Eighty-nine years ago, Don Gallupe was born in a little hospital in Brewer, Maine. He grew up near the intersection of 14th and Union streets in Bangor, when the area was surrounded by farmland and places to fish and hunt. Today, he and Patricia, his wife of 63 years, still live within a short walk of their childhood homes.
“Sometimes we look at each other and say, ‘Well, we haven’t done very much!’” Don said cheerfully.
I beg to differ.
Even before we got talking about Don’s three years in the Army Air Corps during World War II, I was impressed and uplifted by this handsome, humble, optimistic man. In many ways, Don’s life strikes me as the quintessential version of “the way life should be.” Although I was ostensibly meeting Don in the context of Memorial Day, his civilian life is equally worthy of attention.
Don’s parents were both Mainers with connections to an area called Lake View Plantation on Schoodic Lake. Although they settled in Bangor, their attachment to Lake View remained. Since the age of 7, Don said he and his seven siblings spent summers in a rented cottage on Schoodic Lake.
“We were very fortunate to have that. It is beautiful. You can see Mount Katahdin from the southern end.”
In 1945, Don’s mom and dad took over a hotel on the lake and ran it as a sporting lodge. During that post-war period, Don earned a business degree, which ultimately led to a career in banking. He also received a class A certification as a Maine Guide. He guided fishing trips from the lodge for several years before he married and settled into decades of contented employment and fatherhood.
“We have a close family,” he said. “And my parents had a close family.”
Family closeness is at the heart of Don’s charmingly positive attitude about life. He remains upbeat and philosophical, even after losing his parents (his mom at age 104), all but one of his siblings, and most of his high school classmates.
“It’s part of life that you have to accept. Tragedies are inevitable at my age.”
But Don has not allowed tragedy to define his life in any way, even the tragedies of war. I found his perspectives on the war to be particularly balanced, compassionate and wise. Don has stories to tell — the adventure of a 42-day journey to Australia on a troop ship filled with rowdy shipmates, passage through the Panama Canal, an enemy sub scare that led to an engine breakdown, the crazy “shellback ceremony” that marked their crossing of the equator.
When it comes to battle details, however, Don prefers not to publicize his stories.
“I understand that people are interested in the history,” he says, “but I look at some of it as private.”
When I asked if Don felt that the war had changed him, his response was thoughtful.
“I don’t know. I’ve thought about that a lot.” Don’s brother Arthur D. Gallupe died fighting in southern France, which was a profound loss for him and his family. And like many others, Don saw firsthand a great deal of tragedy in the Pacific. Surviving the war leads to introspection.
“We all have our moments of wondering how we got back.”
That introspection has been put to good use in Don’s volunteer work as a troop greeter at Bangor International Airport. He was not one of the earliest greeters, “but a friend finally talked me into it.” Don has now been an active member for more than five years and was wearing a pager while we talked.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to talk to these fellows about what they’re going through.”
In some cases, those talks can be profoundly important.
“If you’ve been through it yourself, you can tell something is wrong by the expression on their face when they come down the ramp. They might be standing apart and alone.”
One such young man asked Don to come and sit with him for a moment. He was wearing a metal bracelet with the names of his friends who had died, and he found the constant reminder too painful. He asked Don to keep the bracelet.
It doesn’t surprise me a bit that this hurting soldier singled Don out. Don’s presence is gentle, understanding and exudes a sense of strength. He is just the kind of person to open up to in a time of need, offering a ray of optimistic hope that he has carried through long years of living.
I asked Don where his positive attitude came from, and his answer was simple. His parents, he supposed, set an example of appreciation for life, no matter what.
“Your mom and dad teach you things. We didn’t have all of the things people have today, but we knew we were very fortunate.”
And that, it seems to me, is the way life should be.
Robin welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.