The Sullivan Brothers – A Tribute

  The Sullivan Brothers

“We stick together.”

Friday, November 13, 1942 Off the shores of Guadalcanal

The yellow-black smoke of battle had cleared from the skies as the sun set in the South Pacific on that fateful day in November.  The deep swells of the ocean, however, still bore the scars of the previous night’s battle and the early morning of death and disaster.  A thick, black layer of oil moved with the currents, and in the midst of the oil floated the debris of an American light cruiser, the last remnants of the U.S.S. Juneau.  Desperate sailors clung to the debris, most of them wounded, all of them frightened.  They were all that remained of the Juneau’s crew of 698 American boys.  It was impossible to count the survivors, probably somewhere between 90 and 140, but such a count would have been worthless anyway.   Wounds, injuries, and the unforgiving sea diminished their numbers with each passing hour. The heat of the tropical sun gave way to a bone chilling night, pierced by the moans and cries of men suffering unimaginable horrors.   The cries and moans added an eerie atmosphere to a scene already beyond human comprehension.  The sounds would haunt the dreams of survivors for the rest of their lives, assuming that any of the men should survive.  And then, across the waters, could be heard another desperate voice crying hopelessly into the darkness:   “Frank?”  “Red?”  “Matt?”   “Al?”  It was the voice of George Sullivan, the oldest of five brothers who served on the Juneau.  George had survived and now sought desperately for his younger brothers.


Born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa; the five Sullivan brothers had always stuck together.  From George, the oldest, to Al, the youngest; there was only a 7 year age difference.  They had lived together at the plain but large house at 98 Adams Street, along with one sister Genevieve, and their parents Thomas and Alleta and grandma Mae Abel.  The longest period of time the boys had ever been separated had been the four years prior to World War II when George and Francis Henry, second oldest of the quintet and usually called “Frank”, had served in the Navy.  Even then, the two brothers had served most of their hitch together, on the same ships. George Sullivan was discharged after fulfilling his four year commitment on May 16, 1941.  Eleven days later Frank received his own discharge and both boys returned to the family home.  Six months later they listened intently to reports of the attack at Pearl Harbor.  Former ship mates and friends still on active duty and serving in the Hawaiian port, not to mention two brothers from nearby Fredericksburg, were under fire and both Sullivan boys felt both a sense of helplessness and anger.  They determined that night to return to service.  This time Joseph Eugene whom they all called “Red”, Madison Abel “Matt”, and even Albert Leo “Al”, insisted on joining them.  Their resolve was further strengthened when, just prior to Christmas, they learned the fate of the Fredericksburg brothers, Bill and Masten Ball.  Masten had survived the day of infamy, but Bill, who had frequented the Sullivan house and perhaps even “been sweet” on sister Genevieve, had gone to a watery grave aboard the U.S.S. Arizona. The five brothers who had always done everything together, walked into the local Navy recruiting station together.  Though Al, just nineteen years old and married less than two years would have qualified for a deferment from combat service, he insisted on being with his brothers.  He would leave behind not only a young wife, but little Jimmy Sullivan, his ten month old son.  The Navy was desperate for men in the early days after the destruction at Pearl Harbor, and quickly welcomed the Sullivan brothers.  Until the determined young men threw a new “wrinkle” into their enlistment plans.  George had echoed the sentiment the night of December 7th when the five young men had made their decision.  “Well, I guess our minds are made up…when we go in, we want to go in together.  If the worst comes to worst, why we’ll all have gone down together.”  Now, as they stood in the recruiting office, they demanded that the Navy assure them that they would be allowed to serve together…on the same ship.  When they couldn’t get the guarantee that day, they took their demands all the way to Washington, DC.  In a letter to the Navy Department they explained their desire to defend their Country, but insisted that if the Navy wanted the Sullivan brothers, it would have to be a package deal.  “WE STICK TOGETHER!”  Finally, the Navy agreed.  The transcripts of all five Sullivan brothers reveal that each was “Enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 3 January, 1942” and together they were “Transferred to the Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois.”  Exactly one month later the individual orders for each of the five sailors read, “Transferred to the receiving ship, New York, for duty in the USS Juneau detail and on board when commissioned.” Eleven days later, on February 14, 1942, the USS Juneau was commissioned.  The five Sullivan brothers became instant celebrities when photographers captured the photo seen in the background of this page, a photograph that symbolized not only the sense of brotherhood among those who volunteered to defend our Nation, but the commitment of an entire family from the heartland of America.  George, Frank, Red, Matt and Al enjoyed the spotlight that day.  They also shared the spotlight with four other brothers, Joseph, James, Louis and Patrick Rogers.  In time, a total of 9 sets of brothers would serve on the USS Juneau.  But no family in America could match the record of the five Sullivans.

Late in May, George, Matt and Al came home one last time.  It gave Al the opportunity to say farewell to his young wife, Katherine Mary.  For her it must have been a time of mixed emotions.  She had lost her mother at the age of seven.  Now she was losing her husband, if even for a brief few years…possibly forever.  In order to survive on Al’s small Naval salary she had moved in with Tom and Alleta.  She could have kept her husband out of harms way, used his role as husband and father to defer him from combat.  But she knew the Sullivan brothers well, loved Al enough, not to come between the brothers.“Don’t worry,” perhaps he reminded her,  “WE STICK TOGETHER!”

sullivans_jimmy.jpg (25578 bytes)

Albert Sullivan with 15-month old Jimmy, Thomas and Alleta, and brother Matt.  (Photo courtesy of the Grout Museum, Waterloo, IA)

A sixth Sullivan joined the Navy that day, though he was only 15-months old.   Little Jimmy donned his uniform cap to pose with his father and uncle Matt for local media.  Then it was time for a final farewell.  On June 1st the USS Juneau sailed out of New York and into history, carrying nearly 700 sailors including:

Joseph, James, Louis, and Patrick ROGERS (James & Joseph Later transferred to another ship) William and Harold WEEKS Russell and Charles COMBS Albert and Michael KRALL George and John WALLACE Curtis and Donald DAMON Richard and Russell WHITE Harold and Charles CAULK & THE FIVE SULLIVAN BROTHERS

burialatseablog1

From : Home of the Heroes,com

###############################################################

Additional memorial photographs –

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 _______________________________________________________________________________________

Personal note – Please remember – the readers, along with myself, enjoy reading about the stories you have of your own, from relatives and/or friends’ lives in the service.  When you have the time, add the story into the comments.  If you would care for someone to be included in the Farewell Salutes – add that info as well.  Thank You.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Advertisements

About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on May 14, 2015, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 91 Comments.

  1. Beautiful post, I loved reading about those boys again. I remember as a girl my grandparents telling me about them. They even had a book. How tragic for the family. I wonder if they would have made the same decision if they had known what it would have done to their family.

    Like

    • Thank you for dropping in, Ana. There was even a movie made about the boys, plus a law enacted to stop such an event from happening again. But, those fellas were so tight, even went to Congress to demand being on the same ship – unfortunately, I doubt their minds would have been changed; except to leave the youngest at home.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A friend of mine, Eddie Ryan, played the youngest brother, Al, in the motion picture,”The Fighting Sullivans” about the brothers. It was a story that went straight to the heart of the people during the War.

    Like

  3. I remember my parents talking about the “Sullivan Brothers” How sad. I know that WWII was a watershed time for everyone. My Dad and uncles all enlisted the 1st or 2nd week of January. Thanks for sharing this.

    Like

    • Thank you for coming. If there are any stories from your family you wish to share, the readers here love to see them [as do I] and if they are no longer with us – I would be honored to have them included in the Farewell Salutes. I appreciate your visit.

      Like

  4. That has got to be one of the most magical story’s of that war era, I cant think of another word apart from magical, its virtually unthinkable to read of the Sullivan Brothers acting as a combined force during their Naval service.
    Their families have much to be proud of, as do the families and descendants in their own right.
    Excellent reading.
    Cheers.

    Like

  5. This wonderful post is an important reminder of the sacrifices paid by so many so I am able to think, pray and live as I wish.
    Bart

    Like

  6. A great story with depth. Such a huge sacrifice the brothers made!

    Like

  7. The story of these brothers always saddened me since reading about them in my junior high school history book. What a shame the political lean-to of our education system feels it more important to reflect on WWII as a period of racial discrimination. ‘Nuff said. ☺

    Like

    • There is so much more to teach our children than racial tensions [which IMO only helps create and/or aggravate the problem]. Our veterans fought for us to have the freedoms we have today and that’s why I plan to re-blog your video tomorrow for Armed Forces Day – our kids need a story that will stick in their minds the way the Sullivan brothers did for us!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

    What an incredible sacrifice this family gave. I remember reading about this as a child and seeing a movie about them.

    Thank you so much for this and other stories of these amazing people. ❤

    Like

    • The story and movie has been mentioned by most as making an impression in our minds at a young age. I think it’s time for the next up and coming generation to have one as inspirational. What do think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

        I completely agree. Unfortunately, in our present media culture, what drives movies is not the same as inspiration. Movies are made now with a bottom line in mind. Inspiration we had back then has been replaced by sports and other well-known people. I wonder if we will ever get those kinds heroes again. Some of what we have seen recently has been manufactured by politicians to sway citizens in one direction or another. Remember the Jessica Lynch story?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saving_Jessica_Lynch

        I believe there are real heroes today but I’m afraid they end up as a short blip on the radar screen. I doubt you could ever replace the heroes of old. That is a good reason to document those stories now.

        Like

  9. What a great tribute and such a sad heartbreaking story, GP Cox! Thank you for sharing this, your work is outstanding. Dina & Co Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is heartbreaking but I think that’s why it bears repeating so. If given a choice for this world, you would think the politicians would choose a life as seen on your post today rather than what is depicted here! [it seems humans do NOT learn from their mistakes – but I’ll keep trying to correct that!] Have a great weekend, Dina – all my best to Klausbernd, Siri & Selma!

      Like

  10. I was knee-high to a grasshopper when I saw the movie. I cried. A couple years ago, I watched it again. No crying this time, but I sure choked up. Another great post, JC.

    Like

  11. This touching story shows the commitment of the brothers to each other and their country. Seems unique to me that the Navy has so many brothers that insist on serving together. I know a couple here that served on the same ship in the Navy in the 1950s. Too many stories have a sad ending.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This was a new story for me. I’m so glad you posted it! I just LOVE your blog.

    Like

  13. I grew up hearing about these brothers. As an Iowan who lived in Waterloo with my parents at one time, the loss of the brothers seemed like a loss of 5 of ‘our own’.

    Like

    • Yes, it is still today. On-line Iowan heroes have their own website and a federal law was put into place because of this tragedy. Thank you for reading.

      Like

  14. I remember the movie when I was a kid. Regards

    Like

  15. The Sullivan’s journey has always been heroically heartbreaking for me as I imagine the sorrow of the poor mom who suffered so deeply at this loss. Great narrative of the this story.

    Like

    • I did not like how the ‘copy and paste’ went with presenting the story – so I am surprised as many people read it. It would be a shame for anyone to miss this naval tale. Thank you, Tina.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Makes one think …

    Like

  17. Another touching story! I read it from start to finish. Thanks for sharing it with us, GP!

    Like

    • It bears repeating now and then – now just for the brothers’ memory but also for the rest of the family’s sacrifice. After all, this is Military Appreciation Month. Thank you for bearing up through how the story was presented [no more copying and pasting for me!]

      Liked by 1 person

  18. So sad. Or maybe tragic is a better word. –Curt

    Like

    • Yes and unfortunately it became time to recall the story again with hopes that it is reaching some of the future generations. I appreciate you reading it once again, Curt!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. And now I know, “The Rest of the Story.”

    Thank you, once more. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    Like

  20. This is so touching; thank you for posting this very personal saga of a family from our Heartland. They were the rock of our society and our military then and still are. God Bless every one from all walks of life; serving our country and each other has never mattered more.

    Like

  21. I remember my mother telling us stories about the Sullivan brothers–what a tragedy! I even remember the movie they made about their sacrifices.

    Like

  22. How powerful! I am forever impressed with the sacrifices and courage of my Father’s (Mother’s) generation! Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  23. That breaks my mother heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Remarkable bravery by families across the US where members of the same family joined up. Such a sad story to relate when a tragedy like the Juneau happens an so many families lose so many good men.

    Like

  25. What a story. Nothing in fiction can come anywhere near the reality that actually occured.

    Like

  26. The first time I ever heard of these brothers’ heroism was from an old newspaper clipping I read as a boy. Thanks for refreshing the memory and adding to it.

    Like

  27. A very heroic tale, and a very tragic one too.

    Like

    • I know most everyone is aware of this story, but their memory and that of their shipmates needed to be told again, IMO. Thank you for also being so kind as to read it, John.

      Like

  28. PLease reply on my email koivis@telenet.be so I can send a pps with warpictures.

    Like

  29. Thanks for a wonderful post about the Sullivan Brothers… it’s so sad and touching… but it’s a great tribute to great brothers…

    Like

  30. Reblogged this on Susan Marie Molloy and commented:
    Always remember —

    Like

  31. This story reminds me of the ‘Pals Battalions’ in the UK, during the first war. Whole neighbourhoods and families wiped out in the same actions. It shouldn’t have been allowed, but I guess it was hard to stop them, when they were so determined, and the forces needed men, and good publicity. Tragic stuff indeed gp.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Reblogged this on IF I ONLY HAD A TIME MACHINE and commented:
    This is a story well worth reblogging. Many people know this story but it is one that is so moving, it is worth sharing.

    Like

  33. That was a wonderful tribute. I grew up hearing about these boys. My mom talked about my paternal grandmother being like Mrs. Sullivan because all five of her boys were serving in the war. Obviously not together and thankfully they all returned home. I was writing a series of posts around Halloween one year and wrote one about the Sullivans https://mholloway63.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/american-ghost-stories-haunted-destroyer-the-five-sullivan-brothers/

    Liked by 3 people

  34. I remember watching the movie with my father several decades ago. There’s a scene where they all go down to the recruiting office to sign up. My father started weeping and said that’s just how it was in his home town , all the guys walking over to the office, and so many did not come back. It was one of the very very few times I ever saw my father cry.

    Liked by 2 people

  1. Pingback: The Pacific Paratrooper | Marcey's Table

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: