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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Soldier never saw twin sons
One message of love, one of heartbreak

By MIKE BARBER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Two dozen long-stem roses remain in bloom on a dining room table inside the Federal Way home where a 28-year-old widow tends to the 2-month-old twin sons that a husband, father and soldier gone to war will never see.

Katrina Sullivan knew immediately the roses were from her husband, 26-year-old Army Spc. John Sullivan, when they arrived last week commemorating both her Nov. 7 birthday and the birth of their sons

She knew immediately he was the reason that an Army chaplain arrived at her door Sunday morning.

"I didn't want to answer the door. I knew what they were going to tell me," she said through liquid eyes yesterday.

The Pentagon yesterday confirmed that John R. Sullivan, an Army truck mechanic, was one of 17 soldiers who died Saturday when two Army Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Mosul, Iraq.

Sullivan, assigned to the 626th Forward Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, moved his wife and 10-year-old daughter, Jade, from his hometown in Countryside, Ill., last summer to her family's home in Federal Way.

Sullivan was excited after learning his wife was pregnant. But he also was unemployed, so he decided to re-enlist in the Army in May. He wanted to do right by his growing family.

Sullivan had been out of the Army for eight months when he re-enlisted, said Sheila Hoffman, Katrina's good friend.

The couple met when Sullivan was stationed at Fort Lewis four years ago and married a year later. He was a talented musician who played guitar at Tacoma-area nightclubs. When Sullivan left the service, they returned to Countryside, where he had grown up the sixth of six children.

But although Katrina found work, John couldn't. With twins on the way, he rejoined the Army and prepared to leave for Iraq. He moved Katrina back with her family in Federal Way, where she was wrapped in their support yesterday.

By July, Sullivan was on his way to Iraq. He knew he'd miss the birth of his twin sons but felt secure in the knowledge that by re-enlisting, he was ensuring the safety and security of his wife and children.

The twins, Gaven John Sullivan and Aiden John Sullivan, were born Sept. 10. Each bear their dad's name as their middle name. From Iraq, Sullivan was ecstatic.

"He loved them so much even though he'd never met them," their mother told The Associated Press. "My husband loved what he did, and he did it for his family."

He loved them enough to order two dozen roses from overseas, a hefty chunk out of an enlisted man's paycheck. But Sullivan would never put a price tag on the love he felt for his family, Hoffman said. "His wife's birthday? Two new sons? What else would he do?"

Katrina is no stranger to military life. Her father retired from the Coast Guard after 30 years. She has an appreciation of people behind the uniform and of their sacrifices, especially her husband's.

Exhausted by yesterday afternoon and needing to get out of the house to begin funeral arrangements, Katrina asked Hoffman to convey her answers.

Of the rightness or the wrongness of the war in Iraq:

"We don't care what people's opinions are, but they should just appreciate what is in the hearts of people willing to go over there and risk their lives for others," Hoffman said.

"John was there not just for his family, but for everyone. He did it so they could pick up the newspaper and read this, so they could have free speech to speak their minds, so they could go outside and breathe without wearing a gas mask, so they could drink a latte, so they don't have to be afraid to work in a high office building, and live in their own country," she said.

"All of the things taken for granted, he did for us. They're all over there for us," she said.

Sullivan was the second U.S. soldier with Washington connections to die in the war on terror in two days. On Friday, Army Sgt. Jay Anthony Blessing, 23, a Fort Lewis Ranger from Tacoma, was killed in Afghanistan when his Humvee drove over a homemade mine.

Blessing's family remains in seclusion. Yesterday an Army spokesman said "the family wishes to express its gratitude for the overwhelming community support they have experienced."

In Oregon, meanwhile, the family of another soldier to die in the Black Hawk helicopter collision grieved for Army Chief Warrant Officer Erik Kesterson, 29.

Kesterson's parents told The Associated Press that their son, a former Marine, joined the Army to learn to fly helicopters and was operating one of the two that crashed Saturday.

Clayton Kesterson said his son, a member of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., was carrying a rapid response team to help ground troops under fire.

M.J. Kesterson said her son inspired confidence:

"This was a bright, ready-to-go young guy. I didn't have a thought this would go badly."

YOU CAN HELP

  • A fund to help the family of Army Spc. John R. Sullivan has been set up at US Bank. Donations can be made at any branch to: Specialist John R. Sullivan Children's Fund

  • For Army Sgt. Jay Anthony Blessing, expressions of condolences should be channeled to the late soldier's unit at Fort Lewis, the 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers, Army officials said.

    P-I reporter Mike Barber can be reached at 206-448-8018 or mikebarber@seattlepi.com


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