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Family Of Slain Massachusetts Marine Will Lead Holiday Parade

a poster announces a tribute to Marine Gunnery Srgt Thomas Sullivan

     The Massachusetts Marine killed when a gunman attacked a military site in Tennessee earlier this year will be honored at a holiday tradition in his home town.

      The family of U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan will be grand marshals for this year’s “Parade of the Big Balloons” in Springfield.  Joseph Sullivan said the family, which has guarded its privacy, accepted the invitation of the parade organizers to show their gratitude for the outpouring of support from city officials and residents after his brother was killed last July.

      " Just the overwhelming support for everything we've been through." he said. " We are honored to be here."

      Judy Matt, president of Spirit of Springfield, the non-profit civic organization that produces the parade, said about a dozen members of Thomas Sullivan’s family, and some family friends, will lead the thousands of marchers, musicians, and balloon handlers down Main Street when the parade steps-off this Friday at 11a.m.

      " So, we are going to have a huge contingent walking down the street, and we're going to have a great time," said Matt.

      The balloon handlers will wear scarves with the red and blue colors of the U.S. Marine Corps.

      Matt said she approached Joseph Sullivan with the offer for the family to be the parade marshals after meeting him at a military band concert in Springfield.

      "  I was so pleased they accepted it because they are a low-key family," she said.

      The “Parade of the Big Balloons” has a long history of parade marshals with ties to the military.

      " Sgt. Sullivan  is the poster boy for who you would want to represent your city," Matt said.  " He is all about home and country."

      Sullivan, 40, was one of four Marines and a sailor killed by a lone gunman on July 16th in Chattanooga, Tenn.    Sullivan, who had fulfilled a longtime dream when he joined the Marines in 1997, served two combat tours in Iraq and was awarded two Purple Hearts.

      Hundreds of people, many holding American flags, lined the streets for the funeral procession in an outpouring of sympathy for the Sullivan family, who have deep roots in the city’s East Forest Park neighborhood.

           Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno called for a similar display of patriotism at Friday’s parade.

      Sullivan’s father Jerry and his brother Joseph were presented with their official parade marshal sashes at last week’s announcement by the 2014 parade marshal, U.S. Air Force Col (ret) Thomas Cleland.

      " They have represented their son remarkably well to Massachusetts and the country, so I want to say to the Sullivan family ' thank you for your service'," said Cleland.

      Cleland joked that parade marshals are judged by the weather on the day of the parade. Friday’s forecast is for unseasonably mild temperatures and no precipitation.

      The parade, which is sponsored by the Tower Square shopping center, features several large balloons, including the 75-foot “ Cat in the Hat,” high school marching bands, and the Melha Shriners driving mini-motorized vehicles.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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