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Still more to raise, say leaders of 'Save The Sullivans'

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

One of the three decommissioned vessels which rest in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park is in need of hull repairs. Earlier this year, a $2 million fundraising campaign was announced to fix the USS The Sullivans. The granddaughter of one of the men for whom the ship was named recently chatted with WBFO to provide an update on that effort.

The USS The Sullivans DD-537 is a Fletcher Class destoyer which is named for five brothers, all of whom were killed in action during World War II. The ship was launched in 1943 and decommissioned in 1965. It achieved National Historic Landmark status in 1986.

Naval and Military Park officials say the hull is in need of a large-scale repair. Over time, bumps fom passing ice and other contacts to the vessel have punched small holes in the hull. During the winter months, small devices featuring propellers can be seen in the water next to the ships, stirring up the water to discourage ice formation. But ice does find its way down the Buffalo River into the harbor, and some encounters the retired ships.

John Branning, superintendent of ships at the park, personally goes on dives to repair what he described in a March interview as pinholes perforating the hull but says his efforts amount to merely applying a bandage to a bigger wound.

The hull, he explained, was thin and the ship was one of many built hastily for use quickly getting in and out of combat situations.

"It was never designed to last that long," Branning said about the hull of the destroyer. "Its armor and its protection was its speed and maneuverability. It was never designed to sit there and slug it out with another ship."

In March, the Naval and Military Park announced the launch of a $2 million fundraising campaign to support a more thorough repair of the hull. Among those who helped launch the campaign was Kelly Sullivan, granddaughter of Sullivan brother Arthur. She's a schoolteacher in Waterloo, Iowa, where there's a museum honoring her grandfather and granduncles. Being a legacy certainly helps to gain support for the project but Sullivan recently told WBFO that fixing the ship would not be just about preserving her own family's heritage.

"When people meet me, what we're really talking about is you think of all the men that have served on that ship," Sullivan said. "You think about their children and their grandchildren. It's a big Navy family. We serve to make sure that we honor all of those families by preserving that ship."

There was no known deadline when Sullivan was asked and she advised WBFO that the fundraising goal has not yet been reached. She's planning a return visit to Buffalo later this year, around Veterans Day.

In the meantime, there's a newer USS The Sullivans which has been in service since it was commissioned in 1997. Kelly Sullivan is its sponsor. Her daughter, meanwhile, has been asked to be the honorary sponsor of the USS The Sullivans now docked in Buffalo.

"She just cried happy tears. It was the neatest thing," said Sullivan about her daughter's reaction when asked for her consideration. "To watch her and how much it affected her, it was something I'll never forget. She knows how important it is to honor our veterans and to keep this history alive with the ship."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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