a panoramic photo of the sub pens at Pearl Harbor with him standing casually with CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet) himself, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. A satellite dish, the current novelty, stood in a corner of the park-like yard; the man of the house enjoyed television programs in languages he didn’t even understand. He was indeed a man of simple pleasures.

Everyday the American flag ruffled in the Arizona breeze from a flagpole that stood at the entrance of the area’s own Garden of Eden. Dutifully, the flag was brought in every evening.

With thinning hair and sporting a stylish grey mustache, he was of slight stature, the norm for a submariner of WWII. Since retiring in 1967, he’d kept fit but his feet hurt. He was affable, with the presence of a banker or successful businessman but he dressed in grey jeans, sports shirts and Velcro sneakers. He spoke, not with a drawl, but with the soft, pleasant accent of a Southern gentleman.

As to his feet, they’d been looked at for years but to no avail. My wife recommended the purchase of an expensive pair of sneakers. The suggestion was heeded and the problem resolved. Since he was not too proud to accept advice, Adidas had a new customer.

Forty years of service had given our neighbor, a man from dirt-poor, humble beginnings, a unique set of values. He reasoned it was wrong that the military’s civilian employees didn’t have access to the PX or commissary. He felt he didn’t deserve the special parking spaces set aside for officers of his rank. The MPs had mildly ‘reprimanded’ him, saying that if he used a regular space, he would in fact be taking up two spaces since only a privileged few could use the reserved ones. Reluctantly, he conceded. At the pharmacy, he was always courteous with a “Thank you, sir.” He called me, a civilian, “sir.” His show of respect was that of an officer and a gentleman.

Vice Admiral Glynn R. Donaho, USN (Ret.), died May 26, 1986. If you’d met the master of Dolphin’s Cove on the street, you’d have never guessed he was a hero. Not until after his death did we learn of his exploits: four Navy Crosses (our nation’s second highest decoration) on five war patrols, one of which was earned when he and his crew single-handedly attacked a heavily protected battleship. The admiral had also earned two Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars.

The admiral was private, honest and humble. His illustrious career had begun while he was toiling beside a dry, dusty road... it had concluded with him living comfortably beside a dry, dusty road.

Admiral Donaho had requested cremation, his ashes dispersed over the Pacific Ocean off the fantail of a United States nuclear submarine. His ashes joined the remains and spirit of those lost when 52 submarines failed to return from their war patrols during WWII. Veterans of the Silent Service say submariners are never lost at sea but are forever entombed... they are on “Eternal Patrol.”


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