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Cornelius J. Sullivan   '54

No. 19759    • June 28, 1930 - December 17, 2010

Died Houston, TX

Cremated. Interred at West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY

Cornelius Joseph “Neil” Sullivan was born Jun 28, 1930 in Newport, RI the fourth child of John Francis and Catherine Gillies Sullivan. As a youngster, he enjoyed beaching, surfing, sailing and tennis at this beautiful seaside city, and those activities became lifelong favorites.

During World War II, Neil developed a strong desire to serve his country in the military. His first military organization was his high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps unit. He was a member of the drill team and became Cadet Captain. Other high school activities included playing on the boys’ basketball team, serving as class treasurer, and chairing the social committee. In his senior year, he received an alternate appointment to West Point and successfully completed all the entrance requirements, but the principal appointee went to West Point, and Neil went to the University of Rhode Island. While there he retook his congressman’s competitive exam for an academy appointment, placed first, received a principal appointment and entered West Point with the class of 1954.

Beast Barracks and plebe year were difficult for Neil, who did not readily conform to the system and its associated traditions. Nevertheless, with the help of others, he moved on and became an above average cadet in both military aptitude and academics. An Army career looked promising; however, a serious knee injury left him somewhat gimpy, so he chose the Air Force and entered pilot training after graduation.

After earning his pilot wings, Neil was assigned to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) in Charleston, SC as a transport pilot. Within eighteen months he became a globally-qualified aircraft commander. In 1957, shortly after the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite, Neil was contacted by the Air Force and asked to undertake graduate engineering studies. He accepted and was assigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology for two years, where he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Through a combination of experience and examination, he also became a registered professional engineer in the State of Ohio. His next assignment was to the Rome Air Development Center (RADC), where he worked on the development of ground-based space defense systems. He also continued his flying duties with RADC’s Flight Test Division, verifying the concept and design of evolving military systems. Off duty Neil was active in church activities, where he met a young lady named Lorraine who had similar values and interests. Soon thereafter his bachelor days were over. For the next three years, Neil continued his engineering and test pilot duties while his spouse remained at home caring for the children with which they were being blessed.

In 1964, NASA was seeking engineers to staff the new Manned Spacecraft Center that was under construction in Houston, TX. The Space Agency offered Neil a position there and the opportunity to work on the manned space program with the eventual goal of landing a man on the moon. The offer was accepted and Neil resigned from active duty and was simultaneously commissioned in the active Air Force Reserves to fly with the Houston Air Force reserve unit. It was a continuation of his dual role of engineering and flying. His civilian engineering assignment was to manage the development of ground data systems used by operational personnel to control manned spacecraft. Neil was recognized for his contributions to the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs with several superior performance awards and a dis­tinguished service award. His Air Force Reserve duties included flying disaster relief missions along the Gulf Coast, airlifting soldiers to American cities to quell riots protesting the assassinations and social injustices of the late sixties, as well as transoceanic flights to Europe and the Far East in support of the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict. Next, Neil was assigned as plans officer for the Central Reserve Region. This role lead to his promotion to lieutenant colonel but made him ineligible to remain on flying status. Shortly thereafter, Neil retired from the active reserves and was placed in the ready reserves.

After the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the Sullivan Family was transferred to Colorado Springs, where Neil managed unmanned military satellite programs. While in Colorado, Neil and Lorraine had the satisfaction of seeing their fifth and final child graduate from college. It was a long-term goal accomplished. The parents provided, and the children performed.

Neil’s lifetime memberships in the West Point Association of Graduates, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Military Officers Association of America mirror his professional career as an officer and engineer. Neil served his country and his family well and enjoyed doing so.

                                                            Be Thou at Peace

Originally published in TAPS, SUMMER 2012

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