Military Monday: Donald Ray Hemperley, USAF 18574020

Don, as he preferred, was the second child of Raymond and Sybol O’Pry Hemperley.  He arrived a jaundiced baby born on August 18, 1941 in Vivian, Louisiana.  Growing up on a 60 acre farm near Gilliam, he was a precocious child who often ran away from home to play with his imaginary family that lived just across the levee.  Many were the times his mother, with switch in hand, would cross that levee to retrieve him. When asked where he had been he would speak of visiting his fantasy wife and children who lived across the levee.

Don Hemperley 1st grade

First Grade

Don attended grammar school in Belcher, Louisiana. By high school, a new consolidate school had been built in Vivian and he was among the graduation class of the first four full years of the school. Don could have been an honors student for he was a very intelligent person. Often work on the farm, work after school at a gas station in Gilliam, or his antics got in the way. During his senior year he was suspended for three days for smoking on campus. He was also reprimanded for singing and dancing in the hallways while classes were going on.
Don Hemperley soph

Sophomore Year

Following his graduation he knew he did not want the farm life anymore and enlisted the United States Air Force on July 22, 1959 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His basic training was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. As basic training does for so many young enlistees, he went in a scrawny teen and came out a well chiseled mature adult male!
Don at Boot Camp, San Antonio, Tx Sept. 1959
Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base

From San Antonio he was sent to Indiana University at Bloomington to become a Russian Linguist. His studies included not only the language but also the history and culture of Russia. From the first day of class his professors spoke only in Russian; wrote only in Russian; and expected the soldiers in the class to learn and excel in all things Russian. Not all students graduated (one even committed suicide) as it was an intense degree of studies.

Don Hemperley AF photo at Indiana U
Student I D for Bloomington University

Don Hemperley at Indiana U 1960
On Campus at Indiana University

August 6, 1960 Don returned home and we were married that night at the Belcher Baptist Church. After a short leave we headed to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas where he was to attend crypto-logic and intelligence training school. Did I ask what all that meant? Heavens no! We were too busy celebrating our recent marriage and starting our married lives. Besides, it didn’t matter to me just as long as we were together.

Don at San Angelo 1960
 Airman 2nd Class, San Angelo, Texas

By New Year’s Day of 1960 I was expecting our first child and Don was boarding a plane for a fifteen month tour of duty at the 6986th Wakkanai Air Station located on the northern most point of Hokkaido, Japan. Being the linguist he was he soon picked up the Japanese language and was able to communicate with the locals. He loved the food as well as the people in Wakkanai. Off time was spent writing letters home, visiting orphanages and at the Club Walk’N I NCO club where he was on the Board of Governors.

Don, Waikini 1961
Wakkanai Japan 1961

In April 1962 Don returned stateside and met our eleven month son Steve for the first time. We packed our little black 1950 Ford and headed to his next assignment at the National Security Agency located at Fort George G. Meade near Laurel, Maryland. I knew Don had a high level security clearance, but NSA?

The Cuban Missile Crisis took place during the time we were in Maryland and I can remember Don working long hours and being very concerned. Of course, I had no idea of what his job entailed, but the reality of the crisis set in when I drove to work and there were few cars on the road. The shopping center, which was usually bustling, was desolate. The air was tense as most everyone was waiting for President Kennedy’s next news conference.

On July 19, 1963 Don’s enlistment was up and we returned to Louisiana. Our daughter Kelly was born in September and we settled into a life far from the fast paced Air Force one Don loved. He soon became a partner in an insurance agency and was a Junior Warden as well as Master of the Belcher Masonic Lodge. He was instrumental in incorporating Gilliam as a Village and served as its first Village Clerk. He was a jokester, a loving father and husband, generous and a good friend to everyone.

Many many years later in life he mentioned his time in the Air Force and I asked, “Now just what was it that you did while wearing those Air Force blues?” He replied with that precocious smile, “I spoke to Russians flying their planes over water near Hokkaido and they didn’t know I was an American. I also decoded and transcribed top secrets while at NSA.” I rolled my eyes and thought, there he goes again; pulling those same tricks much like he did on his mother about his fantasy family. So was he was telling the truth or not? I suppose I will never know for sure.

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5 comments on “Military Monday: Donald Ray Hemperley, USAF 18574020

  1. Great story Kookie! I bet Don was a fun person to be around, and I’m sorry I never got to meet him. I wish I could thank him for his service to our country. I know you and the kids are certainly proud! Also, I just have to say, in that first picture of him in the first grade, he almost looks like the kid from the mad magazine! A lot cuter though!

  2. Wish you could have known him too because there was never a dull moment. We are very proud of him for his service to our country as we are all of the guys who protect us daily in one branch of the service or another. And by the way, if you will go back and look at the pictures of Don and compare them with his great grandfather Edward Thomas Hemperley (the one you say is a “hottie”) they look alike! LOL!

  3. Don Hemperley was my 4th brother. He was one of the funniest, brightest and best-est friends and family member a person could ever have. He was not only intellectual, but hard working. He intuitively knew too that fun and recreation was just as important as work and the serious side of life. I can’t say enough about his character and spirit. One of a kind. A dying breed of men. Encouraged others young and old. And loved to mess with his Mother in Law, Mamie Stanley. Our entire family loved him. And his fish frying!! We all miss him even now. Judy Stanley

  4. Don Hemperley was one of the few southerners in my 50-student Air Force Russian language class at Indiana University. He hung out mostly with other southerners — mainly Oscar Thomas Johnson,Jr. (“O.T.”), from Tennessee, and Carroll Wheeler (“Wheel”), from Virginia. As a Californian, thus not suspected of being a Yankee — not a real one, anyway –I was honored to be accepted into their group.

    Coming from California I thought I had cornered the coolness market, but Don (we called him “Hemp”) quickly — and humorously — put me straight. If I wasn’t a “coonass” I was nothing. For example, I knew nothing about rolling “bones,” i.e., dice. He not only taught me how to play craps, but also the names of the various combinations of numbers. “Snake eyes” for one dot on each die was the only name I knew. Don taught me not only the names for the number combinations, but also the corresponding sayings one had to shout at the rolling dice to persuade them to come up with the number you wanted. Don taught me that four was “Fever,” short for “Fever in the funkhouse, run whore run!” And “Nina Ross” was nine. The call-out for that number was “Nina Ross the fartin’ hoss!”

    Speaking of farting, Don demonstrated for our group, with the assistance of O.T., whose dorm room he shared, how to light farts. Wearing briefs only, Don got down on his hands and knees and instructed O.T. to light his Zippo cigarette lighter (we all smoked and carried lighters). He said, “Now hold it up close, O.T., and everybody watch for the blue flame.” Don then passed a resonant flatus, and sure enough, a six-inch blue flame shot out at the same time. With that, Don won the gold medal for coolness in my 17-year-old eyes.

    Don sorely missed Kookie while he was in language school. He talked about her constantly and showed dog-eared pictures of her at every opportunity. They got married right after language school, as Kookie relates elsewhere. Unlike the rest of us guys, who stayed single and lived in a barracks while we all were stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base, in San Angelo, Texas, the Hemperleys lived downtown in an apartment. At Goodfellow, we Russian linguists took training for the jobs we would do at our duty stations to come. Don and I were in different classes at Goodfellow, so I saw relatively little of him there. After we finished our training at Goodfellow we went to opposite sides of the Earth. (Japan and Germany). But I did see Don one more time, completely unexpectedly, when I was home in California on leave before heading for Germany. I was working a night shift alone at a Shell gas station to supplement my meager Air Force pay. It was a couple of minutes before 9:00 closing time on a chilly late fall night in 1960. I was starting to turn out lights when a car pulled into the station. Don was hanging out the passenger side window waving his arms and and shouting, “Hey John! Wait a minute!”

    I have never been so surprised as I was to see Don that night. He and some other members of our Russian class were on the West Coast on their way to Japan. Correctly guessing I was home on leave they had found their way to my house in Walnut Creek. There they met my parents and younger siblings, who told them where I could be found. It was a joyous reunion and the last time I was to see Don. We corresponded a bit during the rest of our hitch in the Air Force. He called me at home in California once in about 1970, seven years after we were discharged. His voice was about an octave deeper. We caught up, had some laughs, and exchanged addresses. We corresponded a bit after that, but the night in the Shell station was our last time together. I’ll never forget him.

    • Oh, you made my day!!! I laughed so hard knowing this was so typical of something Don would have done. If nothing else, his time in the Air Force gave him and me some wonderful friends! Thanks for sharing.

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