Saving the stories of veterans

The retired Piqua policeman has made several D.C. trips to see war memorials.

He traces the interest to his father, Sam Sullenberger, and his five brothers along with several of his mother’s uncles, all who served in World War II.

That influence helped lead Sullenberger to enlist in the Navy in 1971, where he trained as a weather observer and served on the USS John F. Kennedy and the USS America over nearly four years.

A native of Christiansburg, Sullenberger returned home, obtained a degree from Sinclair Community College and joined the Piqua Police Department in summer 1977. He served 21 years before retiring in 1999 and now works in safety and security at Systemax.

Although always interested in his dad’s military stories, Sullenberger didn’t become serious about documenting them until after Sam Sullenberger’s death in 2002.

“I heard a lot of stories. I wish I could remember them all,” he said. “One of my regrets in life is I didn’t take time to record information from him.”

Among the stories were Sam Sullenberger’s details of enlisting with his brother, Ray, on the same day in 1942 and the time they spent together on the same ship after telling people they were cousins instead of brothers.

Since his father’s death, Sullenberger has confirmed some stories and pieced together additional details by locating photographs showing his father and talking with some who served with him. Those efforts have helped him learn more about his father, and what made him tick.

Sullenberger became even more involved with veterans when he leaped at the chance to work with the local Mission: Veterans to D.C. nonprofit that led 11 bus trips of veterans to Washington to see their war memorials.

“I viewed the chance to accompany a trip with men like my father (who died before the WWII memorial was completed) as a way of honoring my father and uncles,” he said. “It has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had,”

He accompanied his first group in 2008 and was involved in some way with the eight trips that followed, until the Mission’s final trip in September.

His involvement has extended to other activities including Sullenberger’s love of bicycling, an interest he shares with Elaine, his wife of 38 years. They have an adult son and daughter.

In 2011, Sullenberger raised $1,400 with a bicycle ride to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

During the last Mission trip, Sullenberger said he visited President Kennedy’s grave for the first time. He recalled watching the president’s funeral in November 1963 on his 11th birthday, a birth date he shared with John F. Kennedy Jr.

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