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Learn the history of US Navy’s 5 Sullivan brothers who died on the same ship in WWII

The Sullivan brothers on board USS Juneau: Joe, Frank, Al, Matt, and George. (Wikimedia Commons)
October 12, 2020

The Sullivans, five Irish brothers who all fought and died on the same ship during WWII, became the first multiple-person namesake of a ship in US Naval history. USS The Sullivans was commissioned in their memory in 1943, and a second ship with their namesake, ordered in 1992, still sails to this day.

The five brothers – George, Francis, Jospeh, Madison and Leo – all enlisted in the United States Navy in January 1942 with the condition that they serve together. While the military had a policy of separating siblings, this was not often enforced, so the brothers got their wish. They were all assigned to USS Juneau.

Check out the short film below to learn more about the heroic brothers:

USS Juneau played an active role during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. On November 14, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo. Though she remained intact, the ship and her crew were forced to withdraw and seek safety.

Later that same day, as Juneau attempted to leave the Solomon Islands for an Allied base, the ship was again struck by a Japanese torpedo. This time, the hit proved critical. The impact likely struck a vital area of the ship housing ammunitions magazines causing an explosion. Juneau would sink before anyone could come to her rescue.

Suspecting that no one could survive such an incident, nearby ships did little in attempting to survey the wreckage area. But in fact, some 100 of Juneau’s crew had survived and were left to helplessly fend for themselves in the water.

Due to a number of mistakes and miscommunication, military personnel overlooked the sinking of the Juneau for eight days. After finally deploying a search aircraft to the area, just ten survivors were discovered. Unfortunately, the Sullivan brothers were not amongst them.

After news reached home about the tragic loss, the “Fighting Sullivan Brothers” became national heroes. In the days that followed, President Roosevelt sent a letter of condolence to their parents. Pope Pius XII offered 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.

The brothers were immortalized by the 1945 short film The Fighting Sullivans. Check out the trailer below and learn a little more about the famous Irish quintet:

Today, the Sullivan brothers’ memory lives on in their hometown and across the country with various memorials and monuments. Their family’s sacrifice will always be remembered.