The oldest member of the McLean American Legion Post celebrated his 97th
birthday in May of this year and completed his 25th year as a member of the American Legion. Fellow member Don Kimball shared this story of Col. Donald Sowle (ret.).
In the early 1940s Don happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right engineering and administrative skills to significantly contribute to the application of a new, cutting edge technology (Radar), by the Army Air Corps.
Born in 1915 in Michigan, he grew up in a family which operated the largest company in that area providing horse-drawn transportation and delivery service for household and commercial moving, a company which remained
family owned until recently.
After graduating from the University of Central Michigan he joined the Army Air Corps in 1940 he elected to specialize in electronics and communications and was assigned to a bomber group.
Soon he was sent to attend a security-sensitive course in Canada being conducted by the British on fundamentals of radar (radio detection and ranging) and the application of such equipment to military systems. Then he was sent to Harvard and MIT to study and participate in the development and testing of UHF radar systems.
Activities involving the integration of radar-related systems into Army Air Corps aircraft and operations took him to various war time assignment locations before ending up in Orlando, Florida.
There he set up and directed the Air Corps School of Communications and Radar until the end of World War II.
Shortly thereafter he was directed to attend a business curriculum at the University of Chicago, which led to his being assigned to spend a year at Convair, Ft Worth to study industrial approaches and techniques in managing aircraft design, development, and production.
Thereafter, the focus of Don’s military and civilian careers was on applying his experience, education, and expertise to improving efficiency and effectiveness
of procurement by U.S. Government organizations and defense related contractors.
The Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, and Don headed the USAF Air Material Command Office in Madrid before being sent to the Pentagon office of the Air Inspector. As a Colonel he headed an extensive set of studies on procurement by the DOD.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1965 he became an Assistant Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for five years, leading the business management at the La Canada, CA facility.
After several years providing procurement studies and consultation services as part of the company he founded, he was appointed the Procurement Policy Advisor for President Reagan.
He was married to Gretchen MacRae for 50 years until her passing. Later in life he was married to Catherine Taggart (Lewis).
Don continues to enjoy living in an apartment in McLean, reading a lot, and the visits from his two daughters, two step daughters and their families.
Visiting with Don was a fascinating and very enjoyable experience. His warm greeting and hospitality were heartwarming, and listening about the details of many of his professional and personal activities made it clear that he has led a highly productive and interesting life and coupled it with wonderful family relationships.
Our Post and the Community are very fortunate to have Colonel Sowle among us.