It was a cold November morning, still in the low 30s, two Saturdays ago when Noe Hernandez crossed the finish line of a quick 5K race staged at Batesburg-Leesville Middle School.
The whole way, the young runner was thinking about a man whom he actually didn’t meet until an hour or so later: John “Sully” Sullivan, a 13-year military veteran and former South Carolina State Commander of the Veterans Foreign Wars (VFW).
When the two men finally met, the moment was pure magic.
“I respect anybody who serves our country, and I’m happy to honor him,” Mr. Hernandez said.
He and a handful of other runners, plus dozens of volunteers, stepped out into the cold to honor Commander Sullivan, to show their respect and pay tribute by doing what Commander Sullivan can no longer do for himself. The purpose: to raise money to help the decorated war veteran have a better quality of life.
Lake Murray VFW Post 6740 and the Charles D. Townsend VFW Post in Saluda collaborated to host the Van for Sully 5K run/walk. The proceeds from the event were earmarked to help Commander Sullivan, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2018, buy a wheelchair-accessible van to get around much better.
“He’s been helping veterans his whole life. Now it’s our time to help him,” said Ginger Graham, Commander of the Lake Murray VFW Post. “We have been raising money across the state of South Carolina through the VFWs and the VFW Auxiliaries, and we are trying to get a van so that his wife can transport him wherever he needs to go.”
Members of Commander Sullivan’s family pushed the smiling veteran, adorned in his ceremonial cap and wrapped in a blanket to fend off the cold, along the 5K route. Although the stroke has left him unable to articulate his gratitude, Commander Sully’s appreciation was evident in his smile and his eyes darting from one well-wisher to another.
“It was nice out there,” said Jody Sullivan, who currently transports her husband to doctor’s appointments and VFW gatherings in a small Toyota. “He knew exactly what was going on. There was so much love from people out here.”
The money raised from the Batesburg-Leesville 5K will be pooled with fund-raising efforts from other VFW Posts around South Carolina, and soon Mrs. Sullivan and her husband will be able to better travel and carry his still-shining light around the state and around the country.
For those who would like to contribute to the Van for Sully fund, donations still may be made through the leadership of Lake Murray VFW Post 6740. Their website is www.vfw6740.org.
Story by Tony Baughman / Published November 21, 2019