ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
It’s spring in South Dakota, and the early morning sun has just begun to peak above the Black Hills. Two men sit hidden and silent in a field, waiting for the perfect shot during turkey season.
Officers’ John Kost and Dave Donnelly, police officers assigned to the 28th Security Forces Squadron, had been awake since the early morning hours, waiting for their golden opportunity. All of the sudden, a loud crinkling sound broke the silence.
“He had reached into his pack and opened a bag of doughnuts,” Kost chuckled. “I remember the look I gave Dave, and the way he looked at me, he thought I was gonna strangle him. It was his first hunting trip, and I had reminded him earlier that morning that we had to stay quiet so we didn’t scare the turkeys away.”
Donnelly was born on Feb. 24, 1973, and raised in the small town of Cahokia, Illinois. Sadly, Donnelly passed away on Oct. 15, 2016, after a long battle with cancer. His entire life, even when he was young, he always had the desire to serve. After serving a 10-year tour in the U.S. Army, he became a police officer with the Department of the Air Force.
“My dad was a trouble maker growing up,” smiled Zach Donnelly, Dave’s son. “If you could see the town he grew up in, you’d know why he was always getting into something. There just came a time when he said ‘I want to be able to look back and say I did something with my life;’ so he joined the military, and that was his best option.”
Zach mentioned one of his fondest memories of his father was the first time he had been to a live St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.
“I had never seen him act so young,” Zach laughed. “Just seeing how much he loved it made me want to love it, too.”
During his time at Ellsworth, his coworkers described him as professional, dependable and honest, while also being an excellent motivator and mentor.
“Dave was the kind of man that if you were down, he could get you back up and in the right mind set,” said Officer Marc Muzio. “He knew exactly what to say and when to say it. What made him so great is that as a friend, he would give you the right advice you needed, and he would never easily be swayed.”
Coworkers mentioned Donnelly took great pride and enjoyment in training and mentoring new Airmen and officers, and lead with a show, not tell attitude.
Master Sgt. Kelvin Hannah, flight chief assigned to the 28th SFS thought back to the time he first encountered Donnelly. “We first met when he came into the flight, and after a while, we went out on patrols together. During patrols, if we had to respond to certain incidents, he would always talk and make light about it afterward. While I was rushing around, trying my best to be cool, he would always be keeping his calm and keep me leveled.”
Hannah said when the two began to work night shift, they would have long talks about life, family and everything in between. One of the last conversations they shared, Donnelly had told Hannah ‘you’re like a brother to me.’
“He was definitely a family man, so hearing that from him meant a lot to me,” Hannah said. “He wasn’t just a great police officer; he was a friend, a brother and loyal.”
Officer Kost had mentioned one of the best things about Donnelly was his positive attitude, saying that if there was ever anything wrong with him, like a bad day, nobody would ever know.
“I just want people to know that he was a great dad,” Zach said. “I miss him being here and being able to give me guidance; he was so full of life and fun to be around. Even though he’s gone, he’s no longer in pain and he’d be astounded to see that he’s being remembered in such a big way.”