Walter J. Sullivan
September 22, 1924 – April 20, 2023
Walter “Sully” John Sullivan, age 98, of Omaha, passed away Thursday afternoon, April 20, 2023 due to heart failure.
Walter was born Monday, September 22, 1924 at 5:50am at Nicholas Senn Hospital in Omaha, NE, to William and Dora Sullivan. He graduated in 1942 from Omaha South High School where he was active in debate and journalism and was elected President of his class. Walter earned a full academic scholarship to Creighton when he graduated from South and spent part of a semester there in the Army enlisted reserve before he was called up to active duty after Pearl Harbor.
For 18 months, he was in Basic Training camp at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, becoming a Private First Class in the 10th Army for the U.S. Army Signal Core. He then boarded the AP201, one of 4,000 ships that were a part of the first wave heading to Okinawa, Japan.
He was one of the 500,000 troops headed for war. After deboarding under darkness in the early morning, Walter set up base at the 10th Army headquarters and worked to be “the ears and eyes” with classified information encoding and decoding messages to secure the island as part of the 316th Signal Service Company.
He bravely served his country in Okinawa for six years. During his years of service, he made many notable memories with his fellow soldiers. He was hit by a Japanese Patrolmen’s rifle during a fire-fight and sustained an injury to the neck that was most likely a broken bone, but he was back to work 6 hours later. He became friends with Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and war correspondent who referred to him as “Nebraska”. Walter got out of a close scrape when he was out on duty alone, being shot at by 40 Japanese patrolmen in a coding truck. He said a fellow soldier appeared out of thin air to help him secure the classified information and get back to headquarters. Thanks to his position, Walter was one of the first people to hear the message “Operation Iceberg coming to a close”, letting him know the war was ending. Corporal Sullivan earned American Service Medal, Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, Meritorious Service Unit Plaque, Bronze Service Arrowhead Pacific Medal as well as being awarded the prestigious Silver Star. But when people asked about his accomplishments or any medals he received, Walter said none of that mattered. The real people who deserved praise were the many WWII soldiers who didn’t make it back home.
Using the GI Bill, at age 23, Walter became the first in his family to attend college. He received both a business and liberal arts degree from Creighton University and was member of Alpha Sigma Nu fraternity. After graduation, he started his own home improvement business. Then in 1956, while visiting an Army buddy at an Omaha VA Hospital, he met a young nurse, Odelle Sutton, who was caring for his friend. After dating for about 2 years, they married on November 15, 1958. Over the next six years, they had three children, Pamela, Craig (who was stillborn), and Kevin.
Walter had an entrepreneurial spirit, and so after starting and operating his own home improvements business for over a decade, he eventually became a Sales Representative for a roofing company and then an Educational Materials Sales Representative for several different companies, finally starting Multi-Media Inc., an Independent education sales company, representing a dozen different companies. His natural charm combined with sharp business sense, made him a favorite when visiting teachers and educators across Nebraska and Iowa. He eventually recruited his son, Kevin, to work alongside him for many years as well. Dell would also attend education trade shows with Walter. They enjoyed travelling together whether it was to a tropical location like Hawaii, or visiting wine country in Napa, or spending time with family in Texas or Colorado. He was devastated when she passed in 2014 after they spent 56 years married.
Walter kept up to date on current events, college sports, professional baseball, and popular TV shows; he could talk about politics in one breadth and Husker football in the next. But, his most favorite topic of all were his grandchildren! Over the years, he attended hundreds of basketball, baseball, flag football, and volleyball games as well as attending confirmation and baptisms. He especially enjoyed it when his grandkids would come stay with him and Dell during the summer for weeks at a time. He loved spoiling and spending time with them. He was so proud of each grandchild and their individual accomplishments! His face would light up whenever he visited or talked to them, especially in his final years.
Walter lived in the same home for most of his married life, up until his final two years, when he broke his hip and needed to move to skilled nursing. Always the charmer and sociable guy, he made dozens of new friendships at Brookstone Meadows during his last two years. He was even nominated President of the Residents committee while he lived there, which speaks not only to his positive personality, but also his desire to help others! He was also nominated to receive his final wish from the Dreamweaver Foundation. He chose to attend a Husker football game in Memorial Stadium on Veteran’s Day last November 5, 2022. UNL also paid special tribute to Walter on their HuskerVision during the game – sharing his WWII accomplishments with the 85k+ crowd. The entire stadium exploded with applause after hearing his video and Walter was there to wave to the crowd – surrounded by many of his grandchildren too!
Walter was preceded in death by his wife, Odelle (Dell) Sutton Sullivan on April 9, 2014 and his parents, William & Dora Sullivan. He is survived by children, Pamela Berdanier (Barry), Kevin Sullivan (Karen), grandchildren, William Berdanier (Lay), Emma Berdanier, Craig and Mallory Sullivan; sister, Dorothy Hansen and nieces Michelle (Bob) Davies, Judy Cline, and Lori Collins.
The Family will receive friends on Friday, April 28th, from 5pm to 7pm at the West Center Chapel, followed by VIGIL SERVICE at 7pm. MASS OF CHRISTIAN BURIAL: Saturday, April 29th, 10am at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church (3122 S. 74th Street). Interment: Calvary Cemetery with Military Honors.
Memorials are suggested to the Dreamweaver Foundation.
Enzo and I are so sorry for your loss Dorothy. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.