In 1942 everyone was used
to seeing the long
of dead war heroes.
link will take you to statistics on the numbers of
casualties in WWII). Nothing, however, could have
prepared the nation for the deaths of five young
brothers from a small Iowa town.
The Sullivans were a very large Irish Catholic family
from Waterloo, Iowa. There were Thomas and Alleta who
were the proud parents of one girl, Genevieve, and five
boys, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert. The
two oldest brothers, George and Francis, had been away
from home for some time while they served in the Navy.
Soon after the boys‚ return, the Sullivans received some
shocking news. A close friend of the family, Bill Ball,
had been killed at Pearl Harbor. Outraged by his death,
all five brothers then decided to join the Navy.
The five of them asked to be placed on the same ship.
Their request was honored and George, Francis, Joseph,
Madison, and Albert all went aboard the
wanted to stick together and protect one another. Their
ship was commissioned on Valentine‚s Day of 1942.
The brothers were at sea for most of that year. They
ran into trouble in the early morning hours of Friday,
the thirteenth of November 1942.
The crew of the USS Juneau and a few other US ships were
off the coast of the Soloman Islands helping to defend a
base located on Guadalcanal. Shortly before 2 am, the
Japanese made a surprise attack. The USS Juneau was hit
by a torpedo that the crewmates believed to be intended
for a neighboring ship. The hull was nearly broken in
half. They retreated with some losses, but all five
brothers were still alive and well.
Later that same morning, the USS Juneau joined the USS
San Francisco so that they might help each other tend to
injured men. During this time, a Japanese submarine had
closed in on the unsuspecting ships. Two (possibly even
three) torpedoes were fired. Both barely missed the San
Francisco. The first passed right by the Juneau and
ended up sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The second
struck the ship in almost the exact same spot as the
previous hit. In about twenty seconds the two halves of
the Juneau were gone. Those aboard the USS San
Francisco found it hard to believe that there might be
any survivors. Fearing another attack, they sought safe
waters without attempting a rescue. Read the actual
report on the loss of
In actuality, the number of survivors ranged from 80 to
150, but George was the only Sullivan left alive. His
four younger brothers had the misfortune of being below
deck when the torpedo hit and more than likely were
killed instantly. A few days later, George was killed
by sharks while taking a bath in the oil filled ocean
water. When rescue efforts were finally made more than
a week after the hit, only 10 men remained.
The story did not reach the rest of the Sullivan family
January 1943. The news spread like wildfire.
The entire nation felt the blast of heat. How
could the military allow such an atrocity?
Allowing the five brothers to be placed on the same ship
made it easy for them all to be killed in one swoop.
Then the question arose as to why no rescue efforts were
made. (George could have been saved!)
Because of this horrible event, a new
policy was put into effect that
asked that related persons not be placed in the same
area (or on the same ship) during wartime. But then,
one could always request otherwise, and mark their fate
just as that of the Sullivan brothers.