The Sullivans…”Sticking together” in the Agony of War
Two ships have been named after the Sullivan brothers because of the terrible loss of all five brothers who joined up together to fight in World War II : (Sullivans (DD 537), commissioned in 1943 and the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) was commissioned in September 1993.)
The brothers are shown in the picture at left: Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan. All men from Waterloo, Iowa were serving on the same ship that went down following the 13 November 1942 Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
It was later learned, through survivors’ accounts, that four of the brothers died in the initial explosion. The fifth, George Thomas, despite being wounded the night before, made it onto a raft where he survived for five days before succumbing either to wounds and exhaustion or a shark attack.
The brothers received the Purple Heart Medal posthumously and were entitled to the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four engagement stars and the World War II Victory Medal. They had also earned the Good Conduct Medal.One can only imagine the grief felt by their family members. Their parents were Mr. Thomas F. Sullivan and Mrs. Alleta Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan was a brakeman on the Illinois Central Railroad. They were your typical Irish Catholic family. Their family motto was “We stick together” . That was what made them ask permission to serve together on the doomed ship. The brothers had one sister, Genevieve Sullivan who was close to her brothers.
Albert Leo Sullivan’s wife, Katherine Mary Sullivan had a son named James Thomas, who was twenty-two months old at the time of his father’s death. James Sullivan, later joined the Navy and served on the ship named for his father and uncles. His daughter is shown in the picture below.
Following the loss of their sons, Thomas and Alleta toured the United States. They spoke in plants, ship yards, and public events to help support the war effort. Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a Ship to be named “The Sullivans” and in 4, April 1943, The Fletcher Class Destroyer, USS The Sullivans launched with Alleta attending the event.
A movie was made of the story of these brave men and the grief, dedication and sacrifice of this Irish family. Five head stones are placed in their memory at Arlington National Cemetery.
Guidelines in part from the Navy Personnel:
” …In the Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin for July, 1942, it was stated that the Bureau considered it to be in the interest of their families that brothers not be put on the same ships in wartime, and added that “in view of the above, commanding officers will not forward requests for brothers to serve in the same ship or station.” Other than the foregoing announcements, no policies were put forth on the subject. The question of the advisability of coercive action to force the separation of brothers was considered, especially after the death of the five Sullivan brothers as a result of the sinking of the U.S.S. Juneau on 13 November 1942. However, no such action was taken.
On 15 November 1944 Bureau Circular Letter 345-44 was issued. It stated that in case a family had lost two or more sons in the armed forces and had only one surviving son, consideration would be given to application either by the family or the surviving son for the latter’s retention in the United States, unless he was engaged in non-hazardous duties overseas. On 14 April 1945 Bureau Circular Letter 107-45 broadened the rule to provide that if two or more members of the family had been lost consideration would be given to the return to the United States of all remaining members of the family….”
A VIDEO TRIBUTE TO THE FIVE SULLIVANS