On Nov. 13, 1942, one family lost five sons who were serving in the U.S. Navy.
Three Sullivan brothers, Joseph, Madison and Albert marched into the Des Moines Naval Recruiting Station to sign up on Jan. 3, 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Irish Central reported. George and Francis were already enlisted and had served together on the USS Hovey.
The three brothers’ enlistment was dependent on one key request — that the brothers could “stick together” without being separated during their service.
Typically, the Navy didn’t recommend siblings serving together, but after George wrote a letter to Secretary of the Navy and closed it with, “We will make a team together that can’t be beaten,” his request was approved.
The brothers were committed to joining the Navy after their good friend, William Ball, lost his life on the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Sullivan brothers’ first and final deployment was aboard the USS Juneau, a freshly christened ship.
On Nov. 13, 1942, while U.S. and Japanese forces battled tirelessly for Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, the Juneau was hit by a Japanese torpedo that took out her power and wiped out the fire control systems.
The Juneau was hurt but she wasn’t quite finished yet.
By dawn she was back in battle, but not for long.
A Japanese torpedo intended for the USS San Francisco hit the Juneau instead, tearing her in half.
It was believed that all aboard the Juneau would have perished in such an attack, and due to the hostile enemy attacks, survivors were not searched for.
The commander did request an investigation into the whereabouts of the Juneau, however, the message was misplaced so it took days for that to initiate.
It was discovered that Francis, Joseph, and Madison lost their lives in the first attack and Albert drowned in the second attack.
Irish American family the Sullivans lost five sons in one day. They died on this day, November 13, in 1942. https://t.co/IehRVmWPwQ
— IrishCentral (@IrishCentral) November 13, 2018
George was one of the 80 men who made it to life rafts, but he lost his life along with 69 others who perished on the rafts. Only 10 survived after they were rescued by a search aircraft eight days later.
The brothers’ worried mother, Alleta Sullivan, wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Jan. 1943, after she hadn’t received any letters from her boys.
On Jan. 13, 1943, it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who answered her letter, stating the brothers were MIA. That same day, Tom Sullivan answered a knock at his door to find a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer.
The naval officer said, “I have some news for you about your boys.” “Which one?” asked Tom. “I’m sorry,” the officer replied. “All five,” according to the Navy Together We Served.
Shortly after, President Roosevelt sent a letter of condolence to the parents, and Pope Pius XII sent a holy medal and rosary with his sympathy.
Tom and Alleta had speaking engagements across the country after they lost their boys.
In 1943, Alleta was given the honor of christening the destroyer “USS The Sullivans” in honor of her five sons. Years later, Albert’s son served on that very ship.
Before it was retired in 1965, the ship earned nine battle stars in WWII and in Korea.
Later, a second “USS The Sullivans” was named after the brothers. It was a sleek Aegis-class destroyer that still sails today, carrying the motto,” We Stick Together.”
In 1944, Twentieth Century Fox released a Hollywood film about the brothers, titled “The Fighting Sullivans,” based on the true story, according to Turner Classic Movies.
Bosley Crowther wrote in a New York Times review, “It is a story of typical Americans, with love of home and love of family at its core. … This is a story of why the Sullivans fought, not how.”
The film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Motion Picture Story.
The Sullivan Brothers Veterans Museum opened in Waterloo, Iowa in Nov. 2008, which honors the Sullivan Brothers and all who serve.
The lost wreckage of the USS Juneau was found by Microsoft co-founder billionaire Paul Allen’s crew off the coast of the Solomon Islands on March 17, 2018, according to Fox News.