He knows what Memorial Day is
By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
On Monday, May 31, 2004 the country will observe Memorial Day in honor of those who fought and died to keep the nation free. It is often said that "freedom is never free" and that is certainly the case. There are many who have answered the call to duty in some foreign land not knowing when or even if they would ever return to their loved ones. In their memory, the profile is written about one of those men who was lucky enough to come back and go on with his life.
Since the time he came home from foreign shores, Don Ellis has been a worker in various veteran organizations and is ready to participate in teaching the younger generation about was it like to serve in the military, especially at a time when our country was at war. He has been a member of not one, but three branches of the military. He has served in the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army during the years spanning the Korean War and the war in Vietnam.
He was born in Oklahoma coming from a line of law enforcement officers. His grandfather, whom he admires very much, was a deputy with the U.S. Marshals in the Indian territory and was an early influence on Ellis' life.
His father joined the military and was stationed in California during World War II where the family moved during those years. They later moved to Utah after the surrender of Japan where they stayed until the end of the war with Germany. After the war was over, the family moved back to Oklahoma. He attended many schools and was never in one place for very long as his father's timber business kept him on the move. Ellis dropped out of high school and joined the Navy when the war in Korea began. He spent the next four years in the Navy working in aviation and was never too near the action.
About the time the ship was supposed to be headed home they changed direction and headed for Hawaii where they took on a full load of ammunition and supplies. No one knew where they were headed. This was at a time when China was in a turmoil and the mission of the ship, it turned out, was to pick up Chang Kai Shek from the mainland of China and take him to the island of Formosa which is now known as Taiwan.
After the ship docked in Bremington Naval Shipyard, Wash., Ellis was sent to Pensacola.
After they were married they returned to Oklahoma and he began college at East Central State Teacher's College.
He was still in the Navy Reserve and was approached about switching to the Air Force Reserve which he did. It was during this time that he got recalled to active duty when the British were fighting at the Suez Canal. By this time he had been around aircraft long enough that his hearing was affected, so he was washed out of the program with the Air Force. The war in Vietnam was going on at that time so he joined the U.S. Army and worked on missiles such as the Titan.
He was in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968 and got overrun by the enemy. It was reported that his unit had been wiped out. He won a Bronze Star at that time for his performance and came back stateside. He was not through with Vietnam though and was sent back there in 1971 for another year. This time he and a couple more were pinned down by the enemy and barely escaped with their lives.
Ellis ended his military career back in the United States at several army bases leaving as a Chief Warrant Officer 3.
Ellis and his wife moved to Brewton because it was her home town. They built a home on some property off Ridge Road and he went to work at the hospital in maintenance and then to Fountain Corrections as a correctional officer working with the state where he worked for three years. He then went to work with the Department of Human Resources for eight years and then as a parole officer with the Parole Board for seven years.
The Ellises have four children, Carolyn, Don, Glenda and Jan. six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. All of their children have done well for themselves and all live somewhere else except Don who lives in this area.
These days Don Ellis keeps himself busy doing maintenance at their church, First Baptist Church of East Brewton. He is past president of American Legion and is very involved in educating children of the sacrifices the many men and women of our country have made. He stays active in various veteran's organizations and is presently serving as the president of the local chapter of the Alabama Retired State, County and Municipal Employees (ARSEA).
Don Ellis says that he enjoys the outdoors and stays out as much as he can. He has a good sized garden where he is growing corn, peas, tomatoes and other fresh vegetables to eat. He has quite a collection of birdhouses that he built for the bluebirds to nest and just enjoys watching the wildlife that comes around the house.
It is a very quiet life for the Ellis family, a far cry from the active life he used to have in the military but that is just the way they like it.