I found a few pictures of Walter Sullivan, USMC in some of my MCL photos and wanted to share them with the detachment members. Unfortunately, I was out of state when Walter passed and so let me share some of my thoughts in honor of this outstanding Marine.
I was Commandant when Walter joined the detachment. After that first meeting I went over and spoke with him for a few minutes. I asked Walter if he’d made the Marine Corps a career. In his mild, southern gentleman’s voice he answered, "No, Sir, after Iwo Jima I’d had all the Marine Corps I wanted.”
In 2008 our detachment sponsored the first Honor Flight for World War Two veterans to visit their memorial in Washington, DC. A couple of months before the trip, Walter and I visited several radio talk shows to promote the trip and what it meant for the detachment to be part of helping to honor our Greatest Generation. When Walter was asked what branch of the service he’d served, he proudly replied, "the United States Marine Corps.” The next question was usually, "and what battles did you participate in?” When Walter answered, "Iwo Jima”, the tone of the interview changed completely and became one of respect and honor. I was usually asked what it meant for the detachment to be part of the Honor Flight. I replied that "we can learn about history by reading books or watching TV, but, by being with Walter, I was able to literally reach out and touch history.”
Once, I was contacted by Lt.Col. Glassman to speak to a group of new Marines at MATSG-21 and introduce them to the Marine Corps League and how our detachment might be of service to them while they were here during their training. I asked Walter if he would please join me as I was going to do a presentation that required some handout materials that he could help me with. That was a little white lie as he would find out later.
In the classroom I delivered the main theme of my presentation and then asked the students if the Marine Corps still taught Marine Corps history in boot camp. A unanimous, "Yes, they do”, was their response. I asked them if much time was spent on the Battle of Iwo Jima. "No, not really.” So, I asked, "What kinds of questions would you ask an Iwo Jima vet?” There were a couple of questions and then I said, "Rather than me trying to answer them for you, why don’t we do this. Let me introduce you to a man who has walked on and crawled on, in my opinion, the most sacred ground in Marine Corps history, The Sands of Iwo Jima.” I then asked Walter to join me at the front of the room. As Walter walked towards me, you could have heard a pin drop. Here were these young Marines in the presence of a real hero, who was a monument of living history.
Walter, being caught a little off guard, got a slow start, but settled in and proceeded to tell his experiences on the island. That he went onto the island the third day and walked over dead bodies for several hundred yards before he could settle into his position. He and his buddies watched the flag being raised and joked with each other that the battle would be over in a week, only to find out several weeks later how wrong they had been. Some days they would fight all day to advance only seventy-five yards. Finally, he was only one of five men from his company to walk off the island. The other members of his company were either killed or wounded. Walter took a long, deep breath and I could tell he was trying to hold back his emotions. As I started to move towards him he held up his hand. He looked out over the group and said that there was one incident that still haunted him. He and his assistant gunner on the Browning Automatic Rifle had been alternating going back and forth to the supply point for more ammunition. When it was Walter’s turn to go his friend said no, he would go in his place. Walter never saw him again and found out later he was killed in action. He told the young Marines not to let the guilt that comes along with being in combat affect their lives as it had his.
These are my solemn recollections of Walter Sullivan. The things I will miss most and admired about Walter were his kind and gentle manner, as well as his fortitude and courage as he bore the dark memories of the Battle of Iwo Jima.