Paul Donlon, who will be 98 years old in May, is the older brother of Roger Donlon, the first Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for his exceptional valor in the Vietnam War and whom the Saugerties Town Hall is named after.
A group of students in Sarah Elia’s English as a New Language class at Saugerties High School visited Paul Donlon for a half an hour late last month at the Ivy Lodge, the senior assisted living facility on Main Street near the center of the village. Elia is the daughter of longtime town historian and writer Karlyn Knaust Elia.
The event turned out to be an experience none of the students are likely to forget.
“We made small talk at first for the students to practice English conversation,” said Elia. “He asked them where they were from, what they like to study, how long they have been here. Then Mr. Donlon introduced himself and within minutes shocked the students with his rich background.”
Paul Donlon went to St. Mary’s School, then Saugerties High School, and upon graduation worked at the Cantine Paper Mill. At the start of World War 2, he was working to support his family because his father was ill, so he had the option to stay in Saugerties and not be drafted. But he wanted to serve.
Donlon has a fistful of medals, but he doesn’t like to talk about his combat experiences. His optimistic disposition has enabled him to handle the inevitable trauma caused by such experiences very well.
“He shared his experiences traveling through Europe — climbing mountains, passing rivers,” continued Elia. “Donlon, a private first class in the Fifth Army, Third Division, M Company, was a machine gunner. He was wounded in the Vosges Mountains in France, and lay for hours hoping someone would carry him to safety, worrying that he wouldn’t be helped. Finally he was brought to a hospital, and on Christmas Day received the best news. He would be taken home.”
“While he was talking, I quietly translated to simple English so the students could follow along, and also let them ask questions,” continued Elia. “He spoke quickly and was very sharp. He said when he came home he worked for The New York Times and later Dow Jones.
“Most fascinating was that he taught young people how to use The New York Times for learning purposes, and [how] now he is continuing to educate young people in a different way. We will visit him again after spring break.”
Still very active, he’s been at Ivy Lodge for several years now. He goes to the nearby Saugerties Village Diner and is driven by a relative or friend to the center of the village or to the VFW. He participated in the Saugerties July Fourth parade, tossing candy to the kids from the vehicle in which he was riding.
Paul Donlon participates regularly in assisted-living activities, according to activities coordinator Donita Johnson. He’s a regular at happy hour, and he almost never misses the morning exercises.
“He’s a perfect gentleman, a very kind and considerate man,” explained Johnson. “His is the true old-fashioned world of a gentleman.” When her job requires her to climb a ladder, she said, he is right there to offer to hold the ladder in place.
A very happy 98th birthday, Paul Donlon!