by Floyd D.P. Øydegaard
When I first met Donald Mason Aubrey at Roaring Camp during the Memorial Day weekend in 1983, I was a new fish in the 14th Tennessee, Co. B, Civil War Association(soon to be the NCWA). He greeted me with a warm handshake and an invite to supper with him my first opportunity. His polite and gentlemanly ways made me believe I was with a great reenactment group. I had just met a great man!
Don was born January 17, 1936 and spent many years, after his rebellious youth, in the company of some "humble" Japanese, in Japan. It was this cultural influence that made him soft spoken and strong in a quiet Samurai way. Here he learned a large amount of humility. Part of his charm was that he could subtlety correct you by suggestion, instead of using his vast intellect to belittle you. His biggest fault was that he never saw himself as better than anyone else, so he failed in gaining material things. His wonderful dreams seem to be filled with hopes of a profitable future, filled with excitement! This made his constant back pain seem like a stubbed toe. But it was this attitude and his denial that would eventually kill him.
Don's talent was his art. His many sketches were mostly of Civil War soldiers. He made some money painting murals and doing art on consignment, but he was not able to work steady with his art. It was manual labor in the outdoors that kept the food on the table and hurt his back further.
Don was a walking encyclopedia of Civil War knowledge, once being a ranger in Gettysburg and other ACW sites; he knew who, when, what and why about every battle during the period between 1861 to 1865 and I never hesitated to ask his opinion. He had a soul connection with those soldiers and an emotional connection to the sacred ground that they had shed their blood on.
I became his friend immediately the first day we met and It was some months after he wondered if we (with Charles "Tennessee" Hughes) couldn't form up an Old West reenactment group. It was soon after that we decided on "Shadows of the Past" from something Don said. The rest they say is history...
Over the years whatever we did was always filled with humor. Between the two of us we could make waitresses cry or create video "epics." He was a charmer when he wanted to be and you should have seen him in a leather jacket! He had wonderful white hair with a dignified white goatee and mustache that he would darken from time to time. His dark bushy eyebrows topped his gentle eyes and his wonderful profile would make him a close twin to Robert E. Lee. Fact is I once told him to grow his beard full and I'd photograph him as Lee. He politely refused, stating that he couldn't pretend to be someone that good, for he held Lee in the highest esteem. Truth is, Don Aubrey was all that was good about Robert Lee; honest, true to his friends, a gentle man with too much pride and a dignity that humbled those who loved him. He was a man with heart!
For some years before his death Don wasn't as active in the NCWA nor the SOTP while he battled with the pain and illness of the cancer that was eating him alive. Never complaining and always making plans to film a scenario, we joked about how the chemotherapy made him look like an Andersonville occupant. His daughter Bonnie (yes, named after the flag!) said his humor was there even in his last moments. She noted that his hair had been growing back - black!!
On June 20th, 1996 Don surrendered unwillingly to the demands of his body and like a true soldier, he left fighting for one last breath.
You'll not only be missed, Donny-san, but the world will be less of a place without you. I cry not of your passing, but of my selfish loss of you and your love...