Col. Donald E. Nowland, USA, Retired
The following was written by Donald a few months before his passing on May 10, 2017.
Graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point on June 9, 1965 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering and a 2nd Lieutenant’s commission in the Artillery, I drove out Thayer Gate in my new corvette, the happiest man alive! My 4-year experience at West Point was the pivotal point in my life, having graduated from a small high school in northwest Michigan and entered West Point as a naïve, poorly prepared student and graduating from West Point’s prestigious institution 4 years later served me the rest of my life!
I was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 21, 1943. I was raised in Charlevoix, Michigan by Margaret Helen Nowland (home maker) and Raymond Joseph Nowland (US Federal Employee of the US fish hatchery service). They became the parents of my sister, Linda Ann, in 1945. Charlevoix is a beautiful small town on the northwest coast of the Michigan’s lower peninsula. It is located on the shores of Lake Michigan with many beautiful inland lakes.
My childhood was generally uneventful, except for the early age (8 years old) that I began to work at various jobs while going to school. In fact, I sold my lawn-mowing business to a couple of adults when I was 15 years old to work in a bakery and at a Chevrolet Car Dealership through high school. Studies came rather easily for me, but I wasn’t much of an athlete. I played some football and basketball, but my lack of size and other capabilities limited any further athletic accomplishments. We were a relatively poor family and no one in my family had attended college. Fortunately, I was introduced to the notion of applying to the US Military Academy at West Point by my High School Band Leader’s son when I was a sophomore.
I had no idea where West Point was, but I decided I would seek admission. After taking the prerequisite tests, I received an “alternate” appointment from my Congressman, Victor Knox. This meant I would be admitted only if an opening came available, as in those days a congressmen had only one appointment per year. Fortunately for me, a second appointment opened up when one of Congressman Knox’s previous appointees left the Academy early. This announcement came by telegram to my mother just before High School graduation, and we were all quite happy and proud.
I struggled during my four years, including three surgeries my plebe (Freshman) first year, contributing to academic problems and a “turn-out” (failure) in Math at the end of that year. I managed to pass the turn-out exam the day before we were to go home for summer leave.
In December 1963, during my third year, my parents were killed in an automobile accident while on their way to the funeral of my father’s sister. This meant that my sister, who survived the accident, and I became the last of the Nowland family with only distant aunts and uncles. A guardianship was arranged for my sister and I returned to West Point in mid- January, 1994, where I struggled to catch up with academics and coped with the shock of losing my parents.
Despite these unfortunate events, I will always cherish the many friends I made with classmates and others. Many of these classmates and upper classmen helped me with my studies. I was active in intramural sports, but didn’t break through on any varsity sports. I did have an interesting couple of weeks my plebe year trying out for the basketball team under coach Bobby Knight, then a 24-year-old Air Force officer.
I also had the opportunity to meet and hear speak many great Americans, including Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, Generals Bradley, MacArthur, Westmoreland, and so many other historical figures. I then reported to a Nike Hercules (Nuclear) Missile Battery outside of Detroit. The primary reason for this assignment was the requirement for me to reside in Michigan during time I was the guardian of my sister, having assumed that responsibility while she attended college.
While West Point gave me the foundation for the Army, what I learned from the officers, NCOs, and troops in that small Nike battery prepared me for what became a 23-year successful Army career. I also met and married my first wife, Marilyn Pernar, while stationed there.
In March, 1967 I was deployed to Vietnam as a replacement officer in a Field Artillery Battery in the Central Highlands. I replaced a Lieutenant Forward Observer in a 1st Cavalry unit, who had been killed the previous week. Having had little field artillery training, I was soon on a very steep learning curve. My map reading skills really paid off in a hurry. After about two months as a ground and aerial forward observer, I was reassigned an Executive Officer of a 105mm howitzer battery and later a Battery Commander, commanding 100+ soldiers.
My 13 months in Vietnam was a maturing process as I went from a 23-year-old new 1st Lieutenant to a 24-year-old Captain, leading men in combat operations. My proudest accomplishment was that all of my solders came home alive, however, many of us lived with the scourge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the rest of our lives!
While in Vietnam, our first son, Donald Raymond, was born.
Just before returning home from Vietnam in April 1968, I was given the opportunity to select Air Defense or Field Artillery, as the existing Artillery Branch was separating. I chose Air Defense Artillery (ADA) since they also offered highly sought technical training and a potential Graduate School opportunity.
After several months at Ft Bliss in the training course, I was assigned to the ADA Command in Colorado Springs, CO. While stationed in Colorado, our twin sons, Robb Evan and Kevin Eric were born at the Air Force Academy hospital.
In early 1970, the Army sent me to graduate school at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), TX to pursue a Master of Science in Physics. This was a one-year course connected to the earlier technical training I had received at Ft Bliss after Vietnam. Due to my low Physics grades at West Point, I was put on a probationary status; my UTEP grades had to be maintained at a high level or I would be “flunked out” with a black mark on my career.
After successfully completing my MS in Physics in May 1971, I was assigned to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (then Lawrence Radiation Laboratory) in Livermore, CA. It was then primarily a nuclear weapons design lab, and I became a nuclear effects scientist in a small highly specialized group.
While at Livermore, I worked with and met many pioneers of the atomic and nuclear age, including the famous Dr. Edward Teller (father of the hydrogen bomb). During my second year at Livermore, I traveled extensively interviewing senior and retired nuclear experts while researching a book I authored on the History of Nuclear Air Defense, published by the Laboratory in 1973. Our fourth son, Kerby Martin, was born while we were at Livermore.
Leaving Livermore in 1973, the Army sent me on one year-long, unaccompanied tour as a Chaparral Air Defense Missile Battery Commander in the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. This was a difficult assignment as the Army was still in the throes of the Vietnam War and the final years of the draft. Drugs and racial tension in the units resulted in a most challenging command environment; I spent countless hours counseling troubled soldiers.
I also encountered a defining moment in addressing integrity of command. I was challenged by a senior officer to “stretch the truth” about reporting soldier response to a voluntary fund drive. The edict was that 100% of all soldiers would voluntarily contribute; yet I knew that such complete participation would be impossible and reported that I expected no better than 80-90%. My senior officer said that was unsatisfactory. Therefore, I announced that I was relieving myself of command. The career consequence of such an action would be fatal, but I couldn’t forfeit my integrity and conscience. Fortunately, the incident reached the Division Commanding General, and I was offered an apology and accepted reinstatement in command a week later. But I never forgot the lesson; you are only as good as your willingness to stand on integrity and principle.
During my year in Korea’s 2nd Division, I had my first opportunity to work with (then) Lieutenant Colonel Colin Powell who commanded an Infantry Battalion; I was his air defense officer. Later, while stationed in the Pentagon in the late 1970s, I worked with him as we were both Military Assistants to senior civilians. Finally, while commanding my air defense brigade in the late 1980’s, I was once again his air defense officer as he commanded the 5th Corps in Germany. I drew much character inspiration from him.
While in Korea, a very wonderful and rewarding event occurred. Determined to find a baby girl to add to our family, I set out to support a number of local orphanages. Halfway through the year, I was approached by the Division Chaplain asking whether I would be interested in meeting a baby girl and her mother in the local village of Tongduchon. The mother was a prostitute who had the baby with a US soldier of Philippine heritage. I instantly fell in love the baby whose name was Uchidi.
Working with a local Canadian Missionary and the US Embassy in Seoul, I was finally able to adopt and take custody with a month to go in my tour. I was living in a small Quonset hut on base with three other Captains (all bachelors); and we convinced our boss, the Battalion Commander, to allow one of us to stay at the hut each day to take care of the baby, who I had renamed Kara Myong (meaning beautiful baby). Finally, in June of 1974, with Kara Myong on my back, papoose style, we set out for the airport and the long flight back home.
My next assignment was to the US Army Command and General Staff College (C&GSC) at Ft Leavenworth, KS for a year of military studies. Notwithstanding being cramped in a very small 3-bedroom bungalow on post (five children seven years and under), it was a great time with West Point classmates and many friends from numerous Army assignments (mostly coming from and going to Vietnam).
In June of 1975, I was assigned to an Army staff position in the Pentagon. I had just been promoted to Major, so once again I was the “low man on the totem pole.” Although work hours were long, I loved my job in the Army’s research and development office and within a year I was selected to be a Military Assistant to the civilian Secretary of the Army. These were unsettled political times during Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, Ford’s presidency, and the election of Jimmy Carter; watching the transition from Republican to Democrat administrations seemed like earning a PhD in Political Science.
Between 1976 and 1978, I worked for two Secretaries of the Army, Martin Hoffman (who first selected me) and Clifford Alexander (who was appointed by President Carter). I had the opportunity to meet many well-known government and industry officials, including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, on his first tour as Secretary of Defense. And, the other Military Assistant during the Hoffman time, the great Army football “lonesome end,” Bill Carpenter, then a Lieutenant Colonel; later a Lieutenant General.
While working for Secretary Alexander, I had the opportunity to work with Janet Hill, wife of Calvin Hill (then a halfback for the Washington Redskins) and mother of Grant Hill (later a great pro basketball player). We entertained the Hill’s and many of Calvin’s Redskin teammates. As with the Republican administration, I met and briefed many Carter officials, including Vice President Mondale.
By the winter of 1978, I was ready to get back to the field and troop units. In February, I was assigned as the S3 Operations Officer of the 10the Air Defense Group in Darmstadt, West Germany. I served in this position and at the higher headquarters, 32nd Air Defense Command, until June of 1981 when I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took command of the 2nd Battalion, 62nd Air Defense Artillery on Spangdahlem Air Force Base in the West German Eifel Mountain region near the Belgium border and north of Trier. I commanded this Hawk Missile Battalion for three years, before being selected for the Army War College and the rank of Colonel.
In addition to the honor of commanding the men and women of the battalion, I had the privilege of meeting and working with the French Army Corps headquartered in Trier. After commanding the battalion, I was selected for the Army War College (1984-1985).
For my War College year, I was detailed to Ft Leavenworth, KS as part of a five-man team (including Tim Timmerman, a fellow ’65 Classmate) to help write the Army’s new Operations Manual on AirLand Battle, an emerging operational doctrine designed to take advantage of joint Army Air and Land Forces, combined with Air Force power. This assignment was very enjoyable, living on base, walking to work, and teaching some classes, as well as professional writing; and socializing with many West Point classmates and Army friends.
During this time, Marilyn and I were divorced, and she settled in Michigan northwest of Detroit with the children. This was a hard time, especially for the children with their father being stationed far away in Germany.
In 1982, Maria Strohl Lipsker, a German citizen, and I were married in Nykobing, Denmark. During the War College – Leavenworth year, Maria’s mother became very ill while living in a small German Bavarian village. We returned to Germany on emergency leave, and the Army permitted me to finish out my War College year while staying with and caring for Maria’s mother.
After the War College, the Army also granted my request to assign me back to Germany at the US Army Europe (USAEUR) Headquarters in Heidelberg as a Department Head in the G3 Operations office. While at USAEUR, I was selected for Brigade Command in the grade of Colonel. In January 1987 I took command of the 10th ADA Brigade in Darmstadt, West Germany. My four battalions, spread throughout the central region of West Germany, contained a mix of Hawk and Patriot air defense missile systems.
This command concluded my Army career when I decided to retire in January1989. On one hand it was a difficult decision as I loved the military, but on the other hand at the young age of 45 I was interested in a new beginning outside the military. For some this was an illogical decision, but I had always been a private person and wanted to see what else was “out there.”
As with other retiring military officers, I accrued numerous below the zone promotions and awards, of which I’m proud.
In retirement, I had been pursued by Rand Corporation and offered the chance to obtain a Doctorate in Physics, so that was my first choice as I left the Army. But, as an experienced air defense officer with Hawk, Patriot, and command and control (C2) experience, Raytheon Company near Boston, MA offered me an excellent opportunity. So, I retired from the Army and reported to Raytheon on the first day of February 1989. Maria and I settled on a five-acre property in Hollis, NH.
My early years at Raytheon were spent in its Missile Systems Division, the primary business being the manufacturing and sales of Hawk and Patriot missile systems. My first 3+ years in Raytheon were spent primarily working on the command and control of air defense systems and supporting various program managers involved with Hawk and Patriot missile systems in the field. Accordingly, I traveled extensively, mostly in Europe and the Middle East.
In the spring of 1992, Raytheon sent me to Brazil to investigate a potential business opportunity to build a space-based observation system, and communications and air traffic control within the Amazon Region. Four international teams competed for this program – Raytheon and UNISYS from the US – Thompson CSF (now Thales) from France – and a German-Italian team. Raytheon and Thompson won down-select positions and submitted final bids. In 1994, we won this $1.4B contract.
I developed close relationships with key ministries in the Brazilian government; led a joint US-Brazilian engineering & program management team in developing the SIVAM (System for the Vigilance of the Amazon) concept and system requirements; negotiated teaming agreements for the Raytheon-led US team; and coordinated all program activities that led to the winning proposal, including international financing required by Brazil. At that time, the US Export-Import Bank and various other government financing sources were not open for soverign loans to Brazil.
Thereafter, I continued to work at Raytheon, mostly as a teacher-mentor to Capture Managers throughout the company.
It was in this timeframe, that we lost our twin boys, Robb and Kevin. First, Robb was killed in a motorcycle accident while riding with Kevin. Two years later, Kevin committed sucicide – he just never got over the loss of his brother – they were inseparable in life and now inseparable in death. This was a extremely tragic period in my life, as it was for their mother, Marilyn.
It was also during this time that Maria and I divorced, and I moved to Marblehead, MA, north of Boston. Finding my way to Marblehead was another adventure in my life. Marblehead, founded in 1629, is one of the oldest colonial-era fishing villages in the United States.
I knew only one person in Marblehead, a Raytheon colleage, but in 1993 I met Davita Berkley, who was working as a software sales rep but had a real talent for the arts. We were married on New Years Eve, 1994. In 1995, Davita established Nauticals of Marblehead as the designer and producer of nautical-themed wood furniture and gifts; it continues today as a creative and viable business venture.
A life-long sailor and boating enthusiast, Davita introduced to me “her world” of boating and friends. Virtually all of Davita’s friends, mostly professional women, were sailboat racers, so I joined in as a novice sailor and social participant. In 1999, we joined the Boston Yacht Club (BYC) which is next to our condo home on Marblehead Harbor. The BYC is the 2nd oldest yacht club in the US (after the New York Yacht Club, located in Newport, RI), and the 3rd oldest in North America (after the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron) located in Halifax, Canada.
In the late 1990’s, we became partners in the Landing Pub and Resturant on the Marblehead Harbor. We also became owners of our first boats, a 16 ft ocean fishing dory, followed by a sailing dingy and an inflatable motorized dingy, and a 23 ft Sea Sprite sailboat. About 2012, we purchased a 22 ft overnight cabin crusier (now in Florida near our winter season condo) to be followed in 2014 by a 26 ft Back Cove (larger cabin crusier docked here in Marblehead Harbor).
Since the 1990’s, I have been interested in writing poetry and have written a number of poems for family and charity events. Many of my speeches and poems have been emotionally connected to military history and tradition. See footenotes below:
We have helped out with charities and assisted many young people leaving college and looking to enter the professional workplace. I have voluntered for other positions, most notably 16 years as a Trustee for our Condo Association.
In early 2008, I started to lose weight and suffer abdominal pain. After a series of tests at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I was diganosed in January 2009 with Carcinoid Syndrome, a slow-growing cancer involving the spread of neroendocrine tumors throughout my upper torso. This cancer is not curable, but with treatment its growth could be manageable for some interminable years. After 7 years of treatments and clinical trials, the cancer began to agressively grow with associated weight loss and abdominal pain. I am now at the point of a limited life expectency (4-6 months), but we are opimistic that we may have some more time.
I have asked that no memorial services be conducted after my death. I will be cremated and my ashes will be spread at sea off our coast. There is no obligation to make charitible contributions. If someone wants to make a contibution, they may send it to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. If Davita decides to conduct a “Celebration of Life” ceremony sometime later, she will notify family, friends, West Point Classmates, and from other points on the compass. If someone wants to contact Davita, they may do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org or mailing address: 24 Lee St, Unit D-4, Marblehead, MA 01945.
My surviving children are Donnie, Kara Myong, and Kerby. Donnie is a mechanical engineer and General Manager of a successful automobile parts and supply operation in the Detroit automobile industry.
Kara Myong is a chemical enginner, married to another chemical enginer. They own a successful environmetical engineering and techical services company near Detroit. They have two children, one of which they adopted from Korea at the age of 1 yr, and their biological son. Their daughter is now 12 yrs old and their son is 16 yrs old.
Kerby, the youngest, is a very talented youg man and a house restoreor and all around handy man living in Kallamazoo, MI.
So this has been my life – some twists and turns – ups and downs – but a truly remarkable journey!
Don Nowland, August 2016
Footnotes – See Nowland speech and poem extracts below:
Extract from my poem on history of Marblehead, Massachusetts – Ghosts of Marblehead
With ships and fortunes all lost,
Due to sacrifice and war’s high cost,
Marblehead’s ghosts began to form,
In eve’s dusk and early morn,
Keeping spirit alive,
Helping those who follow to survive,
And maybe someday I too will find,
A place with them, this ghost of mine.
Extract from my 2010 Memorial Day speech on meaning of Taps:
Thoughts on Taps
As the bugler plays those melancholy notes of Taps,
Ask yourself what you hear and what you feel,
The loss of a loved one, a loss long ago?
Or of our flag, our nation, our freedom?
Of our servicemen and women, here and gone?
Of love and respect, our families, and friends?
As I hear the haunting, yet peaceful sounds of Taps,
I think of all those who’ve lost their lives,
So that we might be here to honor them,
Knowing that I too shall pass,
And join my comrades in arms,
So that we together from our graves,
Will hear that echoing call as we sleep.
Thank you and God Bless America …
Extracts from my 2015 Memorial Day speech:
Today, I want to talk briefly with you about the “coming home” legacy of the Vietnam War.
The “coming home” of those fallen in battle was overwhelmingly tragic … but the “coming home” of so many others were tragic in many other ways. They came home to a deeply divided country … led by political leaders … who had failed to provide the conditions for success on the battlefield … and who lacked the political courage to negotiate a truly honorable peace.
Moreover … a very large number of our returning Vietnam vets only “partially came home.” Many came home with what we now understand to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD … we soldiers thought the symptoms were those of “shell shock” … characterized in previous wars as a “weakness” … even cowardness in the face of battle. We were hesitant to seek help … and there was little help had we sought it.
In conclusion … forgive me if I sound emotional … because I … to this day … struggle with this “condition” – PTSD.
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