From the east coast to the west coast: the journey of two bottles to reunite WWII members

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Todd Wivell
  • 62nd Airlift Wing

It is approximately 2,800 miles from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Seattle, Washington and can take more than four days of driving to make this trip. That is exactly what took place when two bottles of 1945 Calvados brandy were transported from Fredericksburg the week of March 22 and as one bottle arrived to Seattle the week of April 7,  the other bottle arrived to Lompoc, California the week before.

These two bottles were transported as an initiative started back during World War II when service members of the 510th Fighter Squadron made a pact to remain in contact and hold reunions throughout the years to come.

At one of the last reunions the men of that squadron realized they would not be able to continue the traditional reunion and decided to purchase these two bottles of brandy, with a promise that the last two surviving members would get those bottles, pour a drink and raise a toast to their departed brethren.

Those bottles were kept at the home of Walter Donovan, a fighter pilot of the 510th FS and before passing he asked his nephew Dick Dunnivan, a Fredericksburg native, to ensure that promise would stay fulfilled.

Dunnivan followed the remaining service members of that unit until the last two were left, Col. (ret.) Ralph Jenkins of Seattle and Maj. (ret.) M.E. Johns of Lompoc and thus started the recent journey of these two bottles.

Working his connections, Dunnivan was able to hand off the bottles to Jeff Barber of J. Barber Moving and Storage in Federicksburg who transported them to Chicago where they were then handed off to two separate members, Mr. Bradly Boland, O-Neill Transfer and Storage Co., and Ms. Kelly Kirkman, Affordable Quality Moving and Storage, who live in Oregon and California, respectively, and who made the final deliveries to Airmen from the Air Force bases closes to these surviving members.

“I feel very honored to be a small part of this chain to get the bottle of brandy to Col. Jenkins,” said Boland as he handed over the bottle to an Airman from McChord Field, Washington. “I was humbled to serve a deserving veteran who gave his all for his country.”

Speaking to his own family history, Boland commented on how this had a special tie to him and all of his family.

“My father was a veteran of World War II, he served in the 75th division and was seriously injured during the Battle of the Bulge.  My wife’s father served in the Navy during World War II.  My wife’s grandfather served in France during World War I.  Three of my cousins served in Vietnam.  One close family friend lost both legs during the Vietnam conflict and two of my brother-in-law’s served in Vietnam.


“My dad had some close friends serve in World War II and I can still remember during events how they would tell their stories of serving overseas and sharing their battle stories.  None of them were bragging, they were just telling it like it was.”


Boland has his father’s ribbons and marksmanship badge hanging up in his office as a constant reminder of the sacrifices the service members endured during all of those battles.


“I am a World War II student and I have read a lot of books on the subject,” said Boland.  “Because of the stories I heard over the years, it gave me more interest to read and study about this awful conflict. 


“Now the people stories have become more interesting to me and knowing that I could help reunite the last two remaining members of this World War II squadron meant a lot to me.”


On Friday, April 7 at 11 a.m. pacific standard time, through the means of technology and with the help of Airmen from JBLM and Airmen from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; Jenkins in Seattle and Johns in Lompoc will Facetime each other and offer that toast to their fallen comrades.


“We could not have done this without the help and generosity of Mr. Dunnivan, Mr. Barber, Ms. Kirkman and Mr. Boland and all of those that made this possible,” said Col. Leonard Kosinski, 62nd Airlift Wing Commander. “We are extremely grateful and express our sincerest appreciation for them in allowing us to make this happen.”