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“It takes a community to raise a sign,” The Sullivans Elementary School principal Dave Russell said Monday. The effort to make, deliver and erect the school’s new sign at Yokosuka Naval Base involved a large cast of volunteers and ship- and shore-duty sailors.
“It takes a community to raise a sign,” The Sullivans Elementary School principal Dave Russell said Monday. The effort to make, deliver and erect the school’s new sign at Yokosuka Naval Base involved a large cast of volunteers and ship- and shore-duty sailors. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Stethem had a huge souvenir in tow when the ship pulled into port at Yokosuka Naval Base last June.

It took up an entire parking space and could be moved only by forklift.

“We had no room for it, so we had to lash it topside,” USS Stethem Commanding Officer Cmdr. Robert Gonzales said Monday. “We lashed it twice, three times. Throughout the voyage, through storms and weather, we were always rushing up there to make sure it stayed put and stayed dry.”

The precious cargo was a sign — a swanky, new announcement sign for The Sullivans Elementary School. The ship, on its maiden voyage to its new home port, brought it over from San Diego.

It was nice to arrive bearing such a big gift, Gonzales said.

“The kids were there waiting for us when we pulled in with a ‘thank-you’ banner,” Gonzales said. “It was nice way to be welcomed home.”

But this was not the beginning — or the end — of the sign’s saga. It took two years of planning, volunteerism and generosity and a cast of many to get the sign off the ground. The sign’s official “thank-you” ceremony was on Monday in front of the school.

“There is an African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ For us, it took a community to raise a sign,” said Sullivans principal Dave Russell. “It’s quite a story.”

The idea started with a recommendation from Sullivans’ School Advisory Committee that the school get a sign with changeable letters to better communicate with parents and the community. The Parent Teacher Organization agreed to fund it and ordered the sign from a Texas company.

Then, the plot thickened.

“Once the sign was ready, it was found that there was inadequate provisions to pay for the shipping,” said Trish Sorce, SAC vice president.

The sign cost about $3,000, Russell estimated. Shipping it to Japan likely would have doubled the cost, he said.

The USS Stethem — freshly assigned to Yokosuka — offered to bring it on its inaugural trip.

“There was a lot of talk about that sign on that trip,” Gonzales said. “We bonded to it.”

A couple other wrinkles appeared once the sign arrived. There was no funding to erect it, nor was there a good spot on school grounds to put it.

Then, the base “came to the rescue,” Sorce said.

Through the cooperative efforts of the base’s Public Works Self-Help Department and Housing, a highly visible spot was acquired across from the commissary parking lot, and Self-Help’s branch of Seabees set the sign standing.

“We put it up a couple of weeks ago,” said Public Works Detachment Production Officer Lt. Josh Malkin. “That sign has had quite a journey.”

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