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Finders of the USS Juneau bring wreckage footage to home of the Sullivan brothers

Sullivan brothers on USS Juneau (Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan (from left to right) (U.S. Naval Historical Center/WikiCommons)

The men who found the wreckage of the USS Juneau on the bottom of the sea brought her to life in the hometown of her most famous sailors.

The crew of the Research Vessel Petrel talked about their discovery at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum on Wednesday, 77 years to the day after the U.S. Navy ship was sunk by a Japanese torpedo near Guadalcanal.

The presentation, which included nine minutes of crystal clear video footage of the wreckage, was part of a well-attended event at the museum named after Waterloo brothers George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan, who were among the 687 crew who died when the Juneau sank Nov. 13, 1942.

Paul Mayer was a member of the RV Petrel’s team that found the Juneau’s wreck at the bottom of Ironbottom Sound in the Solomon Islands on March 17, 2018.

“When I tell people that we found the Juneau, most people don’t know the Juneau,” Mayer said. “But when you say it had the five Sullivan brothers on it, then they all know them.”

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Knute Swensen made the trip from Huntington Beach, Calif., to attend the presentation. He is the grandson of U.S. Navy Capt. Lyman Swenson, who was commander of the Juneau when it sank.

“When I saw they found the wreckage I thought, ‘Oh my God, they found where my grandfather was buried, really,’” said Swensen. His name differs from his grandfather’s due to a misspelling by the U.S. Naval Academy.

Swensen was amazed by the clarity of the video, which shows the Juneau’s lettering on ship’s side, a gun turret and other parts of the vessel scattered across the ocean floor.

“I wish my dad was alive to see this,” Swensen said, noting his father died shortly before the wreck was discovered. “We talked about it. I asked him if he thought they’d ever find it and he said, ‘I don’t know; Ironbottom Sound is pretty deep.’”

Mayer talked about how the RV Petrel found the Juneau, first doing extensive research of historical records and then using equipment financed by late Microsoft co-founder and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen to search at sea.

The autonomous underwater vehicle used sonar to eventually find the wreck some 14,000 feet below the waves. “The AUV is used for finding shipwrecks and then the remotely operated vehicle is used for surveying them,” Mayer said.

The Juneau is among more than 30 shipwrecks the RV Petrel has discovered. The exact location was turned over to the U.S. Navy, which is now responsible for protecting the site. It likely will remain undisturbed, Mayer said.

The family of Albert Sullivan was also on hand for the event along with Gerry Roncolato, first commanding officer of the new USS The Sullivans.

Billie Bailey, executive director of the Grout Museum District, said the museum has received donations and is seeking additional funding for a permanent exhibit to include a video of the Juneau wreckage.

Many museum visitors have asked about the video when visiting the museum since the Petrel’s discovery.

The museum also received a private donation of a rare physical artifact from the Juneau, a wool floor mat that once graced the ship but apparently was removed when the ship was refitted in port before it was sunk.

The tan mat with green “JUNEAU” lettering will also be part of the museum’s exhibits related to the Sullivan brothers.

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© 2019 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier