HIXSON, TN, USA U.S. Army SGT, BATTERY B, 2D BATTALION, 17TH FIELD ARTILLERY, FORT CARSON, CO BAGHDAD, IRAQ 12/30/2006
The pictures flashed on the screen one by one, a five-minute summary of a soldier’s short life.
They showed John Michael Sullivan as a smiling baby, as a toddler, blowing out candles on his birthday cake, and as a little boy, growing a little more each year in his school pictures. They showed him as an adult, dressed in fatigues and posing with his fellow soldiers in the sands of Iraq, and hugging his bride, Michele, on their wedding day earlier this year, laughing after his face had been smeared with wedding cake. The final photographs showed his newborn son, John Michael Sullivan Jr., red and screaming in the hospital and later lying quietly at his mother’s side in a hospital bed. He was born on Dec. 31, a day after his father was killed when an improvised explosive device blew up outside his humvee in Baghdad during his second tour in Iraq.
Sergeant Sullivan was 22 years old. At his funeral on Monday, family and friends remembered the Hixson native, who was based with the U.S. Army at Fort Carson, Colo., as someone who believed deeply in what he was doing and wanted to make his family proud.
“John Michael understood that we have a duty to love and protect each other,” Minister Reece Fauscett said.
Sergeant Sullivan wasn’t supposed to be working the day he was killed, but had volunteered to fill in for another soldier who was sick. After the slide show of pictures from Sergeant Sullivan’s life, Mr. Fauscett read excerpts from e-mails that Sergeant Sullivan sent to his family while in Iraq, saying he believed he was making a difference by being there, and he believed the mission was worth dying for.
“This is the right thing for me to do,” Sergeant Sullivan wrote. In the last e-mail to his family, he wrote, “I’m so glad I’m doing something to make you proud of me.”
Mrs. Sullivan walked into the church behind her husband’s flag-draped casket, crying and carrying their son in a yellow blanket. At the end of the service, as her husband’s casket was about to be wheeled out of the church, a man in one of the front rows raised his hand and asked if he could speak. It was former U.S. Army Specialist Horace Coleman, who served with Sergeant Sullivan during his first tour in Iraq in 2004 as a gunner in his humvee. He told mourners that Sergeant Sullivan was more than a soldier and friend.
“He was my brother, and I loved him a lot,” said Mr. Coleman, 22.
He said Sergeant Sullivan was a “little guy,” not much more than 100 pounds, who wasn’t daunted by handling rounds of ammunition that probably weighed as much as he did. He joked about Sergeant Sullivan’s driving skills, saying he forgot Mr. Coleman was riding in the hatch and almost bounced him out of the humvee on occasion. But Sergeant Sullivan — nicknamed “Pancake” for reasons Mr. Coleman didn’t know — always made him laugh.
“Even sometimes in Iraq, you forget where you are every day because you’re having so much fun together,” he said.
Sergeant Sullivan’s friends from Soddy-Daisy High School, where he graduated in 2003, said he made them laugh and loved to build cars. The U.S. Army was a natural fit for him, they said, and he would come home on leave full of military stories.
At the end of the service, Mr. Coleman stood again, and placed his hands on his friend’s casket. He spoke of other soldiers who opted not to go to Iraq and of Americans who criticized the soldiers fighting there. “It just makes me sick that he had to die,” he said. “I would rather it be me in this casket than him.”