TERRE HAUTE —
Firing weapons is something that’s very familiar to Everett W. Sullivan.
On Monday, Sullivan stood among four veterans who fired rifles three times in honor of fallen veterans during a Memorial Day ceremony at Woodlawn Cemetery in Terre Haute.
The 90-year-old Sullivan served in the U.S. Army during World War II from 1941 to 1945. He was a gunner in a Sherman tank.
“I went in a few days after D-Day. I was in a tank outfit and was in the Battle of the Bulge and in all the hedge row country. Lost my first tank in the hedge row country,” Sullivan said. “A bazooka got it.”
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II.
“I got all five battle stars,” he said, adding he was in three Sherman tanks, all of which he had to abandon after they were disabled by the German army.
“We started with a 75-millimeter gun, then up to a 76-millimeter and the last one was a 90-millimeter gun,” he said.
“Shermans took on approximately 2,800 Tiger tanks in the beginning, and I think we met every one of them,” Sullivan said. “Best tank in the army, that Tiger tank was. It had an 88-millimeter [gun] on it. The thickness on the Tiger, you couldn’t knock it out in the front with that 75 [millimeter gun] of ours. You had to hit the suspension or else hit [the Tiger tank] in the rear.”
Sullivan was among a tank group that helped relieve the 101st Airborne, which had been cut off by German troops.
Asked if he was ever scared during his battles, Sullivan said, “You react until it is over, then you are scared. Then you start shaking. When it is all over, that is when you are scared,” said the recipient of two Purple Heart medals.
“I remember good friendships. A soldier is closer than your brother when you are over there,” he said.
“We left a lot of good men over there, and we are still losing them now. I am just thankful I am still here,” Sullivan said, who turns 91 at the end of this month.
Standing near Sullivan was Jake Compton, 89, who served in the Fourth Calvary Group, Third Army Division while in Germany. Compton said he was in the U.S. Army from October 1942 to March 1946. “We did reconnaissance for the other units, so they would know what to do,” Compton said. “I got in combat and I’m lucky I got out of it.”
Andy Whitt, Veterans of Foreign Wars Sixth District senior vice commander, said “many words have been written” to honor fallen soldiers. “This year we once again try to compose fitting words to suitably honor our absent comrades. We struggle to find the right words that appropriately convey our gratitude and appreciation for the gift of freedom they have given us,” Whitt said.
“In our hearts we know that our missing friends and comrades are deserving of every honor and acknowledgment a grateful nation can provide,” Whitt said. “But of all things that we can do, the very least is to hold the memory of them close.”
Countywide honor at Highland Lawn
Before a countywide Memorial Day service at historic Highland Lawn Cemetery got underway, Paul Shirley sat with his daughter, Janet Shirley, a 1970 graduate of the former Garfield High School who is retired and living in Indianapolis; she taught for 37 years in Bloomfield.
Paul Shirley, now 94, served as a medic in the U.S. Army Air Corps’ 29th Air Service Group during World War II. He served for 36 months in the south Pacific.
“We had a dispensary 24 hours a day. We were a medic group and every time they went out on missions, we had to be on the line for wounded people. We were in bombing range all the time we were overseas,” Shirley said.
“The Japanese usually bombed at night. We had to take shelter, but I was never close to where they dropped them, but they did hit our outfit twice,” Shirley said. “It kept you awake at night,” he said of aerial bombings.
“I was proud to be a soldier,” he said of his service from 1942 to 1945. “I was able to serve and get back home. A lot of them didn’t, and that was a shame. In Guadalcanal, they were buried by the droves. We did our job and that is what they [U.S. government] asked us to do.”
Janet Shirley said she brings her father each year to the ceremony, held at the Soldiers and Sailors Circle at Highland Lawn Cemetery.
“Our freedom was and is not free. A lot of people have sacrificed a lot for us. I have had an abundance because of other people who have laid everything on the line, including my dad and mom,” Janet Shirley said.
Others at the ceremony know of that sacrifice.
Dona Griffin, with her husband Gene Griffin at her side, spoke of how families sacrifice for freedom. Their son, U.S. Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, was killed by a roadside bomb in 2009 in Afghanistan.
“We live in relative freedom here in this country and because we do, sometimes we forget that that freedom has come at a price,” Griffin said. “We also need to realize that if we don’t protect those freedoms here, on our own soil, they can be lost as well.”
“I am thankful for young men and young women who have chosen to serve to protect our freedom. As they have chosen to serve, our job now is to remember. Don’t ever let an opportunity pass by to thank an active service member of the military or a veteran,” she said.
“When we have opportunities like this [ceremony], it behooves us to be here to show our support and to teach our families the cost of freedom,” Griffin said. “If we don’t teach them, they will not understand it.”
Flags marked the graves of fallen soldiers throughout each cemetery. In Woodlawn, some marked Revolutionary War veterans, such as John Hamilton, a second lieutenant with the 13th Virginia Regiment. His gravestone states 1754 to 1822.
There are also veterans from the U.S. Civil War, such as Orin M. Anderson, Captain Company E, 85th Indiana Infantry. His stone states 1829 to Oct. 23, 1871.
At Highland Lawn, veterans of several wars rest near each other. Flags marked the stone of Charles J. Shuey, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War. His marker states 1934 to 1976. Nearby is Arthur C. Grady, a private in the U.S. Army during World War I. His marker states Dec. 10, 1892, to Dec. 19, 1975.
“There are markers for World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam and others, like Civil War veterans,” said Patricia Bell-White, whose husband took part in the ceremony representing veterans of foreign wars. “How many young adults in this city don’t know this. If they come and see these flags, they will see how many people gave something for their country.”
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.