Fast Chat: Legion commander had been awarded the Navy Cross

George Sullivan on his front porch in Southold Tuesday morning. (Credit: Claire Leaden)
George Sullivan on his front porch in Southold Tuesday morning. (Credit: Claire Leaden)

George Sullivan of Southold is a veteran who served in the Vietnam War and was awarded the country’s second-highest military decoration for valor, the Navy Cross, when he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps at 23 years old. 

He was recently awarded another honor, though one more specific to the town and a bit less grand, when he was voted in by the 275 members of the Southold American Legion to serve as its new commander.

Mr. Sullivan has been a member of the American Legion for over 40 years. During that time he has been active by marching in parades, attending meetings and participating in fundraising events.

The Suffolk Times sat down with him to hear a little more about the American Legion and his goals as commander.

Q. Tell me a little bit about the American Legion organization in general.

A. The American Legion was actually founded after World War I in Paris. Back then the soldiers and Marines couldn’t come back right away, they had to wait for ships and such, so they were able to meet up and they felt they should have an organization to represent the veterans. It got back to the United States and flourished nationwide and opened up all over. It’s been the cultural and social centers of many small towns and cities. The legion halls became places where people were married and events were held. They were really founded to instill the patriotism and Americanism and honor the veterans who have served in the past.

Q. How does the American Legion Post in Southold function?

A. It’s a prominent structure in town and serves as a community center for a lot of things. It was founded back in the ’20s and ’30s, but the building was donated to the town in 1948 by the Robertson family, and it’s named after three original members — Griswold, Terry and Glover. In order to maintain the facility, we run a Bingo on Tuesdays, have hall rentals and have an annual golf tournament, which are all fundraisers.

Q. What does the role of the commander entail?

A. As in militaries, the commander is the senior officer of the post. My job is to run the meetings, make sure all the policies and procedures of the post are adhered to, etc. I’ve got a great slate of officers who work with me. I’d like to thank my prior two commanders, Tom Reese and Earl Brock, for their time and effort; they did a great job and I hope I can do as good as they did.

Q. What are some of your plans or goals as commander?

A. My goal is to make the legion as relevant as it should be and to help teach patriotism and Americanism to younger people especially, because I feel we’re kind of losing that today — a loyalty to the country. So whatever we can do to further that and educate people. I’d also like to go back and review things we’ve done in the past. Someone mentioned to me we used to honor a member of the law enforcement in the community every year, so I’d like to reinstitute that.

Another goal is to encourage veterans of recent conflicts to join the posts. I remember when I was wounded and in the hospital, people were talking about the Legion and I said, ‘Nah, that’s for those old guys!’ But as you get older you realize what an important organization it is. So I hope to encourage the returning veterans to join — the future of the American Legion will be in their hands one day.

Q. What are some of your interests outside the Legion?

A. I’m an avid golfer, and my three grandchildren are my other interests. My daughter lives in Southold so we love to help out with baby-sitting. Another thing I’m involved in is the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. It’s a nationwide organization that raises money, the proceeds of which go to college tuition for children of wounded or deceased Marines or corpsmen. We have an annual fundraising event in October and I’ve been the golf chairman of that since its inception eight years ago, and I serve on its Long Island board.

George Sullivan on the day of his retirement from the Marines in 1967, when he was awarded the Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest decoration. He was 23. (Credit: Courtesy photo)
George Sullivan on the day of his retirement from the Marines in 1967, when he was awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest decoration. He was 23. (Credit: Courtesy photo)