The campaign to save the USS The Sullivans.
From his grandmother’s house, four-year-old Arrow Swartwout can see the decommissioned naval vessels docked at the Buffalo and Erie Coun-ty Naval and Military Park in western New York. When Arrow heard that they were in danger of sinking, he had to act.
After gathering up spare change, Arrow, ac-companied by his grandmother, gave the park’s president and CEO, Paul Marzello, Sr., his donation. “It was about seventy cents,” Marzello recalls. Although a bit shy of the necessary $1 million the park seeks to raise, Marzello was overcome by the young boy’s interest in the preservation of the park’s vessels, including the USS The Sullivans, a Fletcher-class destroyer that saw action in World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War. The ship is a National Historic Monument, drawing veterans, service members and tourists to the naval and military park, which also includes a light cruiser and a submarine, a museum of military memorabilia and an outdoor exhibit yard.
After years of harsh Buffalo weather, the aging ships have begun taking on water, and The Sullivans was visibly listing at port. On top of that, the park has suffered an almost ninety percent drop in revenue because of closures and restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. An oral history project at the park, in which veterans reunite and reminisce about their service, has also been paused.
Marzello promised Arrow that the ships would not sink on his watch, not with the sup-port of the community behind them, and the interest of Washington, D.C.-area developer Douglas Jemal, who visited Buffalo to see the damage firsthand, including four feet of water inundating The Sullivans’ engine room. Like Arrow, Jemal believes in the importance of re-storing the vessels. He has taken an active role in raising funds to prevent further damage, which includes the application of a costly two-part epoxy coating to seal the hull.
The motto of the Save The Sullivans campaign is “We Stick Together,” borrowed from The Sullivans’ namesake, the Sullivan brothers, who enlisted in the Navy and served aboard the same vessel, despite restrictions against it. Tragically, all five of the brothers were killed when their light cruiser was sunk in action. The Sullivan brothers’ determination has served as an inspiration for the campaign, because, Marzello says, “the commitment of the community is that, if we stick together, we can pull this repair off.”
They’re off to a tremendous start. Fundraising events, including a St. Patrick Day’s gathering that included Arrow and one of the Sullivans’ grand-daughters, Kelly Sullivan, have raised almost half of the money in just the first few weeks of the campaign. The Sullivans is now on an even keel thanks to temporary repairs, and Marzello is hopeful that the long-term work of preservation can begin this summer, provided that the momentum built by Arrow’s generosity continues.
If you are interested in donating to the Save The Sullivans campaign, visit savethesullivans.org.