On Memorial Day, most will take a moment to remember those whose lives were lost in battle. Flags will be placed upon graves, the sound of taps will be played during ceremonies across the country, and reminders of those who made the ultimate sacrifice will be spread on news outlets everywhere. For resident and veteran, Don Sullivan, memories of those he lost in battle bleed into his everyday life, spilling into the remaining 364 days of the year.
Sullivan, a Vietnam veteran, recalls a vivid account of his time in battle, when he witnessed several of his closest comrades die. The incident occurred over fifty years ago, however; the memories replay themselves in Sullivan’s head every day.
Like most Army lieutenants, Sullivan had been looking forward to proving himself in combat, so when his platoon was ordered to attack Hamburger Hill on May 14, 1969, he briefed his platoon sergeant and squad leaders and set out.
“While we weren’t shooting or being directly shot at, the whole scene was an overwhelming cacophony of explosions, rifle fire, and choppers,” said Sullivan. “Suddenly the trees above us erupted in explosions followed by screams, groans and shouts of ‘medic.’”
The noise was the result of rocket propelled grenades (RPG’s) being fired by an unseen enemy, leaving ten wounded, including Sullivan, who had shrapnel in his left hand and left foot.
His medic told Sullivan that one of his men was so badly wounded that he would die without immediate treatment, so the remaining five unwounded soldiers of the platoon formed a stretcher out of tree limbs and ponchos and carried the wounded man as they pulled out. As Sullivan monitored the progress of the stretcher party, he noticed his squad leader heading to an open area, which he had been told to avoid.
“I started screaming at him to stop but there was still an unending and overwhelming cacophony of sound surrounding us so I took off with the radio on my back to divert them around the open area. Before I got there, I was tripped by one of my men (an accident that would later save my life) and I went headfirst just as another RPG hit the side of the stretcher killing all six men and knocking me briefly unconscious.”
Compared to his fellow comrades, Sullivan recovered quickly, but would go on to face a lifetime of tragic memories. In his horrific recounting of what took only minutes to play out, Sullivan recalled seeing body parts hanging by slender pieces of skin and shrapnel protruding from the forehead of a dead soldier. The names of the deceased ricochet in his mind on a daily basis; Michael Milner, George LaMothe, Buck Dufresne, Luther Morgan, as do the lyrics “Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home,” which DuFresne was singing softly as he lay dying.
Years later, Sullivan spoke to Buck Dufresne’s sister.
“She told me that he had been learning guitar and that was one of the songs he sang. His wife was about six months along in her pregnancy on May 14th.”
The length of this deplorable incident was only six hours, but the names and flashes of recollection penetrate Sullivan’s mind every single day, making Memorial Day an anniversary that is everlasting throughout his daily life.