This obituary originally appeared on Memorial Funeral Home.
Don Palen, Captain USN (Ret), died on December 31st, 2020 at his home in Middletown, RI. He was 82 years old.
Born in Greenwich Connecticut to Cora and Clyde Palen, Don grew up in Cos Cob and was a graduate of Greenwich High School. He attended Union College for one year before enlisting in the Navy. After three years in the enlisted ranks, he received a fleet appointment to the US Naval Academy (Class of 1963) where he forged friendships that would deepen throughout the rest of his life. Don was immensely proud of his 34 years of military service, which included multiple tours in Vietnam, teaching at the US Naval Academy and Naval War College, commanding the USS Pensacola (LSD-38), serving as the inspector general of the Military Sealift Command, and as the Director of Navy Sailing.
After retiring from the Navy, Don lived in Newport and Middletown, RI, and continued to sail as a commercial captain for several years, sending his children postcards from nearly every port on the globe. He finally eased into retirement by starting an internet business trading in militaria, and learning to pilot hot air balloons. He traveled the globe once again, participating in balloon festivals up and down the East Coast, and making a pilgrimage to the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM, as well as several trips to fly in the French and Swiss Alps. Don had an adventurous spirit and loved sailing, skiing, and photography, sharing his enthusiasm whenever possible with family and friends. He spent many winters in Florida with his brother and family, defying both the state patrol and possibly the laws of physics with his 5th wheel and balloon trailer towed in tandem.
Don gave time and energy to many community organizations on Aquidneck Island and beyond, volunteering for food pantries, political campaigns, and helping those around him in need. His outgoing and kind nature earned him countless friendships over the years. He will be remembered for his intellect, integrity, and optimism. He loved lively debate over beers and cull lobsters, corny puns, and singing old sea shanties while playing guitar.
Don is survived by his partner, Carole Berren; his brother, Ted (Fay); his children Penny (Michael), Scott (Karen), Julia (Evan), and Wendy (Tom); and three grandchildren, Carter, Gina, and Lilly.
Don will be buried at sea with full military honors. His family and friends will host a Celebration of Life at a later date, but remembrances and condolences can be left in the online guest book link.memorial/Palen. Memorial contributions may be made to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, 200 Niantic Avenue, Providence, RI 02907 or the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Attn: Development, 875 N. Randolph St. Ste 225, Arlington, VA 22203.