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Hundreds Honor Sacrifice Of Springfield Marine

Hundreds of people paid their respects to Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan and his family in western Massachusetts Monday. The Marine from Springfield was laid to rest next to fellow service members in Agawam.

The sobering sound of bagpipers performing the Marine’s Hymn filled the streets outside Holy Cross Church as the hearse arrived Monday morning in the same East Forest Park neighborhood Gunnery Sergeant Sullivan grew up in. Perhaps more moving was the respectful silence of the hundreds of people lining the street while Marines brought one of their own home.

Inside the church, family, friends and members of the armed forces celebrated Sullivan’s life in a private ceremony. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Richard Neal, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito joined them. Springfield’s Roman Catholic Bishop Mitchell Rozanski offered the homily in the church where Sullivan served as an altar boy.

“When we look at the Marines and all that they do a lot of their values are so, so close to our Catholic values,” Rozanski said. “Their selflessness. The sacrifice that they make in their lives in serving all over the world. They’re looking for their brothers and sisters. The way that they try to bring peace to the most troubled areas. Really I wanted to get that into the homily to speak about Tommy and his life and about all of those who serve in armed forces to whom we are most grateful. Especially praying for the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives.” 

Outside people young and old held American flags.

“To honor our military,” said Maureen O’Donnell who says she lives down the street and knows the Sullivan family.

“Yes we will find strength and the family will find strength to keep on going too,” said O’Donnell.

On the church’s front lawn, Patriot Guard riders clad in leather vests, some with veteran insignia, stood next to one another separated by American flags.

“Oh, I know why the riders turned out,” said ride captain Rick Prater. “Patriot Guard stands for veterans that pass. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a KIA, whether it’s a situation like the gunny was in or a 90-year-old veteran from World War II.”

Prater says about 200 riders took part in the mission.

“You don’t have to have a motorcycle, you don’t have to be a veteran to join,” Prater said. “You simply have to have one thing and that’s respect for the veterans. And a willingness to stand out in the heat, the sun and the cold and hold the flag and stand the line.”

Bishop Rozanski says the day reminded people of the hero Gunnery Sgt. Sullivan is.

“The crowds that were inside of the church and those who have lined the streets of Springfield who are there to support the family show how deeply Tommy’s life and the lives of our armed forces touch the hearts of our people in all that they do,” Rozanski said. “I’m very proud of the people of Springfield for the way in which they’ve turned to show support for Tommy, his family and indeed for all of those who serve in our armed forces.”

Gunnery Sgt. Sullivan was one of five service members killed in an attack on a naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The shooter was killed by police.

Allen Stratton stood on a street corner opposite Holy Cross Church holding an American flag you would typically see hanging off a front porch with a perched eagle on top of the flagpole. He says his sons went to Cathedral High School with Sullivan. He stayed on the street corner until the hearse and Gunnery Sgt. Sullivan’s family and friends drove off.

“To show respect for Gunnery [Sgt.] Sullivan, his family and the family of all military,” Stratton said. “To show them that their sacrifice is worth it.”

Escorted by hundreds of Patriot Guard riders, Gunnery Sgt. Sullivan was laid to rest during a private ceremony at the Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Agawam. Motorcycles lined both sides of the road leading to the entrance where an Agawam Fire Department ladder truck flew an American flag. Patriot Guard riders held American flags as cars carrying loved ones and service members left the cemetery.

Across the street, an older man in a red USMC shirt stood by himself in solitary tribute. He wore white gloves and in one hand held a flagpole flying the American and Marine Corps flags. Now living in Vermont, he said he is originally from central Massachusetts and served in the Marine Corps. He said he was honoring the sacrifice of a fallen Marine and his family.

Gunnery Sgt. Sullivan was awarded two Purple Hearts. He completed two tours in Iraq.

A sign at the entrance of the Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery reads “The price of freedom is visible here.” It was seen by so many on a day when the sacrifice of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan was honored by his hometown. 

The other service members killed in the shooting are: Marine Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, 25, of Wisconsin, Marine Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, 21, of Georgia, Marine Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 37, of Arkansas and Navy Second Class Randall Smith, 26, of Ohio.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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