- Thomas and Alleta Sullivan from Waterloo, Iowa had six children – five boys and one girl (Genevieve).
- George and Francis, two of their five boys, served in the U.S. Navy from 1937-1941.
- After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, all five Sullivan boys enlisted together in the U.S. Navy. In early January 1942, George, Francis, Joseph, Albert and Madison went to Des Moines to enlist.
- The boys sent a letter to Washington asking they be assigned to the same ship. Their motto was, “We Stick Together.” Their wish was granted. The boys were assigned to the USS Juneau, a light cruiser.
- On Feb. 14, 1942 when the USS Juneau was docked in New York City, the U.S. Navy took a picture with all five boys on the ship.
- The USS Juneau deployed to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific.
- On Nov. 12, 1942, the USS Juneau was struck by a torpedo fired by a Japanese ship. Still seaworthy, she was making its way to a cove early on Nov. 13 when another torpedo hit. She sank in a matter of seconds. None of the Sullivan brothers survived.
- Thomas, Alleta and Genevieve traveled the country selling war bonds to help the war effort. Many people had heard of their tragic loss. The picture of the boys on the ship was made into a poster to promote the sale of war bonds.
- Kelly Sullivan Loughren is Albert Sullivan’s granddaughter. Albert was the only brother who had a child before the boys enlisted.
- Kelly is the U.S. Navy sponsor of the USS The Sullivans, the second ship named in honor of the brothers.
Author’s Note (April 27, 2020): The following was first published in 2017 based on my interview with Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Sullivan. Albert was the only brother who had a child before being deployed to the Pacific Theater with his four brothers in 1942 during World War II. This story has been updated and edited for this publication.
Nov. 7, 2017 – As a teacher and a mother, Kelly Sullivan spends her days guiding and nurturing the next generation. Kelly is the granddaughter of Albert Sullivan, one of the five Sullivan brothers killed on Nov. 13, 1942 when their ship, the U.S.S. Juneau, sank during the Battle of Guadalcanal during WWII. Kelly is carrying on their legacy of sacrifice, service, and loyalty.
This story’s author first learned of the Sullivan brothers in 2013 when a few spare minutes turned into a few hours exploring the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo. The museum is located near the neighborhood where Thomas and Alleta Sullivan raised their family of five boys and one girl – George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, Albert, and Genevieve – during the Great Depression.
In July 2017, the author interviewed Kelly Sullivan at the museum to learn more about the Sullivan brothers and the museum exhibit in their honor.
Sullivan brothers motto: We Stick Together
George and Francis had served in the U.S. Navy from 1937-1941 and were back home working in Waterloo when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on Dec. 7, 1941. Bill Ball, a friend from Iowa whom George and Francis met while serving in the Navy, was killed at Pearl Harbor. The five Sullivan brothers decided to enlist together to honor their friend and support the country. In announcing their decision to their parents, George said:
“Well, I guess our minds are made up, aren’t they fellows? And when we go in we want to go in together. And if the worst comes to the worst, why we’ll have all gone down together.” (The Sullivan Family of Waterloo by Alvin Sunseri and Kenneth Lyftogt, pamphlet at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum). Their motto was, “We Stick Together.”
The boys wrote a letter to Washington asking they be allowed to serve together since regulations were in place that would not permit all five brothers from serving on the same ship. They also had to obtain a waiver for Albert to enlist because he was married and the father of an infant son, James. James is Kelly’s father.
On Jan. 3, 1942, less than one month after Pearl Harbor, the five boys were sworn into service in Des Moines. They were off to training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and then San Diego.
They were assigned to the U.S.S. Juneau, a new light cruiser docked in New York Harbor at a Staten Island pier. The U.S. Navy snapped a photo of the five boys on Feb. 14, 1942 in New York that is now an iconic image of the brothers. The photo was made into a poster that was used during the war to encourage people to purchase war bonds.
The U.S.S. Juneau first went to sea on a patrol of the Atlantic Ocean. The boys then returned to Waterloo when granted a leave in May 1942. It was the last time the boys would be in Waterloo.
The USS Juneau had orders to go to the Solomon Islands. According to information from the U.S. Navy, after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese military quickly captured what is now Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. By spring 1942, Japan controlled Southeast Asia.
Battle of Guadalcanal
In summer 1942, Japan sought to build an air base on Guadalcanal, an island at the eastern end of the Solomon Island chain. In August 1942, the U.S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal and took control of Japan’s partially completed air base. But the battle for the area in the Solomon Islands continued into the fall.
On Nov. 12, 1942, the USS Juneau was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese battleship. Still seaworthy, the ship rejoined other American ships, trying to find a cove where damages could be assessed. On Nov. 13th at about 11 a.m., a torpedo intended for another ship struck the Juneau. She sank within 20 seconds. From survivor accounts, 114 men survived a second torpedo and were floating in rafts. However, it took several days for rescue boats to reach them. Only 10 of the 114 men were rescued. George Sullivan had been in one of the rafts but did not survive the ordeal.
Thomas and Alleta Sullivan were notified on Jan. 11, 1943 that their five sons were missing. A few days later, one of the Juneau survivors sent a letter to the Sullivans explaining that all five boys were lost. The survivor had been on a raft with George. The other four boys went down with the ship, he told them.
In April 1943, Alleta Sullivan christened a new destroyer – The Sullivans. Thomas, Alleta, and Genevieve, now a member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), traveled the country visiting more than 200 manufacturing plants. They reached one million Americans through radio interviews to promote the sale of war bonds.
In 1944, Hollywood released The Fighting Sullivans, a movie about the family. Kelly shows it to her students each year on Veterans Day.
The ship Alleta christened in 1943 was decommissioned in 1965 and then moved to Buffalo, New York in the 1970s where the ship can be toured today.
Kelly Sullivan, sponsor of U.S.S. The Sullivans (DDG 68)
In 1997, Kelly Sullivan, a high school student at the time, was asked to be the sponsor of the U.S.S. The Sullivans, a new guided missile destroyer. She is the second ship named in honor of Kelly’s grandfather and his brothers. The ship was commissioned in New York City in 1997 at the same pier where the five Sullivan brothers boarded the U.S.S. Juneau in 1942 as they began their WWII service.
As the ship’s sponsor, Kelly has actively supported the ship and her crew for 20 years.
On Nov. 18, 2017 at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, the 75th anniversary of the ship’s loss was observed with a ceremony in the museum lobby featuring Kelly and a U.S. Navy member. After the ceremony, the re-release of the Sullivan Family Documentary was shown in the Museum Theatre.
The five brothers are also honored at Arlington National Cemetery with memorial tombstones.
Honor the legacy of the Sullivan brothers and all veterans by learning about the Sullivan brothers and living their legacy of sacrifice, service, and loyalty.
UPDATE: On March 17, 2018, the U.S.S. Juneau was found off the Solomon Islands. She was found by a company funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. “We certainly didn’t plan to find the Juneau on St. Patrick’s Day. The variables of these searches are just too great,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Mr. Allen, said in a 2018 press release. “But finding the USS Juneau on Saint Patrick’s Day is an unexpected coincidence that allow us to pay final respects to the Sullivan brothers and all the service members who were lost 76 years ago.” Mr. Allen died on Oct. 15, 2018.
- enlisted: (verb) – signed up in a formal way as in the military or asked for, usually referring to help
- deployed: (verb) – sent to another location, usually referring to military personnel being sent from home to complete a mission
- regulations: (noun) – rules
- waiver: (noun) – document to let a person skip a rule or requirement
- iconic: (adjective) – symbolic, classic in that it is easily seen to represent something
- partially: (adverb) – not in full, only in part, not complete
- assessed: (verb) – evaluated, studied
- christened: to formally welcome someone or something, such as a baby being christened in a religious ceremony or a new ship being dedicated
- Where did the Sullivan family live?
- Why did all five Sullivan brothers enlist together in the U.S. Navy in January 1942?
- What was their request to the U.S. Navy?
- What ship were the five brothers serving on in November 1942?
- What happened to the ship?
- What is the legacy of the Sullivan brothers?
- How is Kelly Sullivan carrying on their legacy?
- What can you do to honor their legacy?
- Why is the Sullivan Brothers’ motto, We Stick Together, still relevant today?
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