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Don Vollant (N3KEH)
November 16, 2000
What makes a hero?
Assorted ramblings from Steve Lane, W3SRL
The recent passing of our friend and cohort Don, N3KEH was a shock. Not entirely unexpected, as Don had been having a series of health issues of late, but he never admitted to anything near as serious as the Multiple Myeloma, a fast-moving cancer that ultimately overcame him. Don kept a stiff upper lip as they say over in G5 land and never let his pain and troubles show to most of us. Only a very few outside his family even knew he was ill.
But that was Don. He was the kind of guy who was both ornery and admirable at the same time. Intensely private, but always willing to help. The sort of guy who even in his seventies was out there helping to hoist antennas and check the feedlines at field day under a sweltering June sun. The sort of guy who crabbed annually about the fact that the church where we have our meetings didnít allow alcohol to be served. The kind of guy who was always there to offer a no-nonsense solution to the most difficult of interpersonal situations at the club meetings. The kind of guy who was widely suspected of anonymously slipping a couple of unmarked bills into the mail for the support of the repeaters we use daily. The kind of guy who wanted no fanfare at all when he exited our world; But who wanted to be quietly interred at Pearl Harbor with his compadres when the inevitable finally occurred.
For those of you who didnít really know Don, he was fiercely proud of his service in WWII, where he served as a high-speed wireless operator. After you got him to cut through the alternating layers of modesty and obfuscation, One got the sense that he felt that he was just an ordinary guy who did the best he could with the hand that he was dealt. In a very rare moment, I once got Don to open up a bit about his wartime service and it filled in a bunch of gaps about who he was and why he was the way he was. He mentioned the fact that less than half of his high-school class came back home from WWII, and that he was harassed mercilessly by his buddies in basic training about being selected for training as a high-speed wireless (read CW) operator while THEY were being detailed out to the Infantry. After a brief training school, Don soon thereafter shipped out for the war. Little did his buddies know that a wireless operator pulled 12-hour shifts in a sweltering commo shelter the size of a large icebox while being bounced around on the back of a halftrack or a 6x6 truck. Little did they know that the German and Japanese troops were quite adept at radio-direction-finding and ultimately in bracketing their artillery fire in on a radio signal. Little did they know that a wireless-opís lifespan in combat was measured sometimes in hours, instead of days or weeks. Cushy job indeed! Don beat the overwhelming odds against him and made it back. He told me he was just too ornery to be taken out!
On returning from the war, Don settled back into civilian life and raised his family like how many thousands of other GIs did. No fanfare, no hullabaloo, no nothing. That was his style. Most of us knew him as the cigar-gnawing bourbon-drinking old curmudgeon who always had a simple solution for whatever the problem was, no matter how complex it might be. Cut the crap. Gruff but compassionate; Firm but introspective. He called a spade a spade and held anyone in contempt who did otherwise. At least on the surface. In recent years Don served as the Allegheny County SKYWARN coordinator, the WASH club 2-meter net manager and former president of the Audubon Society of WPA.
I came to know Don shortly after joining our club back in 1995. He had mentioned that he was having problems with his Cushcraft R-7 vertical antenna and needed some help in getting it down for repair. I enlisted Pete, N3RNX to help me and we headed over to Donís house one damp spring morning after our night shift was over. After the obligatory coffee and BS session. I headed up to the roof and undid the brackets there. Pete helped from the lower end. We undid the mast and PLOP! I dropped Donís new R7 very hard onto his roof! Oooops! There were no hard feelings, and a checkout later confirmed that there was no damage to either the antenna or roof that wasnít there before Pete and I arrived. The gratitude in Donís face said it all. He thanked us profusely, and promised to call us when it was time to reinstall the antenna back on the house. And or course we had to have another cup of coffee or something stronger if we wished before we left.
That was the side of Don that many of our group never got to see. The nice guy within. The man who found it very hard to ask for help. The family man and husband. The man who did the best job he could even under overwhelming odds. The man who lived life on his own terms and when the time came, left it on his own terms. Thatís what makes a hero, at least in my book. 73 my friend. Itís just not going to be the same around here without you. 73 wherever you are. de W3SRL
Contributed by: Ron Notarius W3WN (WN3VAW)
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