Remembering My Mom’s Cousin, Thomas (Tommy) Dunlop

IMG_3100-0.JPGAs Mason and I approached the Vietnam Wall, I had no idea how to explain this most confusing war in simplistic terms.  However, he seemed to understand the gravity of it, as we witnessed before us several veterans approach the wall in tears seeking out their friends and comrades. Mason asked very few questions, and I was overcome with emotion.

I did not arrive at the wall looking for anyone; however, as we stood there before it, I was suddenly struck with a vivid memory of a Girl Scout trip to see the traveling Vietnam Wall in Jacksonville as a little girl.  My mom insisted on chaperoning, because there was a family member that she hoped to find.  I did not recall that person’s name, and I honestly am stunned that I was not more inquisitive at the time about this person’s service.  My only explanation for this is that I likely thought the relation far removed.

With this vivid memory, I immediately texted both my cousin Ingrid and her father, my Uncle Kinsey Cheshire. They responded that I would be looking for his and my Mom’s first cousin, Tommy Dunlop.  How had I not known that this was such a close family member?  Something about having his name, reminded me that my Mom had told me he was missing and that fairly recently his remains had been recovered.

I promise you, it was like having voices in my head telling me his story.

The eerie part is that I did not move but was soon approached by a volunteer asking me if I needed help finding a name.  I told her what I had just found out, and she confirmed that he was a POW and that his remains were recovered.  I kid you not, Mason and I were standing right in front of Tommy Dunlop’s name on that wall! It is like we were guided right to it.  I swear, I felt his spirit, my mom’s spirit… I felt completely surrounded by my family. I think Mason sensed it, too.

Dunlop was originally missing and was found in 2005.  According to reports, this is what occurred on April 6, 1972:

IMMEDIATE RELEASE  March 18, 2005 

Missing in Action Serviceman Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. Navy pilot, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Navy Commander Thomas E. Dunlop of Neptune Beach, Florida, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on March 21, 2005.

On April 6, 1972, Dunlop took off in his A-7E Corsair II from the USS Coral Sea on a bombing mission of enemy targets in Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. While over the target area, his aircraft was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and as his wingman watched, Dunlop’s aircraft exploded in a fireball and crashed.  No emergency beeper signals were received from the area of his crash.

In April 1993, joint U.S. and Vietnamese teams interviewed five residents of Quang Binh Province about the crash, but the information did not further the investigation.

In 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998, U.S. and Vietnamese investigators interviewed at least 13 other people in the province without results.  Meanwhile, U.S. survey teams visited potential crash sites in 1995, 1998 and twice in 2002.  Again, no useful information was obtained.

Then in 2003 and again in 2004, specialists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) excavated a crash site where they found aircraft debris, personal effects and human remains later identified by JPAC scientists as those of Dunlop.

In March 2005, Dunlop’s remains (the story below says there were no remains but, in fact, there were bone fragments) were returned, and he was buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – About two dozen relatives will pay their last respects next week to a Navy pilot, shot down over Vietnam in 1972, who was recently declared dead although no body was ever found.

An empty casket will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors for Cmdr. Thomas Earl Dunlop. Dunlop’s A-7E Corsair II was shot down over a remote area of Vietnam.

An official report concluded that a crash site excavated by a team of investigators definitely contained the wreckage of the plane Dunlop was flying, said his sister, Gail Hull-Ryde of Jacksonville, Florida. He was the only pilot in an A-7E Corsair II in the area at the time the plane was shot down in April 1972.

No body was found but he was declared dead after remnants of his clothing were identified.

“We’re happy there is this final closure, after so many years of nothing,” Hull-Ryde said.

Three of Dunlop’s four children will attend Monday’s ceremony.

The Pentagon’s POW-MIA Joint Accounting Command estimates 1,800 men are still missing in Vietnam.

Tommy Dunlop was the son of my maternal grandfather’s (Angus Walter “Skeet” Cheshire) sister, I think Janie. He had ten or eleven older siblings. The only one I remember clearly was Aunt Georgia.

I do not know the Dunlop family, but I hope that they find this blog and know that Tommy was loved by my Mom, Charlotte, and that I felt a definite spiritual connection to him that day.

His memory is honored.

Meeting a Real Captain America

My favorite day in Washington, DC was when we visited the World War 2 Memorial, the Vietnam Wall and the Lincoln Memorial. Mike did a good job of chasing Miss Julia, which gave me a chance to spend great quality time with Mason. He is an old soul, and seems to love learning about history already. He is particularly fond of flags and battles, so the war memorials particularly intrigued him, and he asked some amazingly deep questions as we stroll through. IMG_3110.JPG As we entered the World War 2 Memorial, we met this amazing gentleman, Peter Ruplenas.  Mason took to him right away, and he was so warm and kind in return.  He took Mason’s hand and began asking him questions about school and the FSU Seminoles.  Mason was intrigued by Mr. Ruplenas’ medals, and gladly took pictures with this great soldier.

Mr. Ruplenas then gave Mason an autographed copy of his book, 2 Cameras, 3 Wars: World War II Edition, which also contains a CD of his photographs.  A few years ago, his work was featured in a story by CNN, which contains samples of his work.

As we walked away, Mason proudly held onto his book tightly.  We talked about Mr. Ruplenas and his service to our country and the importance of honoring our veterans.  We also agreed that he is a true superhero.  As Mason put it, Mr. Ruplenas is a real life Captain America.





Family Vacation {Art & Soul}

We were so excited to find that fellow Seminole, Chef Art Smith, has a restaurant at The Liason, where we stayed during our DC vacation. It is called Art & Soul, and it was fantastic!

Our first night there, my best friend Tanya and her husband Michael, who are newly stationed in the area, met us for dinner.

I had not seen her in over a year, so I was thrilled to get to spend quality time all together.

While we waited on them to arrive, we had cocktails and the kids actually ordered their entrees at the waitress’ suggestion. Brilliant idea. We were all tired, and it helped the kids relax to have their food in front of them.

Once they arrived, Aunt Tanya and Uncle Michael were the center of our attention. We had so much fun. Mason adores his Aunt Tanya.

And Miss Julia claimed her man!

I love long, relaxing dinners. The restaurant’s ambiance was perfect, and we all enjoyed our meals. It was also nice getting to walk a short distance to the elevators afterwards, without having to worry about travel.

If you are in the DC-area and looking for a great restaurant, make sure you check out Art & Soul.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Originally posted on Sweet Tea & Bourbon:

Ben's Chili Bowl - Washington, DC - Photo by Mike Bonfanti

As soon as we booked our flight to DC I started looking for places to eat. At the top of my list was the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl.  During our first four days in the city we did not get anywhere near the restaurant, and  I was worried I would miss out on a delicious half-smoke.  Thankfully thing fell in line on the afternoon of our departure, and we made the trip from the National Mall to the diner on the air conditioned yellow line.

Ben’s is across the street from the U-Street Metro stop in an eye catching red and white painted building.  The restaurant opened in 1958 and proudly declares itself a Washington landmark.  We entered the door and were greeted by a line of people that stretched down from the cash register.  I took a place in line while Becky and the kids scouted for a table.

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Family Vacation 2014 {Part 1}

Mason has been asking to fly for a long time, though it’s not mine nor Mike’s favorite thing to do. However, one of our family resolutions for the year was to travel more, so we decided to plan a family trip far enough to hop on a plane. When my best friend told me that she and her husband would be stationed in Washington, DC this summer, I knew it was the perfect destination. The flights from Tallahassee were easy and inexpensive, and I knew we all would enjoy the sights.

We left Tallahassee at 6 am (Mike booked the flights… I will not be doing that again), so we were all groggy. Still, the kids were fantastic and were not nervous at all. They both loved being in the air! We traveled as light as possible and did not take a stroller but, honestly, I wish we would have so we would have had it for Jules in the city.

As soon as we arrived at our hotel, The Liason, we immediately set out to see sights. We purposely chose this area, because we wanted to be near the Capitol and Mall. It was perfect— but the walking quickly became too much for the kids, even Mason. I learned a lot about traveling with little ones this go around.

We saw a ton that afternoon, though. Our first stop was The Capitol.



Mike, our fearless leader, then took us on a stroll of the Mall. The kids were troopers, though we were all exhausted by the time we decided to have a late lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill. We had been up since 3 am.

After a delicious meal, we headed over to the White House. The kids wanted to see “where that bad guy lives,” though we had to explain that we can vote for a Republican replacement soon. We were not able to book a tour, sadly, but it was nice to see it in person and share the experience with the babies. President Obama was giving a speech while we were there, and I hoped to catch a glimpse of him, so we hung out for a bit and met a sweet girl from New Hampshire who kept us entertained.



In the end, we were thrilled to meet British reporter Neil Munro from The Daily Caller, as he was leaving the White House press conference. He was hysterical, and he and Mike shared tales of life in London.


Download This {Accuweather MinuteCast}

New York’s Fashion Week is in full force, and I am loving all of the photos I’m seeing. I am also loving an outstanding new feature on one of my favorite apps, Accuweather.

(Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for AccuWeather/AP Images)

The feature is called MinuteCast, and it has already come in quite handy here in North Florida, where thunderstorms pop up almost instantaneously this time of year. It’s Easy to use and Free! Download the AccuWeather app today on your iPhone, Android, Microsoft or Amazon mobile phone and click “Get MinuteCast”. MinuteCast is also available at from your computer or mobile phone.

Today is game day for our home team, the defending National Champions, Florida State Seminoles. We take our school spirit very seriously–“Party like it’s Saturday, dress like it’s Sunday”–and eye-catching and classy game day fashion is a must.

Before heading out for a little pre-game shopping this morning, Miss Julia and I consulted Accuweather MinuteCast and chose our cowgirl boots to fend off any puddles we might come across in historic downtown Thomasville, Georgia. These paired perfectly with our gold sun dresses and pearls. Go Noles!

This photo was taken in one of our favorite boutiques on Broad, Brooke & Nicole. They were hosting a Matilda Jane trunk show, and we stocked up for Fall.

By the way, Elle has my favorite Fashion Week coverage. I was looking through their list of “Models to Watch” and came across Noel.

{Photo: ELLE Magazine}
Does she not look like my Miss Julia!? I think we are missing out on some opportunities for my little one. Contract anyone?



My cousin Kelly and Mason at the unveiling of the Jaguars’ new video boards. There was a soccer game with DC United and Fulham, and then there was a concert by Carrie Underwood.

Mason LOVED the soccer game before the concert. He like Carrie Underwood; but he made his Daddy leave when she played “the Meme song.” He associates “See You Again” with Mom’s death.