Veteran Spotlight

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Education has always played an important role in Thomas Sledge’s life. It was woven into his 30-year career in the U.S. Navy. After he retired as a CWO4, he spent 18 years as a Great Bridge High School social studies teacher. At 69, he is again retired and still enjoys teaching and learning.

Sledge, a Baltimore native, was a naval reservist in high school. He attended summer boot camp after his junior year, and after graduation from high school, he signed up for two years in the Navy.

“I wanted to do my two years and get it over with, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Sledge recalled. “I stayed in it for another 28 years. I ended up 30 years, day for day.”

It was 1962 when he was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island on the USS Lloyd Thomas. Sledge met his wife, Helen, in Boston through mutual friends.

He began his career as a deck seaman, then became a gunner’s mate. He served on a number of destroyers from ’62 to ’70 and ’72 to ’76, including the USS Harry E. Yarnell and USS Leahy, both based in Norfolk.

His solid education and a knack for math opened many doors. He trained in electronics, hydraulics and as an electrician. Sledge earned his dual bachelor’s degree in history and sociology from the University of the State of New York. He later completed his master’s of secondary education from Old Dominion University.

He traveled to many places, including Europe, Japan and Africa. His favorite cruise was around South America, visiting different ports and practicing the Spanish he learned in school.


His most memorable tour was in Washington, DC. Serving with the Armed Forces Police Detachment as an E-6 from 1970 to 1971, he arrived in the Nation’s Capital at a time when protests and riots about the Vietnam War were commonplace. He remained in Washington, DC until January of 1972, serving at the Naval Station Armory. While most people remember the scenes of unrest from the movie “Forrest Gump,” Sledge remembers them firsthand.

Mayport, Fla. was his duty station from 1972 until 1982. During that time, he became a warrant officer.

“I was enlisted,” said Sledge. “I never thought I’d be an officer. That was the icing on the cake.”

From 1982 to 1985, Sledge was in Norfolk. He went to Japan for three years. His wife found a home for them in Chesapeake as he returned. When he retired in August of 1992, they decided to stay.

Married now for 48 years, the Sledges live in Great Bridge. Their son, Shannon, lives in Virginia Beach, and their daughter, Sherise, lives in Chesapeake. They also have one granddaughter.

CWO4 Thomas E. Sledge, The Citizen of Chesapeake salutes you and thanks you for your service to our nation.

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