Ray Sullivan has won Emmys for his work as a documentary cinematographer, but his greatest project has taken more than 10 years to complete.
It’s still not done. It’s hard when the subject matter is family, much less your own father, harder still when he’s the hero of the story.
Interviews for the proposed documentary about the Linebacker II mission in Vietnam are beginning to be posted on YouTube after Sullivan and his partner, Barry Dycus, have spent hundreds of hours interviewing veterans and others familiar with the mission.
“I just became overwhelmed by the project,” admits Sullivan, who lives in Liberty Hill north of LaGrange.
Sullivan and Dycus, his Peachtree Films partner, have set out to tell the complete story of what happened on the mission in the last days of the Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon, while Congress was on a break, sent B-52 bombers to Hanoi to bomb it, end the war and return the prisoners of war.
The mission lasted 11 days in December 1972 and it didn’t go well. The North Vietnamese shot down at least nine of the planes in the first three days. Men were dying.
“The tactics were all wrong,” Sullivan said. “My dad was the one to stand up and say ‘We’re not doing this anymore unless you change the tactics.’”
The decision would cost Brig. Gen. Glenn R. Sullivan his job.
Ray Sullivan always knew his dad had been involved in the mission, but never truly knew the details. The senior Sullivan was of the generation that never talked about their military service. He never even truly explained to his son the circumstances of his departure from the Air Force. Ray Sullivan would ask his dad, with whom he was close, why he was never promoted further in the military. Glenn Sullivan would make up a reason – he’d never gotten a college degree was one.
After Glenn Sullivan stood up to his superiors at Strategic Air Command, he was sent to the air rescue unit for a year before his eventual retirement.
“He really lost his job that day,” Dycus said. “He ruined himself.”
During the war years, Ray Sullivan was an admitted hippie and Glenn Sullivan was a career Air Force man. They debated a lot about the war, but his dad still didn’t offer much detail about his work.
“My hippie friends would always gang up on him. He defended himself well,” Ray Sullivan said.
Glenn Sullivan died in 1998 at the age of 74.
But Ray Sullivan didn’t want to make his dad the focus of the film. That was Dycus’s doing.
“Barry always thought dad was the key element. I knew my dad wouldn’t want the attention,” Sullivan said. “The film is really about the decision my dad made (to break the chain of command with his superiors) and my own catharsis about my dad.”
Ray Sullivan was inspired to make the film after reading several accounts of the mission that spoke highly of his father’s actions.
“I always thought he was a great man,” he said. “He was a genuinely good person.”
The elder Sullivan went to vocational school in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where Sullivan’s mother still lives, to learn how to fix air conditioners after the family’s unit conked out. He later took a cabinet-making class and was an unpaid assistant teacher at the school. He also worked for the local United Way.
Dycus and Sullivan now are working to get Glenn Sullivan’s story out.
“I was right at draft age at the end of the Vietnam War and I never understood the reality of what went on until recently,” Dycus said. “A lot of those guys never got their just due. I want to do this for Ray and his dad.”
Sullivan has created a website about the project and has reunited many of the veterans involved via the site. He’s also picked up more stories of his dad that way, and hopes one day to be able to share those stories with his own son, Charlie.
The interviews are now available on the Peachtree Films YouTube site. Once the last two are done, Dycus will work to intersperse the interviews with footage and photos of the mission he’s collected. The completed documentary should be available via DVD and the pair hopes to show it at film festivals. Eventually, they’d love to see it on the History Channel or Military Channel.
• More information on the film may be found at www.linebacker2.com and peachtreefilms.net. The YouTube videos already complete may be found at www.YouTube.com/user/PeachtreeFilmsATL