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Veteran is Florida's "King Bee'

When he was a much younger man, James F. Sullivan traveled across Florida, establishing new chapters, of the Seabee Veterans of America.

But that was in 1971, when Sullivan was a younger man. Now he is content to drive to monthly meetings of Island X-17, New Port Richey's Seabees chapter, and to church.

With age, Sullivan has had to slow down, but he hasn't slowed much. A month away from his 93rd birthday, he is strikingly active for a nonagenarian.

The son of a Civil War veteran, Sullivan walks quickly and easily with the use of a cane.

Sullivan said there is no secret to his longevity. "I learned a long time ago to take it one day at a time," he said.

About 12 years ago, Sullivan moved from Dunedin to New Port Richey, where he lives with his wife, Dorothy. He founded the New Port Richey chapter about seven months ago.

Sullivan is credited with establishing many of Florida's Seabees chapters, including the state's first, Island X-1 in Dunedin.

For his efforts, Sullivan said, he has been nicknamed Florida's "King Bee." Florida has more than 4,000 members, he said.

"Seabees" is the nickname for members of the U.S. Navy's Construction Battalion, which built airfields, harbor facilities, hospitals, roads and barracks for Naval forces in World War II.

Before World War II, wartime construction was done by civilians who were untrained for combat conditions overseas. When the war began, skilled craftsmen, including mechanics, electricians, engineers and carpenters, were recruited. More than 325,000 Seabees served in World War II.

Born in 1901, Sullivan was one year too young at 17 to enter the final draft for World War I, so he lied about his age. He was drafted into the Army, but the war was over three weeks later.

He re-enlisted in the Army and transferred to the aviation branch, where he became a technical sergeant. After his discharge, Sullivan worked as an electrician.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, he volunteered, at 41, to return to the military.

Sullivan went to the Pacific in May 1942. His battalion built a hospital and the airfield in the New Hebrides Islands the Navy used on flights to bomb Guadalcanal.

In 1945, Sullivan received a full medical discharge from the Navy.

Sullivan moved to Dunedin in 1955. In 1967, he met the president of the Seabee Veterans of America and decided the association should have a Florida affiliate.

It has been hard to get some Seabees to join. "They're a hard-headed bunch," Sullivan said. "They were always sort of indrawn. When you're working with high voltages of electricity, for example, you learn to concentrate. There's no talking, no fooling around. . . . They worked very hard."