Honored veteran recalls life, loves ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY SENIORS

November 18, 1992|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

When William Sullivan was a young man, he joined the Navy to see the world.

The things he saw are the stuff of history books.

Mr. Sullivan, who will turn 99 on the day after Christmas, is one of the oldest veterans in Anne Arundel County.

He enlisted in the Navy in June 1917, two months after the U.S. declared war on Germany, and served aboard the USS Buffalo. He watched as American warships battled German subs, he wooed pretty girls in Spain and he sailed through the Panama Canal when it was still an engineering miracle.

After returning to Baltimore, he operated a restaurant on Washington Boulevard, tended bars in Pasadena, ran a charter boat service on the Chesapeake Bay and founded Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2462 on Bayside Beach Road.

Yesterday the Pasadena post gave a luncheon for Mr. Sullivan and 26 other veterans from the Charlotte Hall veterans home.

Poor circulation in his feet has forced Mr. Sullivan to use a wheelchair in recent months, but he says he feels strong and healthy.

"Feel that muscle," he offers, touching his right biceps.

He enjoys weekly bingo games, trips to the local VFW posts, and occasional television. His friends describe him as sharp and independent.

"I'm a lone wolf," he says.

Although Mr. Sullivan had no children and has outlived his other relatives, he is not alone. Friends at the Post 2462 warmly greet him, calling him "Captain Bill."

"He's seen 13 of my grandchildren born and my great-grandchildren, so he's part of the family," said Joann Waldecker. She and her husband, Frederick, met Mr. Sullivan when he lived in a trailer next to their restaurant 25 years ago.

When the owner of the property on which Mr. Sullivan lived decided to sell the land, the Waldeckers permitted him to move his trailer to their land, and he became a member of their family.

Mr. Sullivan was born in Baltimore Dec. 26, 1893 -- a year before Thomas Edison showed off his first projector -- and lived with his parents, brother and sister on Orleans Street. About a week before his 10th birthday, the Wright brothers flew the first plane. A few months later, he watched Baltimore burn in the great fire of 1904. It wasn't especially frightening, he says. "They kept everyone back."

He was 23 when he enlisted in the Navy, working as a carpenter's mate repairing warships. He vividly recalls watching one battle between U.S. ships and German subs off the coast of Spain.

"Kaiser Wilhelm thought he had something, but we showed him," Mr. Sullivan says.

He marveled at the apes he saw on Gibraltar and boasts about the women he wooed in Spain.

"I was a good-looking guy. I could get a woman and then some," he says.

Although he held a number of jobs after he returned to Baltimore, his favorite work was the charter boat business. He owned two boats that he used for crabbing and for fishing excursions.

"I liked that more than anything in the world," he says.

He and 25 friends founded VFW Post 2462 in 1964 and he was the first commander.

Mr. Sullivan says he plans to live past 100, but can't explain the reason for his long life.

"I never thought I'd live this long," he said.

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