Deceased February 26, 2015

View alumni profile (log in required)
Read obituary
50th Reunion Book Entry


In Memory

One of our quiet World War II warriors, Don passed away Feb. 26 after a remarkable life in the field of aviation. Born in Montreal, raised in Brooklyn, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a teenage pilot and was assigned to the RAF, where he flew fighters before transitioning to the USAAF.

Then came Amherst and Phi Delt; he joined the reserves at Westover AFB as a flight instructor. In 1950, he was recalled for the Korean War, continuing what became a 32-year military career leading to combat missions in the Vietnam War, his third.

Prior to Korea, he married Helen, his wife of 64 years, and was blessed with two daughters, one of whom predeceased him. He flew the first supersonic jet, did 100 missions, became involved with weapons research and was selected to attend the George Washington University School of Business, where he earned his M.B.A. in 1961.

Don flew or tested 55 different aircraft types. In combat, he used 16 diverse weapon systems. He was highly decorated by both the United States and Britain. He was sent to Panama during the 1965 riots, but Vietnam heated up, and he was reassigned to Saigon. Permitted to drive back to the United States via the new Pan-America Highway, he contacted Jim Bandeen ’49, who shipped him a new Chevy wagon for the wild ride. His experiences in Vietnam were full and varied, highlighted by a week of R&R in Tokyo, where he had Helen flown over.

His final assignment was commander, Tyndall AFB, and vice commander, Air Defense Weapon Center. He then became involved in activities in Panama City, Fla.—real estate, chamber of commerce and his church. He was a distinguished president of Rotary and helped set up the comprehensive health system for northwest Florida. Don filled every day with worthwhile endeavors. A most enterprising ’49-er.

Gerry Reilly ’49

50th Reunion

I returned to the world of Research, Test, & Development, helping develop tactics for the new rocket firing radar equipped F-86D interceptors. Alternating headquarters and test program assignments followed. Selected to attend George Washington University's School of Business, I graduated Class of '61 with an MBA, assigned to the Air Staff to work in weapon system development and acquisition.

The Panama Riots erupted in 1965. I was assigned overseas again, this time with family (now two girls), to serve on USSOUTCHOM's Joint Staff. In spite of sporadic rioting, it was a great family tour. Checked out in the DC-6 (one of the CINC's pilots), and flew throughout South and Central America. Best described as "barnstorming" in a four engine transport! Visited Peru and Bolivia with the family...trains, boats, and people at 14,000 feet, plus an overnight 1902 steamer trip! Unique experience for the girls.

Vietnam started heating-up in 1968...TET Offensive. Reassigned to Saignon I got special permission to first drive the family home via the "Pan-American Highway." Jim Bandeen (our Chevy Dealer classmate) and I had special configured and ordered a '65 Chev Impala Wagnon for such a trip. It had been shipped to me in Panama and was the main reason we made it. The "highway" was a non-reality, except in the Capital Areas. We experienced a volcanic eruption, frequent rock/mud slides, guerilla activity, and finally an earthquake in Mexico City, Helen kept saying "and we could have gone by ship!" Settled the family and left for Vietnam as Chief, Tactical Division, DCS Operations, Headquarters 7th Air Force.

My staff consisted of Vietnam experienced combat pilots. I elected to fly with most of the "non-fighter" types, flying Forward Air Control, Special Operations, Gunship, Transport Re-supply, and Psychological Operations combat missions to see the "other side" of air warfare. Great respect for these un-sung heroes. Subsequently re-assigned as Director Plans, DCs, Plans I had an unprecedented insight into the political and military aspects of war. Like the French before us, we lacked the commitment, national will and political clearance to "get the job done." One highlight...flew Helen to Tokyo and met her there for a week's R&R. Great time travelling Japan...over all too soon. Back to Saignon...a different war.

Final assignments were Command and Staff and I retired in 1973 following major back surgery. (Ravages of too many crashes!) My final assignment was as Commander, Tyndall AFB/Vice Commander Air Defense Weapons Center. We retired in the local community, which had been so hospitable and supportive. During my military career I had flown or tested 55 different aircraft types, single/multi-engine, propeller/jet powered, sub/super-sonic...flown combat in 16 diverse weapons systems in there wars...WWII, Korea, and Vietnam...and served with the RAF, USAAF, and USAF. It had equipped me for a productive transition into a post-retirement business career. Anchored by Amherst's educational foundation in led to my active involvement in real estate, small business, consulting, civic activities, and Rotary...serving as District Governor for Northwest Florida in 1989-1990.
At 75 I am finally slowing down a bit, but did lead a Rotary Group Study Exchange to Mexico last year and work part-time in commercial real-estate. Look forward to our 50th, but to confronting the loss of the quaint small town we knew...but, as they say, "that's progress - that's life." I'm sure the 50 year returnees of our college days had essentially the same feelings!

  Robert Gregor