Sullivan brothers

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For the fictional characters, Damien and Anthony Sullivan, see The Dead (Higson novel).
The brothers on board the USS Juneau; from left to right: Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George Sullivan

The Sullivan brothers were five siblings who were all killed in action during or shortly after the sinking of the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52), the vessel on which they all served, around November 13, 1942, in World War II.

The Sullivans, natives of Waterloo, Iowa, were the sons of Thomas (1883-1965) and Alleta Sullivan (1895-1972). They were:


Wartime poster featuring the Sullivan brothers

The Sullivans enlisted in the US Navy on January 3, 1942 with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy had a policy of separating siblings, but this was not strictly enforced. George and Frank had served in the Navy before, but their brothers had not. All five were assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.

The Juneau participated in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. Early in the morning of November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day, as it was leaving the Solomon Islands' area for the Allied rear-area base at Espiritu Santo with other surviving US warships from battle, the Juneau was struck again, this time by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo likely hit the thinly armored cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship exploded and quickly sank.

Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, commanding officer of the USS Helena and senior officer present in the battle-damaged US task force, was skeptical that anyone had survived the sinking of the Juneau and believed it would be reckless to look for survivors, thereby exposing his wounded ships to a still-lurking Japanese submarine. Therefore, he ordered his ships to continue on towards Espiritu Santo. Helena signaled a nearby US B-17 bomber on patrol to notify Allied headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors.

In the event, approximately 100 of Juneau's crew had in fact survived the torpedo attack and the sinking of their ship and were left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, did not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they had landed several hours later. The crew's report of the location of possible survivors was mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and went unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realized that a search had never been mounted and belatedly ordered aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, Juneau's survivors, many of whom were seriously wounded, were exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors were found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors reported that Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days[1] before, suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia (though some sources describe him being "driven insane with grief" at the loss of his brothers), he went over the side of the raft he occupied. He was never seen or heard from again.

Security required that the Navy not reveal the loss of the Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stopped arriving at the home and the parents grew worried.

The brothers' parents were notified of their deaths on January 12, 1943. That morning, the boys' father, Thomas, was preparing to go to work when three men in uniform - a lieutenant commander, a doctor, and a chief petty officer - approached his front door. "I have some news for you about your boys," the naval officer said. "Which one?" asked Thomas. "I'm sorry," the officer replied. "All five."[2]

The brothers left a sister, Genevieve (1917-1975). Albert was survived by a wife and son. The “Fighting Sullivan Brothers” were national heroes. President Franklin Roosevelt sent a letter of condolence to Tom and Alleta. Pope Pius XII sent a silver religious medal and rosary with his message of regret. The Iowa Senate and House adopted a formal resolution of tribute to the Sullivan brothers.

Thomas and Alleta Sullivan made speaking appearances at war plants and shipyards on behalf of the war effort.[3] Later, Alleta participated in the launching of a destroyer USS The Sullivans, named after her sons.[4]


USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kurzman
  2. ^ Satterfield, p. 5.
  3. ^ Emily Yellin, Our Mothers' War, p 35-6 ISBN 0-7432-4514-8
  4. ^ Frank, Guadalcanal, p. 739.
  5. ^ "US 'sole survivor' to leave Iraq", BBC News, 25 August 2007. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
  6. ^ "Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum > About the museum". Grout Museum District. 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  7. ^ "Waterloo Mayor Visits USS The Sullivans", The Mayport Mirror, January 28, 2010.
  8. ^ "USS The Sullivans DDG-68". Maritime Quest. 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  9. ^ Kinney, Pat (11 November 2012). "Albert Sullivan's widow looks back". WCF Courier. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  10. ^ Lubeski, Ray (2010). Linebackers of the Sea. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse. p. 242. ISBN 978-1-4520-0422-8. 
  11. ^ "The Sullivan Story", Good Morning America, ABC, July 12, 1998
  12. ^ Ramada Waterloo Hotel & Convention Center, Waterloo, Iowa at
  13. ^ Beckham, Beverly (11 November 2012). "The Fighting Sullivans deserve to be remembered". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  14. ^ "The Sullivans School: Yokosuka, Japan". The Sullivans School. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  15. ^ Josephson, Isaac, Caroline's Spine Hits The States Like A Monsoon Rolling Stone (October 7, 1997). Accessed January 30, 2010.
  16. ^ Associated Press, "The Sullivans veterans reunite in Iowa", Military Times, 25 September 2011.


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