Air Force vet marries thousands of couples over lifetime

What's Up South Texas! series profiles longtime San Antonio fixture

SAN ANTONIO – Seeing love spread in the community has always been a joy for Col. Joe Sullivan, but never did he think his service would be the reason thousands of couples are married today.

From 1990 to 2015, Sullivan, who is now 89, officiated weddings throughout the Valentine’s Day holiday on the Bexar County Courthouse steps.

“I have always dreamed of marrying thousands of couples,” Sullivan said. “I would be so energetic and my wife would think I was having a nightmare because I would be celebrating in my dreams.”

Those dreams did come true, but it all was a part of his military story.

“I grew up poor in Atlanta, Georgia,” Sullivan said. “In 1952, I went to Lackland Air Force Base and that was the beginning of this journey. When I first got to San Antonio, I was surprised because I was expecting cowboys and Indians and stuff like that. It was not like that at all. It had bathrooms at the airport! Someone asked me if I would like an enchilada, and I thought that was the name of a rattlesnake.”

Sullivan said he fell in love with the city’s culture while taking his physicals and personal tests for the Air Force.

“It was about 80 people in my group and the last day of my training, the colonel said, ‘Congratulations, gentlemen! Each one of you have passed the flying physical with orders set for you to be sent all over the United States for flight school.’ Then he asked, ‘This is just a part of protocol, but I have to ask, does anyone here not want to go to flight school?’”

Sullivan said he had no control over what happened next.

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