This will not be your typical Veterans Spotlight, simply because this gentleman is not your typical veteran. What an honor and true pleasure to sit and interview Gordon R. Sullivan this past week. It was a doubleheader for me, as the general graciously attended our Veterans Spotlight social event last week with his wife, Lori.
The former US Army Chief of Staff and four-star general was tremendously gracious in welcoming me into his beautiful home. As General Sullivan brought me into his “office” I was overwhelmed at being privileged to witness a part of true American history. Framed pictures, flags, awards and commendations are all around the room. I asked the general what the stars are on one of his flags (a Vice Chairman flag) and he replied, “There are 13 of them. They represent the 13 original colonies.” It was powerful. Among all the treasures was an abundance of extraordinary books that range from military strategy to history to his own: “Hope is not a Method.”
The most important quality I found in being with the general is that despite his military stature, he is one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met, a sentiment shared by many who congregate at the local coffee shops around town.
As I took my seat the general gave me a copy of the Norwich University (he’s a proud graduate, Class of 1959) “Statement of Guiding Values.” The core was on integrity, honor, service to nation and perseverance in the face of adversity. He then gave a brief overview on the important aspects of the statement values. “You’ll find these very important. These values never change,” he told me.
He shared a wonderful story of his time at Norwich University. “I worked in the kitchen to earn extra money. My mother came to me and told me that she couldn’t swing college anymore. One of my classmates signed for some pretty decent money with the Red Sox. I asked him to co-sign a loan for me and he did. I worked on the Cape as a summer bartender to pay off my debt.”
General Sullivan shared his “desire to be a soldier” after he attended ROTC summer camp at Fort Knox around 1958. “I loved soldiering,” he said. He served in Korea (14 months) and did two tours of duty in Vietnam, as well as one in Europe. When asked about mentors during his 36-year military career General Sullivan responded quickly: Julius Becton (three-star general), Carl Vuono (four-star general) and Colonel Sidney Hack. “It was Colonel Hack who said to me, you can go the distance—but you gotta want to do it,” remembered General Sullivan, still impressed by the words.
I asked General Sullivan his thoughts on being away for the holidays, not as a soldier but as a commanding general. He offered this: “It was a big concern for me. We had to entertain them. Had to keep them busy. We tried to keep them out of the fields. It worked in Korea, but not in Vietnam, unfortunately. I wanted to have the appropriate meals for our troops at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to give them a little feel of home. It was extremely important to me, as I was around a lot,” he recalled, then added, “You cannot let your soldiers feel like you cannot love them. They need to know you respect them.”
General Sullivan then went to a passage and read this out loud: “The faith gave you victory at Shiloh and Vicksburg. Also, when you have completed your best preparations, you go into battle without hesitation as at Chattanooga—no doubts, no reserve, and, I tell you that it was this that made us act with confidence. I knew wherever I was that you thought of me and if I got in a tight place you would come, if alive.” The letter was dated March 1864 and was sent to General W.T. Sherman from General Ulysses S. Grant. “What that means is that you’re going to die trying,” the general said.
He also told me to read The Soldier’s Oath because, “That represents the country.” I also had the privilege to scan through “Gordon R. Sullivan, The Collected Works 1991–1995,” a book filled with priceless notes, speeches and personal quotes from the general.
There is simply not enough room in this paper to pay tribute to General Sullivan. His awards, achievements and accolades are immense, and one would never know it by being in his presence. As mentioned in last week’s Veterans Spotlight column he showed up at our Veterans Spotlight reception and gave a powerful, patriotic and unexpected speech that had every person in the room bursting with pride. “He told the crowd, “I have spent my whole life as an American soldier—if I could do it again, I would.”
From my time with General Sullivan I can tell that he was never a “desk” general. His love and passion was being with his troops. You will not find more of a regular gentleman.
General Gordon R. Sullivan, America thanks you for your service to our great country, sir.
Contact Wayne Soares at email@example.com