From the time I was a kid, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most has been the opportunity to experience new places and to meet and talk with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. When I retired in 1994 after 11 years in the military followed by 28 years as a pilot with American Airlines, I soon found a new spot to use my unflagging curiosity and gift of gab: Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a nonprofit organization whose members work together to improve their communication and leadership skills, and I felt at home in my local chapter almost immediately.

In the speeches I gave at chapter meetings, I drew upon many of the stories from my early life. I was born in the middle of the Depression to a mother who was educated, charming, and attractive—a world traveler and an adventurer. She was also smart enough to leave my father two months before my birth. This was a woman who could and did have it all. Except for the difference in their financial status, she might have been the model for the flamboyant Auntie Mame. Best of all, I was her full partner.

I grew up during the Second World War and spent my teenage years in spots around the world with my mother and stepfather. At the age of 21 I joined the U.S. Air Force, realized my boyhood dream of becoming a pilot, and eventually flew the legendary spy plane, the U-2.

I knew that some of my life experiences were out of the ordinary, but it had never occurred to me to write a book about them. Yet as I told these stories in speeches at Toastmaster events, my new friends encouraged me to connect the dots in writing. And so I began.

Using deathbed reminiscences from my mother, coupled with my own memories and buoyed by scraps of saved documents and memorabilia, I’ve
attempted to tell my story in a way that will help the reader understand not just my experiences but also something of the times in which they occurred. This has been an extended effort, taking more than seven years, and although I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible, the tales recounted here happened long ago. Some of the names have slipped from memory, and some of my recollections have needed imaginative support, but the story that unfolds here is as true a yarn as the circumstances allow.

Those who read this book today may recognize people, places, or events that have played a role in their own lives. To those who read it many years
from now, specifically my great- or great-great grandchildren not yet born, I hope I’ve provided a way for you to know, at least a little, what life was like in the days of your Grandpa Don.