A pilot struggled at the controls as his plane lost power and altitude.
Two of the B-17's four engines were now damaged by anti-aircraft fire.
But the bomber had remained in formation with others on its U.S. 8th Air Force mission and had delivered its bomb load over the German target.
Now, on its long flight back to base in England, the crippled plane was straggling and at risk of becoming easy prey for marauding Messerschmitt fighters.
But Providence and a pilot's skill were at work for the plane and its crew that day. They made it safely home, and the mission earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for Ray Kolman of Delta, the B-17's pilot.
Col. Kolman retired after 30 years in the service and returned to Delta where he passed away last March.
But the story of his military service will live on with the stories of other local veterans in a unique wartime history museum assembled and curated by a Delta man.
Steve Dunivan began his avocation of collecting military memorabilia in 1994. "At that time, there was a lot of interest in the upcoming 50th anniversary of the end of WWII," he explains. "I decided I would put together a shadow box for my dad with the military honors he had earned in the war."
From that small beginning, Dunivan's collection has grown over the years, and along with it have grown his knowledge and enthusiasm for preserving the military service histories of local people.
Dunivan has been entrusted by local families with military uniforms of local servicemen and women. Working just as a museum curator would, Dunivan researches available records including old photographs. Original documents, including discharge papers, are a big help in his research.
Then, using his knowledge of the ribbons, badges, and other uniform insignias, he creates mannequin mounted, museum-quality displays that capture the pride, achievement, courage, and honor that military uniforms conveyed in the victorious America of 70 years ago.
An example of Dunivan's research and curation work on the military artifacts in his collection is seen in the uniform of Samuel Bontreger, the father of Gordon Bontreger of Delta and a veteran of the vicious Guadalcanal campaign in the South Pacific.
The family didn't have a lot of information about Bontreger's service. But Dunivan noticed an apparent anomaly in the uniform they had brought to him: though the lapel bore the insignia of an artillery unit, there was a set of wings pinned over the left breast pocked.
Dunivan started his research and arrived at the answer. Bontreger had sometimes talked about "taking up flying again." The wings and artillery badge would have been worn by the pilot of an artillery spotter aircraft. That duty was conducted by sergeants, Dunivan's research revealed. And, sure enough, Bontreger's uniform bears sergeants' stripes on the sleeve.
Thus, interesting details of Bontreger's service history became known to this family and are preserved for the future in Dunivan's museum collection.
|This display is built around the uniform of Elroy Hyatt of Hotchkiss. His unit fought across Europe, from Normady to Berlin.||The photo on the uniform shows a Marine lieutenant John Bohning (Paonia), but the uniform is that of a colonel. Dunivan's research spanned the carrier pilot's career in creating the display.|
While the local uniforms Dunivan has on display are the heart of his collection, he has added hundreds of other objects to complement them.
He has a remarkable set of over 300 satin "pillow cover" banners. They were souvenir mementos created uniquely for many military bases and other installations, many of which no longer exist.
Dunivan's professional-quality displays of various artifacts are arrayed in "layers," he explains. A visitor to his trove could easily do an interesting quick walk-through. But the displays are designed to be viewed at leisure, taking the visitor's eye from floor to ceiling and from foreground to back in a three-dimensional visual journey through a real-life tapestry of eye-catching, endlessly interesting historical artifact and image.
Many of the items housed in Dunivan's collection are of general historical interest, not particularly tied to a local service person. One example is the mannequin mounted flight suit of a B-17 waist gunner.
The display includes everything except the 50-caliber machine gun that could fire 600 rounds per minute at attacking German fighters. The gunner's suit, made of leather and heavily fleece insulated to protect against-50F winds that raced through the open firing port, is authentic to detail including the thick mitten's "trigger finger" digit.
People in the local community have heard about Dunivan's work mostly by word of mouth, and they have brought the heirlooms of their family's military heritage to him for his care. He has bought items in antique shops too, but good artifacts are becoming harder to come by, he says.
He enjoys helping people piece together the service histories of their loved ones and relatives.
Dunivan can be reached at 874-5315.
"It takes a lot of research, but the work is very interesting to me," Dunivan says. His work is more than an intellectual diversion; it is a tribute to the people whom he calls "Our local heroes."
Dunivan says that first shadow box gift project which started him on his journey through military history was well received by his father. Clarence E. Dunivan trained with the 1st Special Service Force, then went to combat with the 16th Armored Division. In May, 1945, his unit liberated the Czechoslovak city of Pilsen on direct orders from Gen. George C. Patton.
|A simple shadow box display of his dad's military honors set Steve Dunivan on a path of discovering and preserving military service histories of "Our local heroes."||Many artifacts and mementos acquired over 17 years of collecting are part of Steve Dunivan's collection.|