George Robert Sullivan, who was awarded the Navy Cross — the country’s second-highest military decoration — as a Marine during the Vietnam War when his left leg was amputated after being hit by enemy fire, and who had recently completed a long tenure as Southold Town tax receiver, died Friday. He was 75.
Mr. Sullivan died at his Southold home, according to DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Southold.
Last March, Mr. Sullivan announced he would not seek reelection as tax receiver in the November election due to his declining health. He had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease with no known cures.
Mr. Sullivan’s life was defined by public service.
He was stationed in Dông Hà as a member of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment when he took part in a mission to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter. He was wounded during a long firefight and struck by enemy fire at least seven times. He survived and was transported to Saigon, then flown to Japan and later, Alaska, to return to the United States.
Doctors were ultimately forced to amputate his left leg after several operations.
Mr. Sullivan belonged to the American Legion for more than 40 years and in 2014 was voted commander, a post he held until suffering a heart attack later that year.
“George Sullivan was an amazing man and a hero,” said Charles Sanders, commander of the American Legion Post 803.
He said he had spoken to Mr. Sullivan a few weeks ago and he asked him if anyone could use his handicap ramp because he was going into hospice.
“That is the kind of Marine George was,” Mr. Sanders in an e-mail. “Be honest, take care of others, don’t complain and keep fighting to the end.”
Mr. Sullivan had said he envisioned the military becoming a career, but the leg injury altered his path. He went on to open his own accounting practice on the North Fork, a business he ran until 1999, when he decided to take a few years off. He then worked on a smaller basis up until 2014.
When he first became tax receiver, Mr. Sullivan served two terms and then bowed out as his deputy, Marilyn Quintana, took over in 1995. But after Ms. Quintana died of cancer several years later, he ran again for a special election to fill the void and then won four consecutive four-year terms after that.
Kelly Fogarty was elected tax receiver in November to fill the position Mr. Sullivan had previously held. She had worked for Mr. Sullivan as an accountant at his firm years ago. She went on to become a CPA and now runs her own practice in Mattituck.
In an email to The Suffolk Times in late September, Mr. Sullivan noted his health status remained the same and he said he had been working on his breathing and other exercises to keep ahead of the fibrosis. But he knew his condition would not improve.
Mr. Sullivan was an avid baseball fan who rooted for the New York Mets and he kept in contact with a Suffolk Times reporter from time to time to talk about the team.
“Our Mets did make the second half of the season very enjoyable,” he wrote in an email in late September once the Mets’ playoff hopes had faded.
In 2016, the Mets invited him to Citi Field as a military guest of honor. He got to speak with Mets former general manager Sandy Alderson, who is also a Vietnam veteran. Mr. Sullivan said at the time they talked about baseball and their experiences in the Marines.
The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. features a quote from Mr. Sullivan on one of the glass panels engraved with “Voices of the Veterans” — quotes from disabled veterans detailing their experiences.
His quote reads: “Yes, I wished things would have worked out a little better for me, but I did come home alive and had a fairly successful life.”
He had been interviewed at length about his experience as part of a project to record an oral history of the Vietnam War. Years after that interview, his quote was selected for inclusion in the memorial.
In 2017, Mr. Sullivan served as grand marshal of the 13th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cutchogue. St. Patrick’s Day that year coincided with the 50th anniversary of when he was wounded on March 17, 1967.
“St. Patrick’s Day has always been kind of a bittersweet day for me in a way,” he said at the time.
He was never one to dwell on his injuries.
“I got way past that years ago. I always look at the positive end of it,” he said in 2017.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said an email: “I’ve had the honor of serving the public along side of George for many years. George was a hero for his country and for this community yet, he was very humble never talking about the injuries he suffered in war. His love of his family always came first but, his love for this country is the very definition of true patriotism.”
Mr. Sullivan was predeceased by his wife Margaret in 2018. They were married for 47 years. Mr. Sullivan is survived by his son, Bob Sullivan, his daughter, Megan Collins, and his three grandchildren: Kevin, Mallaigh and Ryan.
Visitors will be received Tuesday, Jan. 14, from 3 to 7 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Southold.
The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 11 a.m. at Saint Patrick’s R.C. Church in Southold. Interment with U.S. Marine Corps Honors will take place at Arlington National Cemetery.