Final salute to a fallen Marine
By Chris Gosier, Daily Record

MONTCLAIR -- Vincent Sullivan lived a full, rich life that reached a crescendo of happiness just before his death in Iraq.

He loved his newlywed wife, he loved being a U.S. Marine, he had found God after reading the Bible during his first tour of duty. He had joy to spare, and spread it around whenever he could.

That was the flavor of Sullivan's 23-year life in the last few years, as described at a funeral service Sunday that drew hundreds of mourners to the First Congregational Church.

"It should bring us all a little bit of peace to know that when Vincent died, he was a happy man," Sullivan's brother Brian said.

"Vincent went out of his way to bring happiness to those around him, each and every day. That's how we can honor him, by continuing to he happy because of him."

The Chatham High School graduate was killed in combat in Iraq on July 23. He and his wife, Erika, had married in December and had moved into a house they bought near the Marine Corps base in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Erika Sullivan, a ballet dancer and instructor, honored her husband with a dance in the front of the church, before everyone, in front of his flag-draped coffin. She ended with her arms spread out on its surface and her head facing down.

Brian Sullivan, his voice breaking, gave some offbeat details of his brother's life: that he wore lifts in his shoes at his wedding, something he tried to keep secret, and that the two of them always helped each other out when they got in trouble while growing up.

"Vincent and I were grounded quite often as kids," he said. When Vincent was grounded, Brian covered for him by dissuading their mother from going into his room by saying that he had fallen asleep, and suggesting that he wouldn't be able to fall asleep again if she woke him.

"Little did she know that he was out with friends all night," he said. When Brian was grounded, Vincent returned the favor by persuading their mother to at least let Brian go out with him.

The ceremony featured music from various stages of his life -- the first song he and his wife danced to at their wedding, and a song his mother listened to while carrying Vincent in her womb.

That song, "Starry, Starry Night," by Don McLean, gave Susanne Sullivan the name for her unborn son because it was based on a painting by Vincent van Gogh, said the minister, the Rev. Scott Howell.

Sullivan played on his high school track and wrestling teams and won academic awards. He later attended the County College of Morris and worked as an accountant in New York and as an assistant manager for West Coast Video in Parsippany. He joined the Marines after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He and Erika Sullivan had met in high school and dated for a few years, remaining friends after they split up. She wrote to him during his first tour in Iraq to say she loved him, and found that he had written the same thing to her. Their letters crossed in the mail.

"I remember the pride in his eyes when he showed me the ring and told me how he planned to propose," Brian Sullivan said. "He lived a fuller life in 23 years than most people could ever hope for."

One mourner at the funeral, Andrew Lubin of Morrisville, Pa., came to the funeral with a friend who works with Susanne Sullivan. He said his 21-year-old son is a Marine private 1st class serving in Sullivan's unit, something he didn't learn until after the attack that claimed Sullivan's life.

The funeral "makes me realize how dangerous it is" for soldiers in Iraq, he said. "This makes it very personal. This makes it a big deal."

He was impressed enough with the service that it gave him ideas for how he would want his son remembered, should the worst happen.

"I planned his funeral in my head, if something happened," he said. "I know what I want done."

Erika Sullivan , center, follows behind the flag-draped coffin of her husband, Marine Lance Cpl. Vincent Sullivan, after funeral services for him at the First Congregational Church in Montclair on Sunday. A ballet dancer and instructor, she performed in his honor. Dawn Benko / Daily Record


Rest In Peace