Francis Thomas Sullivan was born in 1932 in Bowling Green, but grew up in Clarksville, Tennessee. In the summer of 1949, he returned to Bowling Green, attending Bowling Green High School his senior year. He was a starting fullback/halfback on the Purples’ football team and also earned a letter in baseball.
After graduating from BGHS in 1950, Sullivan earned a football scholarship at Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee. During his junior year at APSU he was accepted as a Naval Aviation Cadet and entered flight training at Pensacola NAS. In January 1955, Sullivan received the gold wings of a Naval Aviator and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. Later in his career as a Marine aviator, Sullivan was assigned to study advanced management of aviation facilities/equipment – earning a degree in Aviation Management from Auburn University’s School of Engineering.
After receiving his wings, Sullivan was assigned to VMA 331, a Marine attack squadron flying Douglas Skyraiders and based at Miami. Thereafter, he carried out a wide variety of assignments, including flight instructor, air traffic control officer, forward air controller and landing signal officer for a Marine jet attack squadron. After promotion to captain, Sullivan completed a 3-year tour of duty flying out of Hawaii with VMA 214, the storied Black Sheep Squadron made famous by Medal of Honor recipient Gregory “Pappy” Boyington in World War II.
When the Vietnam conflict heated up, Sullivan was on a “temporary additional duty” assignment involving top-secret operations involving unconventional weapons testing around some remote Pacific islands.
After completing the TAD assignment, Sullivan was promoted to major and rejoined Black Sheep Squadron flying out of Chu Lai air base in Vietnam. Major Sullivan flew 136 combat missions over North Vietnam and South Vietnam in the single seat Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Later in his career, Sullivan again served with VMA 331 [the squadron he first flew with out of Miami], assuming command of the attack squadron on June 23, 1969. While commanding officer of VMA 331, Sullivan was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 1970, Lt. Col. Sullivan led VMA 331 on a seven-month Mediterranean cruise aboard the USS Independence during the Jordanian crisis.
Sullivan is a graduate of the Marine Corps’ Command and Staff College and later taught on the college’s faculty. He was promoted to full colonel in February 1977 and served as director of operations for all Marine Corps air bases in the eastern United States.
Colonel Sullivan retired in 1979 after 26 years service. Among his medals and awards, he holds eight Air Medals plus the Vietnam Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Marine Corps Reserve Medal and a Presidential Unit Citation earned by his squadron.