SEATTLE – A group of soldiers, former sailors, vehicle collectors and a pilot helped a young terminally ill boy’s wish come true here Aug. 2.
Carl Sullivan, 12, of Mill Creek, Wash., has a form of leukemia. A lifelong history and World War II buff, he traveled to Pearl Harbor earlier this year to fulfill his wish of being a World War II fighter pilot.
But he also wanted to experience the maritime end of the military.
It was during Seafair, the annual Seattle summer celebration that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors during its run. Sgt. 1st Class David George, a recruiter with the Seattle Recruiting Company, helped arrange the day.
Carl and his family got an early-morning start at Kenmore Air Harbor, an airport and floatplane base located at the northern tip of Lake Washington. Passengers piled aboard a 1950s-era de Havilland Beaver floatplane that was once operated by the Army. Still painted in Army colors, the plane took off to the south, heading for the Will Rogers-Wiley Post Memorial Seaplane Base in Renton, Wash., at the south end of the lake.
Waiting at the dock in Renton was another classic piece of military equipment, a Vietnam War-era Patrol Boat, River, or PBR. The boat was crewed by a group of former Navy and Army service members who served in the “Brown Water Navy” in Vietnam.
Led by retired Navy Capt. Stephen Morrison, the local chapter of the Gamewardens Association commemorates those who served in Task Force 116 in Vietnam. The group’s restored PBR rumbled to life, its twin 220-horsepower diesels moving it slowly out into the lake.
“This is pretty awesome,” Carl said, as he sat down at the boat’s replica .50-caliber machine gun after being presented with a Gamewardens beret, similar to ones worn by the crew in Vietnam.
The PBR headed towards the boat that would sail alongside during the voyage, the U.S. Army small tug Mulberry, ST-914, skippered by Sgt. 1st Class Victor Michaud, Jr., of the 709th Transportation Company, a U.S. Army Reserve unit located in Tacoma, Wash.
Mulberry was on site during Seafair taking part in patrols with the U.S. Coast Guard, part of a joint effort to prevent accidents and promote safety.
Several people aboard the PBR transferred to Mulberry for the trip to Seattle’s Stan Sayre Park, home base for the powerboats that highlight Seafair.
Upon arriving at Lakewood Marina, Carl, his family and others were greeted by a fantastic sight: seven World War II Jeeps, lined up to convoy to the park.
“This is like a dream come true,” Carl said. “There’s so much to learn about World War II and military stuff.
“It’s always been fascinating to me,” he added.
The Jeeps came from members of the Puget Sound chapter of the Military Vehicle Collector’s Club, an organization dedicated to restoring rare and vintage military vehicles to their original condition.
Carl would get to ride in a Jeep owned by Jay Ono, of Bellevue, Wash.
“My Jeep’s painted and equipped just like my grandpa’s was in the war,” Ono said.
Ono’s grandfather, a Hawaii native, was a member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an infantry unit made up entirely of Japanese-American soldiers.
Carl climbed in the back of the Jeep, taking his place behind the .50.
“This makes me feel large and in charge,” he said to a television reporter who was covering the day’s events.
The Jeep convoy made its way to the park, people along the route waving, cars honking. Those watching weren’t exactly sure what was going on, but a line of 70-year-old vehicles tends to get attention.
At the park, Carl and his family were treated to a tour of the powerboat pits, where boats capable of more than 200 miles per hour were fueled, maintained, and placed by cranes into the water for their races.
Carl even got to meet with some of the powerboat drivers, including current national champion Steve David.
After lunch at the pits and watching the powerboat time trials, the party made its way back to the waiting convoy of Jeeps for the trip back to the marina. Jet planes zoomed overhead as the day’s air show got underway and made a fitting setting for the group’s departure.
Carl and his family once again climbed aboard the PBR. Its fiberglass hull shuddered as the crew steered the boat into the lake, once again linking up with the Army Reserve tugboat.
With the PBR tied firmly alongside, the tug’s crew welcomed Carl and his party aboard. Michaud’s crew led the group on a tour of the tug, making their way towards the bridge.
Gesturing to the captain’s seat, Michaud said to Carl, “Climb up there.”
Once Carl was “in command” of the tug, Michaud gave him a rundown of the instruments, navigation systems, and capabilities of the tug. Carl beamed as Michaud told him how to steer the tug, set a course, and the responsibilities of watching out for other boats while on the lake or at sea.
As the afternoon wore on, Mulberry and its new “skipper” headed back towards the floatplane base. Due to the shallow depth near the shore, Carl and his family got ready to board the PBR again, but not before being given a certificate by Michaud to commemorate his voyage.
“This makes it official,” Michaud said.
As the PBR tied up to the dock, the Beaver floatplane was waiting. Once again, the 60-year-old aircraft would take to the skies, winging Carl and his family home, and ending a day filled with surprises.
It was another example of how the Army, Army Reserve, and Navy give back to the community – by helping make a young boy’s Seafair wish come true.