When Sully Came to Town

Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III is better known as “Sully” from the movie, Sully: Miracle on the Hudson. He recently visited Denison for a dedicatory event celebrating a mural in historic downtown Denison, and a Sully uniform and exhibit dedication at the Perrin AFB Museum in the North Texas Regional Airport in Denison. 

The mural is at 400 West Main Street on the east side of the building across from Heritage Park. Artist Sydney Sbarbaro Metcalf painted the mural in 2020. Sully’s mural is part of the public art collection of Denison. For people who do not live in Texomaland, Denison supports a thriving arts community with artists of all genres, writers, and live performances. 

Sully led the parade with his former high school band director driving a convertible classic car and Sully sitting on top of the back seat. Sully occupied the first-chair flautist in the marching band and belonged to the Latin Club at Denison High.

The ceremony opened with a homecoming parade, which featured a color guard, Sully behind them, the Denison High School Yellow Jackets marching band, drill team, and flag corps, Boy Scout Troop 403, an antique car procession, and the Military Vehicle Preservation Association vehicles, one driven by my friend, Mike Farmer. 

At the mural dedication, Mayor Janet Gott gave Sully a key to Denison. Mayor Gott, Councilman James Thorne, the Director of Main Street, Donna Dow, and Sully spoke. Sully and his wife, Lorrie, danced to a song by the band. After the mural dedication ceremony, off Sully went to the Perrin Air Force Base (AFB) Museum. 

At the Perrin AFB Museum, Sully donated a few of his father’s WWII medals, two of his AF uniforms, including his dress blues, some of his patches, and photos. Over seventy people lined up to meet Sully so he could sign his book, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. They had to pre-order the book and pay for it online before the event. 

Sully participated in a seven-minute, 22-second press conference, and laketexoma.com posted the press video below this patagraph. In 2009, Sully’s sister, Mary Wilson recounted, “…even as a boy, Captain Sullenberger showed a meticulous attention for detail. He would build model aircraft carriers with tiny planes, careful to paint every last component.”

Sully’s father, Chesley Burnett Sullenberger Jr., excited a young Sully with his Navy stories. At age 14, Sully’s father found L.T. Cook, Jr., a former instructor with the Civilian Pilot Training Program and War Training Service before and during World War II. Sully toiled as a church janitor to pay for his flight training with Cook. He earned his glider pilot license at age 14. 

Sully logged his first flight on April 3, 1967. In July 1967, Sully took his first solo flight. In October 1968, Sully earned his private pilot certification. Sully’s mother, Pauline, became his first passenger that same October. In high school, Sully scored consistently in the 99th percentile. His high academic test scores led him to become a member of Mensa International. 

Democratic Representative Herbert Ray Roberts believed his appointments should be merit-based. Representative Roberts incorporated a panel of retired generals and admirals to interview ambitious young men like Sully. Sully passed the panel’s muster.

Even though the generals and admirals wanted to send Sully to West Point, Sully had his heart set on a Navy or Air Force appointment. In June 1969, Sully attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. From there, Sully graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Sully climbed his way up U.S. Air Force ladder as a fighter pilot, flight leader, training officer, and then captain. He spent seven active years in North America and Europe and continued with his education. Sully earned his master’s degrees from Purdue University in industrial psychology and the University of Northern Colorado in public administration.

After leaving the Air Force, Sully piloted for a commercial airline from 1980 to 2010. He spent his commercial piloting career with Pacific Southwest Airlines, which was later acquired by US Airways. Sully made his home in California, where he met his wife, Lorraine “Lorrie” Henry.

Sully was exhausted from a red-eye flight when Pacific Southwest assigned Sully and a flight attendant to speak with guests at the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center’s 50th-anniversary celebration. This was to honor the federal establishment of Enroute Air Traffic Control under the Bureau of Air Commerce.

The flight attendant had to cancel, so Lorrie from the marketing department filled in for the event. Sully and Lorrie began dating and eventually married. They adopted two girls, and the ups and downs of Sully’s hectic schedule and their life’s journey made some of their times tough. Love and thankfulness pulled Sully’s family through. Now they have grandchildren. 

On June 15, 2021, President Biden nominated Sully for the U.S. representative to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), with the rank of ambassador. The U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment on December 2, 2021. He served as an ICAO U.S. Representative from February 23, 2022 to July 1, 2022. 

After Sully’s ICAO service, he settled into life as a public speaker and an aviation expert, focusing on air safety. When he resigned from the ICAO, Sully reported to many news sources, “My departure from ICAO will not end my determination to use my voice as an ardent advocate for the safety of everyone who flies.”

It was super exciting for me and my good friend Rick Young to attend this event. My father was a private pilot, and I have not visited the Perrin AFB Museum in over 15 years. It was still Perrin AFB when Sully learned to fly and also when my father would fly me there from Love Field in Dallas, and when Love Field was Dallas’ only airport in the 60s. 

We loved the museum; I loved my memories, and we took time to wonder around before the press conference. I have to go back soon because the museum was too busy with all the people wanting to meet Sully. The parade was so old school and reminded me of a simpler time, like Sully said in the press conference. 

I live in a tiny Lake Texoma village in the country, and I rarely go to the small town events around because I am so contented at the beach. I never like to leave my village. The Denison homecoming parade was small town, give-ya-heartwarming-feelings, yesteryear sentimental. 

The press conference at Perrin lasted a little more than seven minutes. It was only open to local media. The people who pre-ordered Sully’s first book were first in line, and I heard somewhere that Sully only had time to sign 70 books, and there were way more than 70 people at Perrin AFB Museum. 

Sully’s first book, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, is available at the Perrin AFB Museum. Sully’s book is truly inspirational. We encourage you to take a trip to 436 McCullum Drive, Denison, Texas, in the North Texas Regional Airport. The Perrin AFB Museum is free and open to the public. Rick and I had a blast! Please check out the pictures, press video, and Perrin AFB Museum’s website.


Sully is donating all proceeds from the sale of his book and money raised to the Perrin AFB Museum.

Sully’s handwriting on his mural reads:

The fools tell us what to do, and how to do it. But it is our humanity which tells us that we must do and why we must do it.

Captain Sully Sullenberger

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