A Rumor of War

A Rumor of War

by

Philip Caputo

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Sergeant Hugh John “Sully” Sullivan Character Analysis

Mentioned in the book’s epitaph, Sullivan is a member of C Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines and is killed in action in June 1965. Caputo describes him as a tall and skinny twenty-two-year-old from Pennsylvania who seems even younger than he is. Caputo first meets him when he is a corporal and the leader of a machine-gun squad that is attached to Caputo’s platoon for some time. He tires some of the other Marines because he is due to become a sergeant, but he refuses to behave like one. Caputo recalls him as a “a gangly egalitarian,” described by one of his hecklers as a “goddamned diddy-bopper.” Sullivan has a “casual” gait and an “irreverent sense of humor.” When he gives orders, it sounds more as though he is making requests. His elders complain that his eventual promotion is a sign of the deterioration of the Marine Corps. Sullivan gives Caputo a cigar back in March or early April after receiving a letter from his wife saying that he is the father of a newborn son. Sullivan is killed by a sniper while refilling canteens near the Song Yen River.

Sergeant Hugh John “Sully” Sullivan Quotes in A Rumor of War

The A Rumor of War quotes below are all either spoken by Sergeant Hugh John “Sully” Sullivan or refer to Sergeant Hugh John “Sully” Sullivan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Owl Books edition of A Rumor of War published in 1977.
Chapter Nine Quotes

The corps would go on living and functioning without him, but it was aware of having lost something irreplaceable. Later in the war, that sort of feeling became rarer in infantry battalions. Men were killed, evacuated with wounds, or rotated home at a constant rate, then replaced by other men who were killed, evacuated, or rotated in their turn. By that time, a loss only meant a gap in the line that needed filling.

Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Twelve Quotes

That night, I was given command of a new platoon. They stood in formation in the rain, three ranks deep. I stood front and center, facing them. Devlin, Lockhart, and Bryce were in the first rank, Bryce standing on his one good leg, next to him the faceless Devlin, and then Lockhart with his bruised eye sockets bulging. Sullivan was there, too, and Reasoner and all the others, all of them except me, the officer in charge of the dead. I was the only one alive and whole, and when I commanded […] they faced right, slung their rifles, and began to march. They marched along, my platoon of crippled corpses, hopping along on the stumps of their legs, swinging the stumps of their arms, keeping perfect time while I counted cadence. I was proud of them, disciplined soldiers to and beyond the end. They stayed in step even in death.

Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Fifteen Quotes

I had ceased to fear death because I had ceased to care about it. Certainly, I had no illusions that my death, if it came, would be a sacrifice. It would merely be a death, and not a good one either […] I was a beetle. We were all beetles, scratching for survival in the wilderness. Those who had lost the struggle had not changed anything by dying. The deaths of Levy, Simpson, Sullivan, and the others had not made any difference. Thousands of people died in each week in the war, and the sum of all their deaths did not make any difference. The war went on without them, so it would go on without me. My death would not alter a thing. Walking down the trail, I could not remember having felt an emotion more sublime or liberating than that indifference toward my own death.

Page Number: 260-261
Explanation and Analysis:
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Sergeant Hugh John “Sully” Sullivan Character Timeline in A Rumor of War

The timeline below shows where the character Sergeant Hugh John “Sully” Sullivan appears in A Rumor of War. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter Eight
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
...a hollow, where it explodes. Fragments strike Lemmon in the face and nearly knock over Sullivan, who is behind him. (full context)
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
...weapons and gear, then they set fire to the camp. Lemmon escapes with minor scratches. Sullivan, who is now a sergeant and the father of a two-year-old boy, is left shaken.... (full context)
Chapter Nine
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
...a weekend in Tokyo with a half-Russian, half-Japanese bar girl. Then, they tell him that Sullivan is dead. (full context)
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Caputo asks Lemmon when Sullivan was killed. He tells Caputo that Sullivan was shot and killed by a sniper a... (full context)
The Morality of War Theme Icon
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Lemmon recalls Peterson being shaken by the sight of Sullivan’s body, with “a bad hole” in the side of his chest. The bullet turned the... (full context)
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
The Morality of War Theme Icon
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Caputo wonders why a decent guy like Sullivan had to get killed. Caputo still suffers, too, from the illusion that there is a... (full context)
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
The Morality of War Theme Icon
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
At the time that the company loses Sullivan, casualties are still light. What they call the “expeditionary” period of the war lasts from... (full context)
Chapter Ten
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
The Morality of War Theme Icon
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...where that number sits in a different column from the enemy dead. Caputo thinks about Sullivan’s widow in Pennsylvania. He works for a few more hours, has a beer, then goes... (full context)
Chapter Twelve
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...of a new platoon. Devlin, Bryce, and Lockhart are in the first of three ranks. Sullivan and Frank Reasoner, another deceased soldier, are there, too. In fact, everyone who stands in... (full context)
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
The Morality of War Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...their minds. Many are suffering from anxiety and depression. He, too, thinks about men like Sullivan and Reasoner and feels emptiness and a sense of futility. He hates going to the... (full context)