James Sullivan

Obituary of James Sullivan

James Patrick Sullivan, age 85, of Davisville Road passed away at home on Friday, April 4, 2008. He formerly resided at 1 Tarleton Road Wakefield, and 670 Thames Street, Newport, RI. Born on November 26, 1922 to the late Henry ("Soupy") F. Sullivan and Margarethe C. (Hedenskog) Sullivan at 19 Stockholm Street, Newport, he graduated from Rogers High School in 1940 and joined the US Navy on July 2, 1941. Boot Camp was here in Newport and Jim would later joke that when recruits were given passes for trips home, his CO would yell "Smith, you have a train ticket home", "Jones, you have a bus ticket home" and "Sullivan, you're walking home". He was trained and served as an Aviation Machinist Mate in Pensacola, FL, Patrol Boat Mariner School, Astoria, Oregon, Alameda, CA, Oahu, HI and numerous Naval Air Stations. He was the Aviation Machinist Mate on Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll's Grumman "Goose", the Flag Plane of the Atlantic Fleet. He also oversaw the mechanical inspection of a captured German Messerschmitt ME-109, participated in several Air-Sea rescue missions as a spotter looking for downed aircraft in the Atlantic and had also served aboard the USS Constitution and the USS Vixen. Jim was awarded the WWII Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Area Campaign Ribbon, American Defense Service Medal and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon. He was also on the Naval Air Station Brooklyn boxing team having won several bouts and was trained by former heavyweight champion Commander James J. "Gene" Tunney. During his free time in the Navy, a young entrepreneur named Kirk Kerkorkian noticed his vast knowledge of aircraft mechanics. Jim rebuilt the engine to one of his Kerkorkian's aircraft, which Kerkorkian used to start his air transport business. This was the beginning of Kerkorkian's road to becoming one of the richest men in the world. In later years Kerkorkian even offered Jim a job. On August 31, 1949, while stationed at the Quonset Air Station, Jim took a ride on his new 1949 Harley Davidson down Bath Road (Memorial Boulevard) with his older brother Joe on the back. The motorcycle struck a tow truck that was near the beach parking lot and the brothers were thrown 37 feet. Brother Joe had his leg amputated a few days after the accident. Jim's right leg crushed, his shoulder fractured, and several other injuries caused him to spend 2 years in the Newport Naval Hospital. He was discharged from the US Navy in August 1951 because of the injuries. Several operations during the following years ultimately led to the above-the-knee amputation of his right leg. However he would never let the loss of his leg get in his way. In fact many people who knew him would not realize that he had an artificial leg, albeit he just walked with a slight limp. He spoke with adults and children in hospitals who had recently lost their legs and his words of encouragement comforted many. To Jim having one leg was not "a big deal" and he would always say when asked, "There's plenty people worse off than me." He worked his way from Janitor to Postal Clerk Supervisor at the Newport Post Office from 1955-1968 and worked at the Newport Navy Exchange as Door Security from 1970-1974. In 1980 he bought a 1965 Cushman Silver Eagle "basket-case" and rebuilt it and attached a sidecar, along with several custom parts he machined and designed himself. The sidecar was required for balance because of the loss of his leg. Driving the sidecar rig is probably how most people in Newport and Wakefield know Jim. Good weather or bad, day or night he could be seen cruising around with a cigarette dangling from his lip and giving rides to many who asked. He drove the "Silver Eagle" for over 2 decades replacing or rebuilding engines, transmissions etc. to keep the scooter going. Although his will and desire for making the repairs to it would never fade, alas his body was telling him something else. He finally sold it in 2000 after having driven it for tens of thousands of miles. His son has also become an avid side carist and was given Jim's membership #178 in the United Sidecar Association, which now has well over a thousand members. Among his passions besides sidecars were WWII Aircraft, working on anything mechanically intricate in his workshop, collecting Zippo lighters, and working on bicycles. Jim's specialty was lacing bicycle wheels. He even made an elliptical wheel bicycle. The hub of the wheel was offset which created an up and down motion as you would ride it. For this he had to cut and thread the spokes by hand. After it appeared in a few local parades the bicycle was eventually sold to a circus. For years he carried a spoke wrench in his pocket and if he noticed someone's bicycle wheel a bit wobbly, he'd tighten the spokes and straightened the wheel and the bicyclist was on his way. Jim was particularly proud of his Norwegian descent, his mother Margrethe was raised in Voss, Norway and his maternal grandfather Odin Napoleon Hedenskog was the tailor for King Haakon of Norway. In April 1993 Kjeld Vibe, Ambassador of Norway, gave Jim a presentation. He was a member of the PBM Mariner Association, Vintage Motorbike Club, Cushman Club of America, United Sidecar Association, and the ZIPPO Collectors Club. He was also a life member of the Disabled American Veterans. He is survived by his sons Steven D. Sullivan of North Kingstown, Brady M. Sullivan and Alan F. Sullivan both of Newport, daughters Deborah L. Debrango and her husband Joseph of Chesapeake, VA, and Lisa E. O'Reilly and her husband Sean of Chesapeake, VA, and grandchildren Pamela J. Sullivan, Ashley Marie Casper, Ryan L. Debrango, Sean A. Sullivan, Matthew A. Debrango, and Kellie N. O'Reilly, as well as several nieces and nephews. Sister Anna Marie Ross of Chula Vista, CA. Brother Col. Robert D. "Dago" Sullivan, USA (ret.) of Middletown, RI. Bother Col. Henry Francis "HiYi" Sullivan, Jr., USAF (ret.) of San Antonio, TX. He was pre-deceased by brother Joseph H. Sullivan, sisters Margarethe "Rita" Prisbylla, and Marie Sullivan. Additionally he was predeceased by his faithful German shepherd, "Lady" 1974-1992. He was formerly married to Helen Teresa Conheeny-Sullivan for 21 years. O'Neill-Hayes performed private memorial services and on April 8, 2008 Jim's body was cremated while the traditional Viking funeral prayer was being read to him. His ashes will be dispersed in the manner of his Viking forefathers. Donations, in his memory, may be made to the Robert Potter League for Animals, P.O. Box 412, Newport, RI 02840. Special thanks to Home and Hospice Care of RI. "Lo, there do I see my father.Lo, there do I see my mother.Lo, there do I see my sisters and my brothers.I see the line of my people - back to the beginning.They do call to me to take my place.In the halls of Valhalla,Where the brave may live forever."
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