Warrior Wednesday Salute and The Fighting Sullivan’s

Last week it was an honor to bring the story of the 7 Bailey brothers who fought for our country in World War 2 and Korea.

These families who gave so much are incredible, but often ordinary people.

SJmom requested I check out the 5 Sullivan brothers for today’s story, and as I researched and watched videos about them, my mind was overwhelmed by such an incredible sacrifice that so many families have given through our nation’s history, but often times, they’re seldom written about or heard of.  Thankfully this is not so with the Sullivan’s.

Folks may know the story of the 5 brothers who hailed from the town of Waterloo, Iowa; George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert who all enlisted into the US Navy after their friend  who was on the battleship Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor was killed. After the Navy allowed for the boys to stay together, they were sworn into Service at Des Moines and left for Great Lakes Training Center less than a month after Pearl Harbor.

In November, 1942, a light cruiser, the Juneau was part of a large Naval task force which brought reinforcements and supplies to the Marines at Guadalcanal.  During the same time, the Japanese sent their own reinforcements on the other side of the island to help their own army.  On November 12, the American Navy and Marine aircraft destroyed an attacking group of Japanese planes.

An intense battle  which ensured afterwards  left a Japanese battleship, along with two destroyers lost, and five of the 13 US Navy ships sunk or heavily damaged. Many of the sailors were lost.  The Juneau was heavily damaged after being hit with a torpedo on the port side.  While the US ships formed a tight group, they headed back to their base, but a Japanese sub struck the Juneau near the storage area of it’s ammunition supply.

The explosion was spectacular and the acting Commander of the task force believed that there had been a “high level bombing attack”.   The Captain of the U.S.S San Francisco believed all on board had to have been killed.  Not wanting to delay the other ships any longer, and risk losing more Americans, an Army aircraft was requested to report the position of the Juneau, but it was never received.  The men who had survived the attack, at least 80, including the oldest brother, George Sullivan made it onto life rafts, but most died in the 10 days of heat and shark attacks.  Most were wounded and badly burned, and were dehydrated and starved. George died by a shark attack one night shortly before they were rescued.  Out of all those aboard the Juneau, only 10 survived.

The Navy didn’t want to provide information to the Japanese, so Thomas and Alleta Sullivan were desperate for news of their sons.  Finally, the parents were notified and their sons, the Sullivan boys were national heroes. They received a letter of condolences from F.D.R, and Pope Pius XII along with a religious medal.  The Iowa Senate and House adopted a formal resolution of tribute to the brothers.

In spite of their tremendous loss, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan traveled to over 200 war plants and ship yards on behalf of the war effort, hoping to help prevent more losses of America’s best.  In April 1943, Mrs. Sullivan christened a new destroyer in San Francisco, the USS Sullivans. Their daughter Genevive traveled with them until joining the WAVES in June of the same year.

Posters and speeches honored their sacrifice and newspaper and radio coverage of the tragedy made the loss of the brothers a national story. In 1944 the movie, “The Sullivan’s” made its debut. It partially inspired the 1998 movie, starring Tom Hanks, “Saving Private Ryan”. 

There is also a DoDDs (Department of Defense Dependents) elementary school in Yokosuka, Japan named in their honor.

The Sullivan’s were among at least 30 pairs of brothers who also served aboard the Juneau.  After the tragedy, the U.S. War department adopted “The Sole Survivor Policy” so it would never happen again.

In 1995, the second ship, The Sullivans (DDG-68) was launched, sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert. It was commissioned in 1997 and the motto of the ship is “We Stick Together”.

I can’t imagine the grief of Gold Star Parents, families and friends who lose a loved one in war, but losing more than one, and on the magnitude of families such as the Sullivan’s, it almost assaults the heart.  I am forever humbled and in awe of so much that has been sacrificed for our country, and world by America’s best.  I will be forever grateful for all who have and still serve.

God bless our Troops, bless our Veterans, bless and thank you Lord for those incredible families who give so much.

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