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Major General Donald Merle Bagley, Jr.
1938 – 2018
Donald Merle Bagley, Jr., entered this world with a bit of a whimper on July 15, 1938 in Portland, Oregon. He was the first of what would be seven children born to Lillian Marie (Pearson) and Donald Merle Bagley. At the time of his delivery, he was positioned such that he could not be born leaving the doctor at a loss as to what to do. His father immediately provided a priesthood blessing to his mother after which Don turned and was delivered. He made no sound and did not appear to be alive. His first several months of life were challenging and his doctor later confessed that he was certain Don would not survive infancy.
Don quickly made up for that sputtering start and soon demonstrated a zest for life and a lifelong quest for adventure. As World War II began to rage, the Bagley family left the Pacific Northwest and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah in early 1942. Don’s grandpa Pearson bought him a horse, Old Silver, which he loved and rode around the foothills on countless adventures. On other occasions he couldn’t leave home fast enough to explore the nearby swampy pond on a homemade raft or leaky rubber boat. When he reached 8 years of age the family traveled to Temple Square where his father baptized him a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Tabernacle’s baptismal font. Don’s mother attempted to instill some culture into her son by introducing him to the trumpet. Accounts differ on who suffered most, the teacher, his parents or the neighbors. Clearly, all suffered.
In 1947, the Bagley family sold their home and business, packed up their possessions and moved to Ferron, Utah where they purchased a farm. It proved to be a young boy’s dream. Don recalled his time on the farm as some of the best memories of his childhood. He particularly loved riding into town on horseback with his father and stopping at the store for a bag of peppermint treats to enjoy on their day of rounding up cattle. By the end of 1948, they sold the farm and moved back to Salt Lake City where they purchased Harold B. Lee’s home and settled in at 1208 South 8th West.
From the time he was a teenager, Don had a great desire to serve in the armed forces. He attempted to enlist in the Army when he was 16 years old by falsifying his age. He was informed that he had to provide proof that he was at least 17 years old and have parental approval. At about this same time, Don’s parents purchased for him a red Ford convertible. According to his mother, “What a mistake!” We learned that you don’t buy a 16-year-old boy a car if you want to keep your sanity!” Following his 17th birthday, he presented his parents enlistment papers which they signed hoping that the Navy would provide him with the structure and discipline they felt he needed. Don thrived in the military. He was a trained parachutist and rigger and in 1958 was selected to serve as an air-sea rescue specialist with the first wintering over mission by the Navy in Antarctica, Operation Deep Freeze III.
The 18-month mission was to support the scientific explorations in Antarctica as well as the Trans-Antarctic Expedition with British explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame. The small group of sailors endured the harsh extremes of the frozen continent and learned to rely on each other to survive their ordeal. Don not only supported the historic expedition, he made history himself by completing the first parachute jump in Antarctica. Following his naval service, he was called to labor as a missionary in both the Finland and West Central States Missions. Don loved serving the Native American people from the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in Montana. It was here that he met his future wife, Elaine Geisler, who was visiting her sister in Chinook, Montana. Following his mission, Don and Elaine reconnected while attending Weber State College in Ogden, Utah. They were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple on May 31, 1963.
At the time of their marriage, Don was serving as a Green Beret in the 19th Special Forces Group. The Army determined he should be an officer and, a few days after his marriage, he reported to Ft. Benning, Georgia for Officer Candidate School. A few years later, he transferred to the U.S. Army Reserve where he quickly rose through the ranks. He eventually attained the rank of Major General and commanded the 96th Army Reserve Command which encompassed seven states and over 10,000 soldiers. After 43 years of service, Don retired from the military. He was an admired and highly-respected officer. He loved his country and dedicated his life to the preservation of freedom.
With the rigors of military life and starting a new family, Don earned a degree in sociology from Weber State College. He later spent a career as a medical-surgical representative for 3M Company with responsibilities throughout the Intermountain West.
Don and Elaine eventually settled in Fruit Heights, Utah where they raised their seven children on a diet of work, music, family adventures, homemade bread, and love. He cherished his family and devoted himself to their well-being. Maintaining close family relationships was a top priority for Don. He had a great desire to help others in need. He and Elaine welcomed a Navajo boy into their home to attend school as well as sponsored a Vietnamese woman who had fled war-torn Vietnam to seek a better life in America. Don helped her transition to her new country where she eventually married and enjoyed a very happy life.
Seeking adventure remained a constant theme throughout Don’s life. Whether serving around the world with the military; cooking sardine pancakes while camping with his boys; or traveling the globe with Elaine in retirement; Don sought every opportunity to experience the wonder of God’s creations. In December 2016, Don suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell from a ladder. Over the ensuing 18 months, as his health declined, he learned humility and patience as he endured the loss of his physical strength and ability. He spent the final months of his life in the constant care of his daughter, Jennifer. The entire family came to appreciate the blessing of Christ like service and all participated in the care of their father. On June 11, 2018 he passed from this world with his wife and family by his side. What a happy reunion he must have experienced to once again embrace his parents, his brother, and his son, Michael, who preceded him in death four years earlier.
Don Bagley lived the life he was given to the fullest. He knew joy and exhilaration as well as sorrow and despair. He embodied duty and honor to his family, his country and his God. He lived and made history yet ensured that his loved ones were never forgotten. He made a difference in this world and we are the better for it. He is survived by his wife, Elaine (Geisler), and children Jason (Janna), Richard (Colleen), Michael (deceased July 12, 2014), Jennifer Whetman (Scot), Andrea Brewster (Mark), Heather Gardner (Joel), and Frank (Lisa). He has 21 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The family would like to thank the staff at the George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home, Encompass Hospice and Essential Home Health Care for their devoted and kind service.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, June 16, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. at the Fruit Heights Stake Center, 170 North Mountain Road, Fruit Heights, Utah. Friends may visit family Friday from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Lindquist’s Kaysville Mortuary, 400 North Main, Kaysville, Utah, and Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the church. Interment, Kaysville City Cemetery.