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Perham's Don Seifert, known as the 'Voice of the Yellowjackets,' spent four years in the Navy

The 1970 Perham High School yearbook is dedicated to Don Seifert, the school's longtime business secretary. This picture was taken at his desk and given the caption, "The king was in his counting house, counting all his money." From the 1970 Perham High School yearbook1 / 7
Korean War veteran Don Seifert, with the military patches and medals he earned during his four years with the United States Navy. Seifert is an active member of the VFW and Dent American Legion. Marie Johnson/FOCUS2 / 7
Don Seifert served as the Captain's Yeoman on this ship, the USS Bexar (pronounced "bear," the X is silent), APA-237. The ship was sold for junk after the Korean War, but Seifert later tracked down the ship's bell, which had been donated to the San Antonio, Texas, courthouse, and had his picture taken with it. From the collection of Don Seifert3 / 7
Don Seifert with his future wife, Dorothy True, on leave from the Navy and ready to attend the Homecoming dance in Perham in 1950. True was the Homecoming Queen. From the collection of Don Seifert4 / 7
Don Seifert, second from left, and three other higher-ranking Naval officers would spend a fair amount of their free time at this Japanese club, one of the only places where they could go to enjoy American food, music and drinks. From the collection of Don Seifert5 / 7
Don Seifert was 19 years old in this picture of him from the 1950 album, "The Keel," from the United States Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois, Company 414. From the collection of Don Seifert6 / 7
Don Seifert with his wife, Mary Jane, at their home near Dent. Both lost their first spouses to cancer. They have been married since 1994. Marie Johnson/FOCUS7 / 7

Most people know Don Seifert as the 'Voice of the Yellowjackets.'

For more than 20 years, the Perham native announced at football games in town. He also spent time behind the mic for basketball, wrestling, track and other sports.

Those who didn't know him for his evening gig at games probably knew him for his day job at the school. Now retired, he's still well respected as a longtime business manager at Perham-Dent School District, a post he held for 32 years.

"My first budget was $250,000 when I started," he recalls today. "When I ended, it was $8 million."

What most people don't know is that, before Seifert became the 'Voice of the Yellowjackets,' he was the voice of something much different — the U.S.S. Bexar, APA-237, a United States Navy attack transport ship.

Seifert was a member of the Navy from 1950 to 1954. And as the Captain's Yeoman on the U.S.S. Bexar, it was his job to broadcast the captain's orders to the rest of the crew on board, relaying messages in his own voice via a ship-wide speaker system.

Seifert likes to recall today that the job could get a little "dicey," due to his captain's penchant for "colorful language." One time, he remembers with a grin, the captain ordered a cease-fire, and one of the units on the ship failed to cease firing. The captain had plenty of unprintable things to say about that, which Seifert was a little embarrassed to repeat. He tried to relay the captain's message using less R-rated language, but didn't get away with it. He was reprimanded for his effort to tone things down, and ended up having to repeat the captain's tirade, word-for-dirty-word, to the rest of the crew.

Red-faced instances like that aside, though, Seifert says the captain was very good to him, a sort of father figure. He was a role model to all his sailors, Seifert says — a Purple Heart recipient who had seen more than his fair share of war, and had earned the full respect of his crew.

Seifert's fond memories of his captain, Captain M. Hall, Jr., match his overall recollections of the Navy in general.

"I can't complain, I really can't," he says, looking back on it. "I was treated well. You join the Navy to see the world, which I did."

Seifert's travels with the Navy took him all over the U.S. and the globe, from North Dakota to Illinois, from California to Japan, the Philippines, China, North and South Korea and beyond. He was at sea for almost four years; for two of those, he was on active duty in the Korean War.

Sometimes referred to as "The Forgotten War" or "The Unknown War" because of the lack of public attention it got, the Korean War began in June of 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. Twenty-one countries in the United Nations, including the United States, came to the aid of South Korea, while China and the Soviet Union aided North Korea. The fighting ended in July 1953 with a signed agreement to separate North and South Korea and allow the return of prisoners of war (POWs).

Transporting POWs was the primary role of the U.S.S. Bexar during Seifert's last two years with the Navy. The crew would conduct pick-ups at POW camps, he says, some of which were strewn with signs warning anyone who stepped outside the boundaries that they would be shot. Situations could be tense and hostile.

Once, he recalled, the Bexar passed by Manila, the capital of the Philippines, as the war was ending, and he saw "at least 15 ships that were grounded, destroyed, in that port, and they wouldn't let us go into Manila because Communists there were unkind to American sailors."

Another time, he received orders to "tell the others to darken ship," he says, because they were sailing between Russia and Japan and didn't want to take any chances of causing a problem: "Supposedly we were in safe waters, but you never know."

It wasn't only during war that Seifert and the rest of the men on the Bexar faced potential danger. He still remembers the time they sailed around the outskirts of a typhoon, and the ship came close to capsizing.

"Everything we had, had to be tied down," he recalls. "The dishwasher was working, and the ship took such a roll that he got hot water all over him and got scalded, so after that, the captain commanded 'No more hot meals.' There was one roll that, if it had gone another 10 degrees, we would have capsized. It's scary. That water comes up on the bow and it splashes all over."

But Seifert has plenty of good memories from the Navy, too. One of the best is from Dec. 17, 1953, when he received a Commendatory Mast for his "exemplary initiative and devotion to duty." According to a letter from Captain Hall, Seifert's work as a Yeoman was "instrumental in the obtaining of a grade of excellent by the Operations Department in the last Administrative Inspection." The letter goes on to refer to Seifert as "an inspiration and example" to his fellow workers; a man with "enthusiasm and persistence" who has "the natural capacity for leadership and organization which...incites the respect and cooperation" of those who work with him.

Seifert was recognized for this in front of his shipmates, and it remains one of his proudest moments to this day. He still has a framed copy of that letter hanging in his house.

Seifert's years in the Navy were a whirlwind. In addition to his travels around the globe and his experiences in the war, he was also becoming a family man. On June 6, 1950, he married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy True, and they had their first son while Seifert was still in the military.

He and Dorothy started dating after sharing a dance at Perham Homecoming (she was the Homecoming Queen), Seifert says. They wrote each other letters after he moved away for the service, until he obtained permission from his commanding officer to wed and Dorothy could join him on the base. They soon started a family; their first son, Randall, was born at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oakland, Calif. After Seifert's time in the Navy was up, the couple moved back to Perham and had two more children, Michael and Rebecca.

After Dorothy sadly passed away from cancer in 1993, Seifert remarried. He and his wife, Mary Jane, have made their home in Dent for more than two decades.

It's been 66 years since Seifert enlisted in the Navy, and he's as proud of his military status today as he was then. Over the years, he has been active with local veterans groups and supportive of veterans causes. He's a member of the V.F.W., as well as the Dent American Legion Post 148, for which he served as commander for a number of years. Among his accomplishments with the Legion is the veterans memorial in Dent—he was instrumental in its creation.

"I have known Don since 1970," said Ronald Bjelland, Commander of the Dent Legion. "He's been a role model for a lot of people and his opinion is a valued one. He's been in both the American Legion and V.F.W., and has been a leader in both organizations and has held many different offices. His advice has been invaluable to myself and the American Legion Post. When talking to him, you always feel good afterward."

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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