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Navy Veterans Recount Time Spent Serving Their Country

Veterans who served after WWII had grown up during a time of victory gardens, rationing and scrap collecting, which gave them a strong sense of patriotism. When called upon to serve during young adulthood, many willingly signed up. Andy Powell and Bill Sullivan, two Navy veterans and residents of The Cardinal at North Hills, are open to sharing the experiences they gained through their service.


“I have never met anybody who served on as many ships as I did during my two years of service,” said Powell. “I was assigned to an aircraft carrier, a battleship, a cruiser and 13 destroyers. During my 23 months of service I traveled the world working on a target drone practice assignment. It was rare to achieve the status of the Golden Shellback, which is given to a person who has crossed the equator at the 180th meridian (International Date Line). However, I crossed the equator during this time and underwent a rigorous initiation for doing so. I chose the Navy Air because as a young boy I enjoyed building airplanes, models and gas-engine model airplanes. I requested active duty and it served me well. They picked up on the fact that I liked planes, which is how I ended up on the target drone assignment.”


Powell was originally assigned to an aircraft carrier, the USS Ticonderoga, which travelled through the Mediterranean. When he came back to the dry docks at Norfolk, he was sent to target drone school. These were some of the first drones used and they had a 12-foot wing span, which was fairly large. This first assignment was in Mexicali, Mexico. He was then assigned to the USS Wisconsin, a battleship. From there he was assigned to a heavy cruiser, the USS Macon, for a midshipman’s cruise across the equator. During this time they made simulated attack runs on the destroyers. Crews would use the drones as target practice, firing at them, and they were graded on accuracy. They traveled from Brazil to Puerto Rico and back to Norfolk. When he got back to Norfolk, he was assigned to 13 different destroyers where he continued his assignment. They would launch drones off the back of their ship and other destroyers would shoot at them to practice their marksmanship.


“Joining the Navy made me grow up and mature real fast. I was a young boy who was expected to do manly things, not a boy’s work,” said Powell. “I wasn’t planning to join the Navy until my roommate at Auburn convinced me and six other guys in our fraternity that we ought to join the service. Congress had just passed a law which would allow us to serve for two years and then be discharged, and his reasoning was that if we joined the Navy we wouldn’t have to worry about being drafted into the Army. We agreed to go back to our hometown in Birmingham to join. The day we all signed up he backed out, and he never was drafted. It was a longstanding joke between us through our fraternity and college days. I’m glad he convinced me though. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.”


Powell is extremely patriotic, and he encourages everyone to pause on Veterans Day to show their appreciation to those who served or who are currently serving. He also believes this holiday is a wonderful way for the country to acknowledge the service of so many Americans.


“When I grew up everyone either chose to serve in the military or waited to be drafted into the Army,” said Sullivan. “I am happy our country continues to show appreciation and patriotism for our veterans. Whether people served during a period of war or not, whether they served in combat or not, they deserve to be remembered and recognized.”


Sullivan joined the Naval ROTC at Notre Dame and received his commission in June 1956. He was stationed at the naval communications station in Norfolk, Virginia as a communications watch officer for about a year. Here he oversaw the communications for the base and handled coded traffic. The second year he was assigned to the USS Ranger, a newly commissioned aircraft carrier that was then the largest vessel in the U.S. fleet and in the world. He was assigned to communications again, and served both as a communications watch officer and as signals officer.


“We spent a fair amount of time at Guantanamo Bay training and ‘shaking down’ the ship, which means getting the ship ready both for sea duty and combat,” said Sullivan. “We were then transferred from Norfolk to the Pacific Fleet and a home port near San Francisco, but the aircraft carrier was far too large to go through the Panama Canal. We had to cruise around the entire Atlantic Coast of South American, then Cape Horn, known for the stormiest weather in the world, though calm when we passed through, then the Pacific Coast and Mexico. I became really good friends with the man I shared a stateroom with during that time. My favorite place we stopped was Rio de Janeiro. It was a really valuable experience. I travelled the world and met people from very different backgrounds. Prior to my service, I grew up and went to school in the New York metropolitan area that actually limited my view of the rest of the country and the world. Serving in the Navy broadened my perspective and introduced me to a variety of cultures. I was fortunate to serve during a time of peace, and I didn’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice that others made before me and after me. It was nice to pause my life to serve before I went to law school at Harvard.”


“We are delighted to host a Veterans Day ceremony to recognize everyone living in our community who has served,” said Tom Ford, executive director of The Cardinal at North Hills. “Many of the veterans are quiet about their service, but when prompted have a gold mine of stories and experiences to share. We feel privileged to hear their accounts and gain a better understanding of our country’s history. Through their eyes, we are able to see what serving our country was really like.”