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College Web site lists more than 6,700 Mississippi casualties of war

Charles Sullivan has spent decades searching for dead soldiers, exploring cemeteries from rural Mississippi to the battlefields of France and sifting through thousands of wartime documents.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College archivist and historian, and his students, have counted some 6,710 Mississippians who gave their lives from the bloody trenches of World War I to the deadly jungles of Vietnam.

Sullivan’s list of the dead was first made public in 1996 with the release of “Valor Remembered,” a book that was published in limited numbers and is virtually impossible to obtain.

Now an updated version of the book, along with congressional records and nuggets of information about some of the warriors, is available on the college’s Web site.

“Really what you’ve got in this list is not only what the government says, but everything else we could get our hands on,” Sullivan said. “I went to all seven big American cemeteries in France and fed them into the list.”

Adrian Grice, executive director of the Mississippi State Veterans Affairs Board, said the list is an invaluable tool that he uses often.

“A lot of times, veterans or funeral homes or widows or children will call wanting verification of military service for burial benefits, to get the flag to cover the coffin or to … verify the veteran status for VA benefits,” Grice said. “This book is just an invaluable resource. I commend them for what they’ve done. They are helping veterans every day.”

Besides the casualty list, “Valor Remembered” provides information that ranges from ordering military headstones to anecdotes about Sullivan’s research on late Marine Lance Cpl. Roy M. Wheat, a Moselle, Miss., man who was awarded the Medal of Honor during Vietnam for diving on a mine to save his comrades.

Sullivan, 63, and co-author Bourbon Hughes, an honor student, both spent years on the project, working with a handful of others at the college’s Perkinston campus. They began compiling the names of the dead in 1990, organizing the fallen by county, but the project really began years earlier.

Sullivan, who could talk for hours about war in his slow Southern drawl, began photographing soldiers’ headstones in Mississippi cemeteries for use in his history classes.

“I wanted it to make it real for them,” he said. “I use the pictures in class to show them the reality of war. That people really died for them.”

The history lessons morphed into “Valor Remembered” over the years and is likely the most comprehensive list of Mississippi’s war dead now available.

“If I had known how hard this would have been, I would not have done it,” he said. “But that is true of anything I have done. You’ve got to either go on to death or victory.”

What Sullivan thought would be an easy task took years of intense research. For starters, different branches of the military listed casualties in different ways over the years — sometimes by city of birth and sometimes by county. Misspellings and confusion over the abbreviations for Mississippi and Missouri compounded the problem.

“It would be good if it would come to the attention of somebody in the government that they need to list these men and women by town and county and state,” Sullivan said. “It’s just such a problem, especially when you’ve got more than one town by the same name in the same state.”

The information in “Valor Remembered” was based on government records, which were often inaccurate; input from the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board; and steadfast research.

“The list is by no means perfect, but it’s the best we could do,” Sullivan said in an e-mail. “I’d say the WWI list is 70 percent correct, the WWII list is 90 percent accurate, while the Korean and Vietnam War lists are 97 percent on the money.”

Sullivan, who retired from teaching in May but stayed on as the college’s archivist, said his father joined the Army after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, so he has a vested interest in the military.

“But the main reason I did it all is because I’m a history teacher,” he said. “It gave the students an experience dealing with the wars and soldiers they wouldn’t haven’t gotten otherwise.”

On the Web: www.mgccc.edu