Don Shaw, 76, of Clearfield, who retired after a career in the Coast Guard, keeps himself busy by staying involved in the community and trying to make life better for people.
Shaw is involved in numerous local organizations. For example, he is the chairman of the Clearfield County Veteran’s Advisory Committee, vice-chair of the Clearfield County Crimestoppers, a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of the Police and is chairman of the Clearfield-Lawrence Joint UCC Board of Appeals. He was also formerly a member of the county Solid Waste Authority and the Clearfield-Lawrence Township Airport Authority.
As an officer with the American Legion, Shaw helped get a new handicapped accessible ramp installed at the post home.
Shaw was born in Plymptonville and graduated from Clearfield High School in 1958.
After graduation, Shaw said he wanted to join the Navy. He was in Pittsburgh in front of the Victory Building on E.9th Street when he saw a picture of a man in a sailor’s uniform that said “Coast Guard.” He thought Coast Guard was a part of the Navy so he went into the recruiting office and enlisted.
“That was the best mistake I ever made,” Shaw said.
After boot camp the Coast Guard sent him to Hawaii where he was stationed for five months on a 180-foot tender boat. Unfortunately, Shaw discovered he suffered from chronic seasickness.
“They were going to discharge me,” Shaw said.
Fortunately, there was an air detachment on the base and they let him serve in aviation where he spent the rest of his career.
For the first two years he was a crewman. He was then accepted into parachute rigger school in Lake Hurst NJ where he learned to free fall parachute jump. Shaw would later serve as an instructor for seven years at the parachute school.
Shaw said he was a member of rescue teams and he would also repair parachute equipment, packed the parachutes, maintained the life rafts and equipment, etc.
He bounced around the country and was stationed in places like Clearwater Florida, and twice in New Orleans.
During the 1970’s while in New Orleans he assisted rescue efforts following a hurricane. He was a member of helicopter crews who flew in food and picked up people who were stranded by the floods and these rescue efforts made national television.
He said the cameraman was on the helicopter with them and when they landed the photographer got off to videotape what was happening.
Residents crowded around the helicopter to be evacuated and Shaw said it was his job to make sure they didn’t get too close.
He said they took women, children and the elderly first and when the helicopter was full he told the pilot to take off.
When they were in the air he looked down below and saw they had left the cameraman behind.
“I told him we would come back and get him,” Shaw said.
And the footage from that cameraman made the national news. His mother in Clearfield called him and told him that she saw him on the network news.
Also while in New Orleans, the New Orleans Police Department established a helicopter unit and Shaw being the senior member in the shop trained their personnel in water survival because there are a lot of swamps and bodies of water surrounding New Orleans.
For his efforts the chief superintendent of the police department made him an honorary captain of the police department.
While in New Orleans, in 1967 his wife Karen died suddenly of a brain aneurism, leaving him single parent with two young children, a daughter Tracy who was five, and a son Bryan who was two.
The hours are long in the Coast Guard and to take care of his family, Shaw left the coast guard on a hardship discharge and moved back to Clearfield where he became a police officer with the Clearfield Borough Police Department. He served on the police department from 1969 to 1972. Shaw said he remarried and rejoined the Coast Guard in 1972 and remained in the Coast Guard until his retirement in 1984. Shaw held various jobs following his retirement including serving as a security guard with Pinkerton, running a home repair business with his son and a landscaping business with his son’s father-in-law before returning to Clearfield in 2003.
In addition to the numerous civic organizations he belongs to, Shaw, now single, donates generously to local charitable organizations such as the Victim Witness Office, local veterans organizations and made substantial donations so two local high school students could on mission trips.
Shaw said his Coast Guard pension has been good to him so he tries to help out others with it.
“I just try to make life a little bit better for people,” Shaw said.