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The Bob Kenevan Story

How total strangers help a West Point graduate deliver a message to his brothers

Bob Kenevan’s official cadet photo and medallion. Photo credit: Ingrid Troy

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This story is of The Long Gray Line -- a phrase used to describe, as a continuum, all graduates and cadets of the United States Military Academy at West Point (USMA) -- with its deep-rooted bond that reaches into the past, is indelible in the present and will continue unbroken into the future.  It tells the story of the efforts made by total strangers to find and deliver a meaningful and important message from one USMA classmate to his brothers in arms, one he could not deliver himself.

Sometime in early March 2016, Kent Troy (USMA '81) and his wife, Ingrid, went to the Tacoma Trophy store, which is located outside Joint Base Lewis McChord in Lakewood, to place an order for a project regarding their West Point class.  DJ Brown, a retired Navy chief petty officer and the proprietor of this store, recognized the West Point crest and asked if they happened to know a graduate named Bob Kenevan.

DJ and Judi Brown and Kent and Ingrid Troy join the Alphagators at their reunion after presenting each classmate with his medallion. Photo credit: Kent Troy

DJ showed them The Howitzer yearbook from the class of 1970 and 29 medallions. These had been ordered by Dr. Bob Kenevan (USMA '70) back in November 2014 and were to have been picked up sometime in March 2015. Bob's vision was to create a medallion for each of his company mates, with their photo from the year book, a group he identified in writing as, "The Alphogators", and with their class crest on the other side.  Alphagators was the nickname associated with their company, A-4. He wanted to surprise them with these medallions during the upcoming 45th class reunion at West Point in October 2015. Even though he had paid for the medallions, he never returned to pick them up and all attempts by DJ and his wife, Judi, to reach him were unsuccessful. DJ and Judi knew how important this project had been to Dr. Kenevan so they held on to the medallions and The Howitzer in the hope of getting them to the intended classmates.

Since Kent was also a graduate of West Point, DJ thought he might be able to assist in finding Bob's family or perhaps one of his classmates.

Upon returning home, Kent looked online at the Association of Graduates (AOG) Register website and quickly found Bob Kenevan listed there. Ingrid checked online and both learned that, sadly, Bob Kenevan had unexpectedly passed away Aug. 22, 2015. They contacted DJ and Judi to share this sad news.

DJ and Judi continued to call Bob's widow, leaving numerous messages, with no success. Ingrid was able to get in touch with Mrs. Kenevan via email and was told that she was aware the items were there and "not to worry about it". Again, this message was passed on to DJ and Judi.

In July 2016, the Troy's returned to Tacoma Trophy for yet another order and asked if Bob's wife had ever picked up the items. She had not. They thought perhaps she needed a bit more time since it had not been a year since her husband had passed away and perhaps Mrs. Kenevan wasn't up to the task at this time.

Eight months later, Friday, March 24, 2017, Ingrid returned to have a plaque made up. She thought surely by now the items were finally in the right hands but they had never been picked up. Ingrid was disappointed and promised DJ and Judi that she and Kent would find Bob's classmates and reach out to see if they could take care of fulfilling Bob's wish.

DJ kindly let Ingrid take the medallions home so they could do some research with the AOG to find Bob's classmates. However, he would hang on to The Howitzer because it was the personal property of Dr. Kenevan and also because he wanted it to go to one of his family members.

That evening, Kent and Ingrid went back to the AOG website and looked up each and every one of these graduates. A few of the companies listed on the AOG website did not match what was on the medallions. Ingrid and Kent could not understand why some of these cadets were listed in A-4 yet their medallions reflected them in companies D-4 and C-4.  Something was amiss.

They returned to Tacoma Trophy to look at The Howitzer, however, this just complicated matters. In The Howitzer, the company picture showed all of these cadets in A-4 but three individual senior pictures had them in D-4. Their names were Tom Brandtner, Ron Rold and Mac Love. The next morning, Kent and Ingrid sent individual emails, using the email addresses on the AOG website, to these three gentlemen telling them the story and asking for clarification in order to finish this project.

Although it was a Sunday, Kent had to leave for work shortly after the emails had been sent. Less than 30 minutes later, the phone rang at their house. Ingrid saw on the caller ID the name, "Brandtner." The gentleman on the other end said, "You don't know who I am ...", but before he could finish she interrupted him saying, "I know exactly who you are!"

Tom Brandtner and Ingrid had a long conversation. Tom was deeply moved by Bob Kenevan's gesture and told Ingrid that he and his wife, Jackie, would be in touch very soon. He assured Ingrid that it would be an honor to distribute the medallions for Bob. It turns out that Tom Brandtner and Bob Kenevan were not only roommates at West Point, Plebe and Firstie years, but both had been assigned in Augsburg, Germany, for their first duty assignment and were the best of friends.

Tom explained that he, Ron Rold and Mac Love started out in Company A-4 for their Plebe year (1966-1967). In 1967, at the beginning of Yearling year, the Corps expanded from two battalions of three companies each per regiment, to three battalions, three companies each. Tom, Ron and Mac, in addition to six others, were part of their class in A-4 to start a "new" D-4. At the end of Cow year, A-4 was down to 18 in the class, while D-4 was still up to 24 or 25. The decision was made to balance the companies, so Tom, Ron and Mac were sent back to A-4 for their Firstie year. The individual pictures were taken before the end of Cow year while they were still in D-4. The group picture was taken during Firstie year when they were back in A-4.

That evening, Ingrid also received a call from Jackie Brandtner who shared many touching stories of her and Tom's lifelong friendship with Bob. She would also reach out to Bob's sister, Molly, to ask for her mailing address to ensure The Howitzer could be sent to the family. Later that evening, Ingrid also received email responses from both Ron Rold and Mac Love.  She could hardly believe that all three classmates had responded within a few short hours.

Jackie also shared that, throughout the years, Bob never came to any of the official five-year West Point reunions nor any of the mini-company reunions.  In 2006, when Tom and Jackie decided to host a mini-reunion at their home in Missouri, they invited all the "Alphagators" to join them. Bob declined. Jackie sat down and wrote him a long letter where she expressed her disappointment after all they had been through together over the years.  Her words had the desired effect and Bob and his wife, Flavia, came to their mini-reunion.  He enjoyed this reunion tremendously, so much so that Flavia commented on how she had never seen him as happy as he was being around his friends and classmates. Flavia was amazed to witness the laughter and brotherhood that was evident as the guys reflected on their time together at their Rockbound Highland home.

The next day, Monday, April 3, 2017, Ingrid came to tell DJ and Judi of their success in reaching three of Bob's classmates and shared their telephone conversations as well as all the email exchanges with them.  They all were elated knowing that Bob's wish of getting these medallions to his classmates would be fulfilled.

Tom, Mac and Ron pointed out that "Alphogators" should be "Alphagators" and when Ingrid pointed this out to DJ, he quickly retrieved his paperwork that was created when the order was placed. Most of it is in Bob's handwriting and they agreed that it did look like Bob had written down, "Alphogators". However, DJ said he would remake all of the medallions with the correct names, companies and Alphagator spelling, at his own expense since he wanted this to be as special as Bob had intended it to be.

DJ also felt that it was appropriate to let Bob's sister, Molly, have The Howitzer. He was glad that it would go to a family member who would cherish it. He let Ingrid take the book home. Jackie sent Ingrid Molly's address and Ingrid mailed the book off to her.  She also mailed the medallions to Tom and Jackie.

A few days later, Monday, April 20, 2017, Ingrid received the following email from Jackie:

"Dearest Ingrid,

Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Just received the package. Speechless.

I will contact Ron and Mac tonight. These are magnificent. The first one I pulled out of the box was Tom's!

Thank you doesn't begin to express my/our emotions.

I will be in touch very, very soon.

Eternally grateful, and with love,

Shortly after the medallions had been received, Jackie and Tom Brandtner sent an email to their A-4 classmates letting them know that everyone should plan on attending the company mini-reunion in Indianapolis as they had received a "very remarkable, if not almost miraculous message from Bob Kenevan." Since Mac, Ron and Tom were the ones contacted initially, they swore each other to secrecy until the mini-reunion. Tom and Jackie also extended an invitation to the Troy's and the Brown's to be a part of the mini-reunion and the presentation.

On Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, nearly three years after Bob had brought his yearbook to Tacoma Trophy, DJ, Judi, Kent and Ingrid flew from Seattle to Indianapolis.  At the hotel hosting the reunion, the four met Tom and Jackie Brandtner in person and, one by one, met each of the Alphagator classmates and their families that were able to attend.

That evening, each attendee heard how these strangers were now connected because of the vision of one man, the diligence of several others to see that vision realized, and the appreciative acceptance of complete strangers into a tightknit military family, be that Army OR Navy! Each Alphagator was presented with their custom medallion that evening.

That reunion lasted well into the night as classmates shared stories about Bob and their experiences at West Point. The reunion attendees expressed heartfelt appreciation for the Browns' and Troys' efforts to bring Bob's vision to fruition.

The Browns and the Troys returned to Seattle on Sunday afternoon, relieved that Bob's order was complete and in the hands of its intended recipients. They were excited that these newfound friends, the Alphagators, had come into their lives and memories, and, more than ever before, they were appreciative of the indelible bonds of friendship and service.

Late in December 2017, DJ received a phone call at Tacoma Trophy from Mrs. Kenevan.  She asked if he still had The Howitzer.  DJ told her the story and she was very thankful at learning that Bob's classmates had received their medallions and she would contact Molly to see if she could get the yearbook back.  Her grandson had expressed an interest in having his grandfather's Howitzer and gaining an insight into "The Long Gray Line".

And so the story ends.  Although Bob Kenevan's course on Earth has run, we none-the-less can say, "Well Done; Be Thou at Peace.

"Robert J. Kenevan
March 14, 1948 - August 22, 2015

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