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Remembering the Sullivan Brothers

Updated on September 20, 2019

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January 11, 1943

On the morning of January 11, 1943, the large quiet home at 98 Adams Street in Wateloo, Iowa was about to receive some devastating news. The pain that was about to engulf this home was more than anyone should ever have to endure.

The head of the household,Thomas Sullivan was getting ready for work. As he was preparing breakfast he noticed a black sedan pulling up outside.Three men in uniform were walking up and Thomas knew that the news they were about to deliver wasn't going to be good.

"Which one?" Thomas asked. Lieutenant Commander Truman Jones gave him the horrible news, "I'm sorry sir, all five."

"The Navy regrets to inform you that your sons, Albert, Francis, George, Joseph and Madison are missing in action in the South Pacific"

The Sullivan Brothers

George Thomas Sullivan - Gunner's Mate Second Class........ Age 27

Francis "Frank" Henry Sullivan - Seaman First Class............. Age 26

Joseph "Red" Eugene Sullivan - Seaman Second Class........ Age 24

Madison "Matt" Sullivan - Seaman Second Class....................Age 23

Albert "Al" Leo Sullivan - Seaman Second Class....................Age 20

The Beginning

Thomas and Alleta lived with their family at 98 Adams Street, Waterloo, Iowa. Along with their five sons, they also had a daughter, Genevieve. Grandma Mae Abel also lived with the family.

The brothers were close and had only been separated when Francis and George had served four year stints in the Navy prior to World War II.

After a friend's death, George and Francis decided to return to service and this time their other brothers wanted to join them. Their motto was "we stick together." Albert, with a wife and child could have qualified for a deferment, but he wanted to go with his brothers. Albert's wife and child moved in with his parents.

Signing Up

William Ball was a boyhood friend of the Sullivans. When he grew up he joined the Navy, he was killed on December 7,1941 while serving on the battleship Arizona. The brothers wanted to avenge Bill's death and decided that they would all sign up.

The Sullivans wanted to serve together which meant being assigned to the same ship. They couldn't get a guarantee from their local recruiting office, so they sent a letter to the Navy Department in Washington D.C.

The Sullivans wanted to be a package deal and the Navy finally agreed. Enlistment in the U.S. Naval Reserve was on January 3, 1942.

One month later, each of the five sailors received individual orders which read, "Transferred to the receiving ship, New York, for duty in the USS Juneau detail and on board when commissioned."

Fateful End

On November 13, 1942, during The battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo and had to withdraw. Leaving the Solomon Island later that day, the Juneau was struck again. A torpedo from a Japanese submarine I-26 hit the ship which caused it to explode and sink.

Not thinking there could be any survivors from the Juneau, Captain Gilbert C. Hoover continued on with his wounded ships and signaled a US B-17 bomber on patrol to send notification to Allied headquarters for a search patrol. The B-17 bomber crew did not pass along this information until they landed later as to not break radio silence.

Th B-17 Bombers report of possible surviviors and exact location was lost in other paperwork and did not get noticed for a few days.

A PBY Catalina search aircraft found ten survivors. According to the survivors, Francis, Joseph and Madison died instantly. Albert drowned the next day. George survived for a few days.The grief of losing his brothers was too much, he was calling for themĀ  trying to find them. Delirious he jumped in the water thinking he was going to swim to shore. Thoughts are that a shark probably got him.

The U.S. War Department adopted the Sole Survivor Policy. The Sole Survivor Policy describes a set of regulations in the US military that are designed to protect members of a family from the draft or combat duty if they have already lost family members in military service. The original law was enacted in 1948.


After this horrible tradgedy Genevieve Sullivan, the brothers only sister served in the Waves.

The boys parents, Thomas and Alleta spent some time touring the country raising war bonds.

The Five Sullivan Convention Center is located in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Sullivan Park is where their childhood home was located.

"The Fighting Sullivans" a 1944 movie about the brothers.

In honor of the brothers, the Navy named two destroyers The Sullivans. The Sullivans (DD-68) and The Sullivans (DD-337). The motto of both ships as "We stick together."


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    • europewalker profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks Danette, I have a fondness for the military. I am a military brat and my ex-husband was also in the service, so I have spent most of my life living in the military community which I miss.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      I remember the movie and it is sad. I agree, I can't imagine losing all of them at once.

      At one time, my parents had 3 of their 6 children on active duty in the navy (and an older brother had been in previously during the Viet Nam war) but we were never on a ship together.

      Voted up and interesting. Very well done.

    • europewalker profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this hub. I can't imagine how hard it was for the boys parents to go on with their lives.

    • esatchel profile image


      8 years ago from Kentucky

      Thank you for posting this memorial to these brothers. how horrible for their parents to have lost so much of their lives on one day.


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