We lost my father on Monday

Home again: Here’s my brother and me with Dad the day he returned from Vietnam in 1968. I’m the goofy, skinny kid with glasses and braces.

Some of you are aware of what has kept me away from the blog in recent months, and especially the last few weeks.

For those who are not: My father — Capt. Donald Warthen, USN, ret. — died late Monday afternoon, after a long period of declining health. He was at home with most of the family. He had been under hospice care for five days. His funeral will be next Tuesday, that being the first date we could coordinate between the funeral home and the Fort Jackson cemetery.

Now, we are no longer thinking of those hard, last days. We’re thinking of all those years we knew him before. We’re remembering and honoring, among so many things, his years in the Service, which is how he and we have always referred to the United States Navy. I wrote a brief note about that time on Facebook on Veterans Day. I concentrated on his time in Vietnam, because I had so many pictures about that, and because on that day everyone tends to focus on combat service. Here’s that post.

Capt. Donald Warthen, USN, ret.

That note just scratched the surface of his time as a naval officer. And as I say, that’s just one aspect of what we remember. Sailors are at sea for much of the childhoods of their offspring, but when he was ashore he was with us, devoting all the time he could to us. We have many, many fond memories of all the things we did together, many having to do with sports, because my Dad was an athlete — he went to Presbyterian College on a tennis scholarship, but it could just as well have been basketball or some other sport.

I’ll be putting together the obituary, which should be available over the weekend. But the most beautiful thing written about him so far was an essay by my youngest daughter. She never knew him as a naval officer, or as the young athlete — although when she was little, he was the age I am now, and could shoot that age on a golf course (something you’ll never see me do, I assure you). She just knew him as her Popi, who doted on her and all my children, and spent so much time with them when I was working all those long hours at the newspaper. I’m not sharing what she wrote here, because it’s personal and for the family. But I assure you it was better than anything you’ll read from me.

Everyone who has ever met my Dad — and he remembered every one of them, far better than I remember the people I encountered decades ago — had his or her own impression of him, based on the aspect that they encountered.

Monday night, with most of my children — except the youngest, who lives in the Caribbean — gathered at the house, I dug out a dim, old document I had just encountered going through his papers over the weekend, and read aloud from it. It was the narrative part of a Navy fitness report, written in 1970 by someone who had just known him a few weeks — the captain of the USS Kawishiwi, an oiler based at Pearl Harbor. My Dad was his executive officer.

My father was a good officer, a skilled shiphandler and all-around seaman. But more than that he was a good man, and a kind and caring man. I’m glad this captain was able to see all of that:

20 thoughts on “We lost my father on Monday

  1. Dave Crockett

    So sorry for your loss. I lost my father nearly 30 years ago and my mother over 40 years ago but I still think of them frequently. I’m sure you will as well.

  2. Pat

    I’m so sorry to learn of your father’s passing. Your wonderful memories will keep him with you and give you strength. You and your family are in my prayers.

  3. Bobby Amundson

    I can’t read this post until after I comment.

    I never met your Dad, but I assure you he is a hero. O-6, climbing through the ranks during the insanity of Vietnam. I wonder what stories he could and did share with his family.

    I could say so much more, but in honor of the Captain, I will share a joke. How many Naval Officers does it take to change a lightbulb? Of course, 4 – one to just do it; then we share the story of how we did it.

    RIP Captain. Say hey to General Powell.


  4. Bryan Caskey

    So sorry to hear about your loss. It sounds like your father lived a full and fulfilling life, as much as we can all hope for.

    1. Bobby Amundson

      Amen. My life has become a bit odd; I have my mother’s body and headstone in … No Wait! Just the headstone; in my Explorer XLT. Green burial in SC; now home with my Dad here in NY.

      Another long story. Bless you Brother Bill. And Bless You Brother Brad, and your family. The Captain will always be near.

  5. Randle

    My sincere condolences to you, your mother and your family on losing your beloved father. He sounds like a wonderful man. How lucky you were to have him!
    And how proud he must have been of you and your family. You took great care of your parents during Covid, and I know they appreciated it.
    You are in my prayers.

  6. Bart


    I know you loved and admired your father. You spoke of him so many times over the years and always with love, respect, and admiration. I know without a doubt he was a great man because of the legacy he left behind in you, someone I have admired for a long time. I cannot offer enough thanks for the long and dedicated service he gave to this country, in good times and bad. The world is lessened today with the loss of your father. My deepest condolences to your mother, brother, and family but know that your father had the greatest gift of all, the love of his family.

  7. Phillip

    So very sorry to hear of your loss. What a life indeed. All honor to him for his extraordinary service to country and my deepest sympathy to you and all your family.


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