The 13th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cutchogue kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday. George Sullivan of Southold, who has served as the town’s receiver of taxes for more than two decades, will be this year’s grand marshal.
Mr. Sullivan served in the Marines during the Vietnam War and lost his left leg after being wounded during a firefight in 1967. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the country’s second-highest military decoration, for his service and is a past commander of the American Legion in Southold, where he’s been a member for more than 40 years.
We sat down with Mr. Sullivan this week to talk about his upcoming role as grand marshal.
Q: How did you find out about this grand marshal honor?
A: Joe Corso, who’s very involved in the North Fork Chamber of Commerce. I’ve known him for a while and he called me probably two months ago. He said, “You’re an easy choice.” So I accepted and the thing is, at that time my health was pretty good. I’m just now recovering from pneumonia, which is not good. So I’m hoping to be able to attend. If it’s a rainy, windy day, I just can’t go. I can’t risk my health.
Q: You’ve said this day has special meaning to you, correct?
A: It coincides with the 50th year of the day I got wounded. I was wounded on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1967. Although the parade is on March 11, it’s just not the exact day. St. Patrick’s Day has always been kind of a bittersweet day for me in a way. I marched in it in grammar school and college. It’s always a fun day to be of Irish descent. I’ve always held that thought that the day I was wounded changed my life obviously forever. But, I’m glad to serve as grand marshal.
Q: So St. Patrick’s Day brings mixed emotions?
A: It really does. Usually positive. I never dwell on my injuries. I got way past that years ago. I always look at the positive end of it.
Q: Are you 100 percent Irish?
A: Sullivan is an Irish name, of course. And my grandparents were Connolly. Their parents were born in Ireland. So my grandparents weren’t, but my great-grandparents were. My cousin has done a genealogy of the Connolly side of the family and Patrick Connolly, which was my grandfather’s name as well, his father came over in 1847. Just a quirk, he had a copy of the ship’s manifest and that ship sank on its way back to England. It originally left from England. Good thing it sank on the way back and not the way there.
Q: What do you enjoy about the St. Patrick’s Day holiday?
A: Just getting together — and the food is always very good. I love Irish soda bread. And corned beef and cabbage we don’t have during the year so that’s kind of special. And of course maybe a Guinness here and there is always enjoyable on St. Patrick’s Day. I have family coming out [for the parade]. My brother is coming up from Florida. And we have the grandkids. So it should be a good day.
Q: If you have to say a few words as grand marshal, have you given it any thought?
A: I’d talk about my Irish background, but yet I’m very proud to be an American. The Irish have been a great people for giving back to the world. They suffered a lot of hardships in the past, but whenever you see a tragedy worldwide, the Irish relief agencies are usually the first ones there.
Q: Have you been to Ireland?
A: My second cousin was married there in 1991. It was the 75th anniversary, to the day, of the Easter Sunday rebellion. That’s when the Irish in Dublin staged a revolt. It didn’t last all that long. It started the real independence movement for Ireland. It took them another 10-12 years to really get their independence.
Q: What stands out about the country?
A: The people were so nice and friendly. I think there’s an affinity or a bond between the Irish and American people because so many have come to America and even returned. I found their warmth was genuine. It’s just great. We stayed in bed and breakfasts all but one night. So we got to see a unique perspective of the people.
Photo caption: George Sullivan pictured in his Southold home this week. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)