Wilton Vet who served on a blimp in WWII celebrates 100th birthday
WILTON — April 23 was a special day for William Dunlap.
It was a cold and drizzly afternoon, but that did not deter his family, friends and first responders from lining up outside The Greens at Cannondale, the assisted-living center in Wilton where he lives.
Honking their horns and flashing their lights, they honored Dunlap with a parade from their vehicles in honor of his 100th birthday.
“Under the circumstances, it was the nicest party I could have had,” Dunlap said afterwards. “I thank everyone for their efforts under the conditions.”
The conditions being quarantine and social distancing measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For protection, Dunbar had to watch the parade from afar, and had to celebrate in the confines of the Greens where outside visitors are currently prohibited.
Although she was not allowed to visit her father, Dunbar’s daughter Abby Quinn, an optometrist at Wilton Family Eyecare, wanted to mark his milestone birthday with a special celebration. So she organized a parade through the Wilton Birthday Parades Facebook page, where residents are invited to participate in drive-by birthday parades.
“It was the first birthday parade they had at the Greens, and my dad loved it,” Quinn said.
Dunlap has seen and experienced a lot in his 100 years.
An only child, Dunlap was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on April 23, 1920, and attended Richmond High School in Queens.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor hit Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy the next day. His visit to the naval recruiting station was captured in a photo by the New York Times. It shows a large crowd of men eagerly waiting to be fingerprinted so they could join the U.S. military in World War II.
Dunlap had a distinguished career in the Navy. He was a Chief Airship Rigger and served in the Navy’s lighter-than-air station program for anti-submarine patrolling.
During World War II, some 532 ships without airship escort were sunk near the U.S. coast by enemy submarines.
For their protection, a number of blimp airships were assigned to escort Naval convoys. Dunbar was assigned to the flight crew of one of those blimps.
His crew of eight to 10 men patrolled areas where Japanese and German submarines were attacking American ships. As Chief Airship Rigger, Dunlap was in charge of the bombs on the blimp.
During his military career, he was stationed in Miami, Fla., Galveston, Texas, and Cuba, with the bulk of his time spent in Brazil.
After the war, Dunlap settled in New Jersey and worked in optical sales and was married twice. Quinn is a daughter from Dunlap’s second marriage, to wife Josephine, who died in 2013. He has one son from that marriage as well as two sons from his first marriage, which ended in divorce.
“I’m the youngest child. My dad was 40 when I was born,” said Quinn. The oldest child, from Dunbar’s first marriage, is 71. “There’s quite an age difference,” Quinn said. Dunbar has nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
After retirement from sales, Dunbar retired to Florida, where he avidly played golf until he was 96. “My dad loved living in Florida, playing golf and cards,” Quinn said.
Quinn said her father is a sweet man, but was also a bit of a hellion. “As a salesman, he traveled a lot, he was a ‘wheeler dealer’ type of guy and he had a lot of friends,” she said.
He was also an extrovert and an optimist and saw the glass as ‘half full,’ Quinn said.
But things for Dunlap started going downhill after he turned 96. “He has fallen a number of times and has broken both hips, his pelvis, arms, foot and ribs in the past four years,” Quinn said.
So she made the decision to bring her father closer to her in Connecticut and get him the care he needs in an assisted-living facility. “He’s happy at the Greens,” she said.
When asked what he attributes to living a long life, spanning a century, Dunbar had very few words. “I stopped drinking scotch at 90,” he said.