Sullivan Brothers: MIA


Sullivan Brothers

In 1942 everyone was used to seeing the long lists of dead war heroes.  (This link will take you to statistics on the numbers of casualties in WWII).  Nothing, however, could have prepared the nation for the deaths of five young brothers from a small Iowa town.

The Sullivans were a very large Irish Catholic family from Waterloo, Iowa.  There were Thomas and Alleta who were the proud parents of one girl, Genevieve, and five boys, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert.  The two oldest brothers, George and Francis, had been away from home for some time while they served in the Navy.  Soon after the boys‚ return, the Sullivans received some shocking news.  A close friend of the family, Bill Ball, had been killed at Pearl Harbor.  Outraged by his death, all five brothers then decided to join the Navy.

The five of them asked to be placed on the same ship.  Their request was honored and George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert all went aboard the
USS Juneau The boys wanted to stick together and protect one another. Their ship was commissioned on Valentine‚s Day of 1942.  The brothers were at sea for most of that year.  They ran into trouble in the early morning hours of Friday, the thirteenth of November 1942.

The crew of the USS Juneau and a few other US ships were off the coast of the Soloman Islands helping to defend a base located on Guadalcanal.  Shortly before 2 am, the Japanese made a surprise attack.  The USS Juneau was hit by a torpedo that the crewmates believed to be intended for a neighboring ship.  The hull was nearly broken in half.  They retreated with some losses, but all five brothers were still alive and well.

Later that same morning, the USS Juneau joined the USS San Francisco so that they might help each other tend to injured men.  During this time, a Japanese submarine had closed in on the unsuspecting ships.  Two (possibly even three) torpedoes were fired.  Both barely missed the San Francisco.  The first passed right by the Juneau and ended up sinking to the bottom of the ocean.  The second struck the ship in almost the exact same spot as the previous hit.  In about twenty seconds the two halves of the Juneau were gone.  Those aboard the USS San Francisco found it hard to believe that there might be any survivors.  Fearing another attack, they sought safe waters without attempting a rescue.  Read the actual report on the loss of
U.S.S. Juneau.

In actuality, the number of survivors ranged from 80 to 150, but George was the only Sullivan left alive.  His four younger brothers had the misfortune of being below deck when the torpedo hit and more than likely were killed instantly.  A few days later, George was killed by sharks while taking a bath in the oil filled ocean water.  When rescue efforts were finally made more than a week after the hit, only 10 men remained.

The story did not reach the rest of the Sullivan family
until January 1943.  The news spread like wildfire.  The entire nation felt the blast of heat.  How could the military allow such an atrocity?  Allowing the five brothers to be placed on the same ship made it easy for them all to be killed in one swoop.  Then the question arose as to why no rescue efforts were made.  (George could have been saved!)  Because of this horrible event, a new policy was put into effect that asked that related persons not be placed in the same area (or on the same ship) during wartime.  But then, one could always request otherwise, and mark their fate just as that of the Sullivan brothers.

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