| Born in Sheppton,
Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Anthracite region, William Frederick Sullivan was the
fourth of five children born to Daniel and Sophie Sullivan and was named for
Buffalo Bill Cody. William was known as "Billy." His father was a
coal miner, and his various uncles were either railroad men or "coal crackers,"
a sometimes irreverent and even insulting term which these hardscrabble anthracite men
wore with pride.
father developed tuberculosis and died in 1933. His mother, Sophie, was unable to
care for her children and the four youngest, Dan, Betty, Billy, and Rose were sent to the
Lutheran Home in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. The oldest son, Bernard,
was of age and able to look to himself. Sophie enrolled in Kutztown Normal School
(Now Kutztown University) to study teaching, but was unable to land a job as a teacher,
due to a Pennsylvania law which forbade women with children from teaching.
Billy and his brother and sisters
fared well in "The Home," and their mother, Sophie, was able to visit the
children on Sundays. She would work as a domestic in the homes of affluent
Philadelphians, many of whom lived in Germantown, and the children would often accompany
her as she worked. Billy attended Germantown High School, where he played baseball
and football, and excelled in his studies. He also learned clerical skills, and had
hoped to be a clerk-typist upon graduation. In 1940, Billy left "The Home"
and was able to live with his mother, who had purchased a home on Bouvier Street in North
Philadelphia. He graduated from Germantown in January of 1942 (Philadelphia Public
Schools graduated two classes a year in those days) and took a job with the Exide Battery
Company. He had hoped to use his clerical skills, but the only work available was
driving a truck.
With World War II in full swing,
Billy knew it was just a matter of time before he was called to serve, so he enlisted in
the Navy, and was assigned to the Seabees. He left for Basic Training in Norfolk,
Virginia late in 1942, and thus began his service in the 79th. He was stationed in
Kodiak, AK, and served on Saipan and Okinawa. During his time in the Seabees, Billy
became active in The American Red Cross and served as a volunteer in his free time.
This led to a lifelong association with the Red Cross.
With the end of the war, Billy
returned to North Philadelphia. Using his G.I. Bill, he became a machinist, and took
a job with the Steel Heddle Company as a screw machine operator. Steel Heddle
provided equipment and machinery used in the textile industry, and at the time,
Philadelphia was one of the leading textile manufacturing cities in the nation.
In 1949, Billy met his future
wife, Rita, a waitress in a Sun-Ray drug store. Billy would stop there for coffee
and a sticky bun, and Rita would pick the raisins out of the bun. Billy complained,
but he was smitten. They began dating, and in February 1950, they married.
Rita, incidentally, also served her country. She successfully lied about her age,
and worked for the Budd Company as a riveter, making tail assemblies for B-24s. We
should not forget the service she and other "Rosies" played during the war
As a married man, he was no longer
known as Billy, but simply "Bill." He and Rita raised four children,
William F. (Bill) Jr., Rita Anne, Gerald (Jerry,) and Margaret (Maggie.)
The family lived in Philadelphia,
first in Frankford, but later in the Far Northeast neighborhood of Millbrook. Bill
and Rita were both avid bowlers. Bill was also an avid Eagles fan, and had season
tickets. He stayed with Steel Heddle, and in 1966 was made foreman of his
shop. This was a time of uncertainty in the textile industry, and many shops were
moving south. Faced with the possibility of having to take his family south, Bill
began to consider another trade. This was a very stressful time in his life, and in
1970, he suffered a heart attack.
His recovery was rather quick, and
he was back at work in only four months, but his doctor suggested bypass surgery to
permanently repair any damage to his heart. He decided to have the surgery, but the
damage was too great and he died during the procedure at the age of 47.
Rita was left broken-hearted and a
young widow. Her two oldest children were able to fend for themselves, but she still
had two kids in school. The stress was too much, and she joined Bill three years
later in eternal rest. She was 44.
Bill Jr. was in the Air Force at
the time of Bill's, death, and was serving in Thailand when Rita passed away. He was
called home, and finished his service at Tyndall AFB, in Florida. Today, he is an
engineer for a medical supply company. Bill Jr. is also a two-time cancer survivor.
Rita Anne became a hospital administrative assistant is now the administrator of a
nursing service associated with the hospital. Jerry is a truck driver for a
U.S. Mail contractor, and is active in the Teamsters. Maggie is a web content
editor for a large law firm, and is also a published author, who has published her first
book in a British magazine titled "The Jane Austen Handbook. A Sensible Yet
Elegant Guide To Her World."
Bill's children are all proud of
their father's service in World War II. Those who served in that time were truly the
"Greatest Generation" our great country has ever seen. May their service
never be forgotten.
memorial tribute is given to 79th Battalion Seabee William F. Sullivan for the service and
sacrifice which he gave in World War II and throughout his life.