Captain Wilbur A. Sundt, U.S. Navy (retired), 85, of Fort Atkinson, passed away quietly on Saturday, June 9, 2012, at the Fort Memorial Hospital, surrounded by his family, with sons Eric, Scott and Lance, and daughter Silvia at his side.
Born in Stoughton on Dec. 12, 1926, to Inez and Arthur Sundt, Wilbur was a member of “the greatest generation” who grew up during the Great Depression, and served his country and community with pride and dedication for nearly 70 years.
Graduating from Fort Atkinson High School in 1944, he quickly joined the Navy, serving overseas in the Pacific theater during the last phases of World War II and the occupation of Japan. This initial entry into the Navy would become an enduring focus and passion for him, spanning over 31 years of service to his country, and rising from enlisted ranks to the senior naval officer rank of Captain.
In addition to serving in World War II, Captain Sundt also participated in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Cold War fighting communism and the Soviet Union. He commanded the Landing Dock Ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 5) during the height of the Vietnam War, earning the Legion of Merit medal with combat “V” for valor as a result of combat action along the Mekong River.
While Wilbur spent over 16 years on sea duty sailing throughout the Pacific, Caribbean, North Atlantic and Mediterranean, he did find time to meet and marry the love of his life, Loretta (Jean) Porter of Springfield, Tenn., on Dec. 28, 1955. Soulmates for over 50 years, they raised four children: Eric, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and graduate of West Point; Scott, recently retired Navy Captain and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; Lance, a Navy veteran and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Silvia, a pre-school teacher and graduate of UW-Whitewater.
Living overseas in places like Rangoon, Burma, Naples, Italy, and Stuttgart, Germany, Wilbur opened the world to his family, giving them a life full of adventure and challenge. Wilbur retired from the Navy in 1974 and returned to his boyhood home of Fort Atkinson where he embraced his two other abiding passions — teaching young people and serving his community. A previous graduate of UW-Whitewater in education, with a masters degree in education administration from Boulder, Colo., he began a 10-year career as an instructor for the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) in Loves Park, Ill., commuting over 100 miles every day to teach high school students naval science, maritime history, meteorology and practical seamanship.
He also earned two additional masters degrees in education and administration from UW-Whitewater during this time-frame. He also wrote four naval science textbooks for the NJROTC program which since have become the central texts for the NJROTC program nationwide for over 30 years.
Wilbur’s contributions to his community were simply impressive. A life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he also served as a Commander of the Paul Frank Florine Post 166 of the American Legion in Fort Atkinson, and was involved extensively with the First United Methodist Church, Hoard Historical Museum, Jefferson County Youth Government Day (19 years), Sheriff’s Committee, Navy League, Blue and Gold Officer for the U.S. Naval Academy, and led the Governor’s Commission for the recommissioning of the battleship USS Wisconsin.
His most noteworthy achievement in community service was his long association with Kiwanis International in which he held positions as local chapter President, Governor of the Wisconsin and Upper Michigan District, and eventually as an International Trustee for this global organization dedicated to the youth of the world through its work to end poverty and medical illness in countries in crisis, and provide education and physical activity to enrich the lives of young people in all communities.
Wilbur is survived by his three sons and daughter; and 11 grandchildren, Jordain, Alexandra, Brendan, Sarah, Zachary, Michael, Savannah, Dylan, Bridgit, Shannon and Larry. He also has two surviving sisters, Barbara Behl of Fort Atkinson and Sheri Chaneske of Phoenix, Ariz.
A visitation for Wilbur will be on Friday, June 15, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Dunlap Memorial Home in Fort Atkinson. The memorial service will be held the following day, Saturday, June 16, from 11 a.m. to noon at the First United Methodist Church in Fort Atkinson.