The newest park in Springfield. Massachusetts honors a fallen U.S. Marine and keeps a promise to the neighborhood where he grew up.
With Veterans Day approaching, the Gunnery Sergeant Thomas J. Sullivan Park was formally dedicated Thursday in a moving ceremony attended by city officials, family members, and residents of the East Forest Park neighborhood.
The park honors the Springfield native who was killed on July 15, 2015 by a gunman who attacked military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sullivan, who was 40, died while trying to rescue other Marines.
Joe Sullivan, who spoke for the family, called the 12-acre park a perfect tribute to his brother’s legacy.
"It is a great honor," said Sullivan. "It is an appropriate place. It's where we grew up and you can really feel Tommy's presence here."
The new park features walking paths lined by wildflowers and small trees. There are benches, a large wooden pavilion, and a canoe and kayak launch.
Sullivan recalled how he and his brother used to play at the very spot where the park is now along the bank of Watershops Pond.
" We used to push each other into this dirty water," he said with a laugh. " We'd come home all muddy and mom would make us take our clothes off in the garage before we were allowed in the house. Like I said, this location is very fitting. It means something to all of us."
The ceremony began with a procession led by a Marine Corps color guard.
A bagpiper played the Marines' Hymn.
An American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol was presented to the Sullivan family from the office of Congressman Richard Neal.
Patriotic songs were performed by Dierdre Reilly, who closed the ceremony with a rendition of “Danny Boy.”
Mayor Domenic Sarno recounted that Sullivan had been decorated for heroism and awarded multiple medals for his achievements during his 18years in the Marines, which included two combat tours in Iraq.
" He never forgot his Springfield roots," said Sarno.
Sarno said the park is also a tribute to the resolve of the people in the East Forest Park neighborhood to rebuild after the 2011 tornado.
Bill Foley ,one of the neighborhood residents who attended the dedication ceremony, said a new park was one of the priorities neighbors identified when planning the disaster recovery.
" I am so proud today to be a resident of this neighborhood," Foley said.
Construction of the park started in September 2016. It was paid for with a $400,000 grant from the state, $250,000 in city funds, and $46,000 in philanthropic donations that covered the cost of the pavilion.
The city’s director of parks, Patrick Sullivan, who is not related to the family of the Marine, said they were consulted on every detail of the park’s design and construction.
" It has been great to work with them to make sure Tommy's legacy lives on through the landscape improvements in this park," said Sullivan.
More tributes to the fallen Marine were scheduled Friday evening when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was to meet with Sullivan family members at Springfield City Hall for a flag presentation.