Fifty Years Later, Remembering Sulliman
By Sgt Matthew A. Butler
| | April 24, 2001
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. --
Korean War veterans and the community of New Britain, Conn. gathered April 24 to honor a local hero.
1st Lt. George "Sully" Sulliman was 24-years-old, a star baseball player, and Yale University graduate serving as a Platoon Leader, Company H, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced), when he rallied his outnumbered Marines against approximately 125 enemy aggressors near Map'yong-ni, Korea, and gave his life in 1951.
As enemy forces pounded his line with automatic weapons, mortars, and hand grenades, Sulliman crawled from position to position, controlling his men, pointing out targets, and shouting encouragement. His actions helped to instill in his men the will and determination to hold at all costs.
When a Marine's heavy machine gun jammed at the height of the attack, Sulliman ordered his men to fix bayonets. He then exposed himself to enemy fire as he helped clear the machine gun, eventually manning the weapon himself when the gunner was seriously injured.
As the enemy pressed almost to the point of the muzzle, Sulliman was still working to clear the machine gun. He eventually fell, fatally wounded.
He had only been in Korea for three weeks, but had commanded the respect of his men with his soft spoken but charismatic leadership ability.
"I remember him being a big burly guy that always wore a sweater," said Chuck Lyman, a corporal in Sulliman's platoon in Korea. "I always called him the gentle giant to myself."
Sulliman's large build was in part of being an athlete. According to Sulliman's brother, Sam, who was an Army engineer during Korea, it was the sense of being part of a team that led Sulliman to the Marine Corps.
"He enjoyed that camaraderie, and he enjoyed that teamwork," he said. "That's what he liked about the Marines."
According to Sam, his older brother had a knack for baseball. Following his time with the Yale baseball team, Sulliman had a contract to play baseball with the Saint Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals gave him a big bonus to play in the Carolina league in 1947, '48, and '49. Every year after he finished playing ball in September, Sulliman went to Quantico, Va. to fulfill his obligation to the Marine Corps Reserve.
In 1950 the Marine Corps activated Sulliman and he eventually was sent to Korea.
Sam managed to catch up and have dinner with his older brother two days prior to Map'yong-ni. Dinner, however, was cut short as word of a Chinese advance quickly spread through the Army camp. Sam took his brother back to the Marines, who were encamped five miles away. It was the last time he saw him alive.
"George Sulliman was a hero in the truest sense of the word and his courage and sacrifice reflect the Great Spirit of which General Macarthur spoke about at West Point. That of Duty, Honor and Country," wrote former President George Bush in a letter to the Sulliman family. He and Sulliman were on the baseball team together at Yale. "These are words that mean something dear and special to me and I know they hold the same meaning for the patriot we remember today."
It was a shock to the close-knit community of Belvidere, Conn. when George Sulliman was killed. They instantly went around the community and collected money to build a monument in his honor. The monument was erected only a few months after the tragic news.
"We all knew Sully," said Ray Greene, a member of the Belvidere Reunion Group, which members have lived in the Belvidere community prior to Dec. 7, 1942. "We had to honor him so he would never be forgotten."
50 years later, community members gathered again at the monument to pay their respects.
"He was a man of great courage," said U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-6th District. "This was a young man of enormous potential, intellectually, athletically and character-wise, and we are privileged to remember him and the other men from Belvidere who gave their lives."
Sam said his brother would probably say this monument and gathering is unnecessary, and that he was just one of the guys doing what needed to be done.
"The day he went back to Korea, he was in a local pub and he never mentioned that he was leaving. He didn't want the guys to do anything special for him because of his modesty.
"I love, admire and respect my brother George. His heroism of 50-year's ago forever lingers in my mind and in my heart, directly affecting the way I tried to live my life in the ensuing years. Everyday as I look at the his portrait in a place of honor in my home, I am reminded of how proud he was of the Marine Corps uniform and it's legacy."