Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison Sullivan.
On January 2, 1942, all five boys were leaving for enlistment in the navy. Not wanting to be separated from his brothers and friends, George sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy requesting special permission:
I have four brothers and 2 buddies from my Motorcycle club. I talked them into going into the U.S Navy for the U.S.A. As a bunch, there is no-body that can beat us. There is nothing that can back us up. I had 4 years training in the Navy and four in the National Guards. My brother had four years in the Navy and a couple years military training. Otherwise, anyone of our brothers which there are 5 of us and our 2 buddies would like to stick together. We would all do our best to be as good as any other sailors in the Navy. We would appreciate it very much if you could, if possible keep us together. We will all leave for enlistment Jan 2, 1942. I think we will go to the Great Lakes Training Center near Chicago Illinois we would appreciate it very much if you could keep our 5 brothers and their 2 buddies together.
Our names are.
Five brothers and 2 buddies
We Will Make a team Together that can't be beat. I have qualified as a First Class Gun Captain before I left the Navy and I know I can make a first class team out of them. I thank you dearly. We had 5 buddies killed in Hawaii. Help us.
formerly U.S.S Hovey
was granted. The brothers were sent to service on the USS Juneau
, a new 6,000-ton warship
equipped for anti-aircraft
warfare headed for Guadalcanal
together with a large task force
to the marines
. Along with the rest of the task force, USS Juneau
left New Caledonia November 8, 1942
On the evening of November 12th, air reconnaissance spotted a large Japanese task force. The two forces met in almost absolute darkness, and opened fire at point-blank range. Within 30 minutes the engagement was essentially over, with heavy losses for the U.S force. The Juneau just barely survived, having suffered a torpedo hit on its port side.
At daybreak, the decimated force began its journey back to their base. A Japanese submarine, the I-26, sighted the force and fired a torpedo which hit near the Juneau's ammunition supply. Captain Gilbert C Hoover, commanding officer of the task force, later described the attack:
When the torpedo hit, there was a single explosion and the air was filled with debris, much of it in large pieces. The whole ship disappeared in a large cloud of black, yellow black, and brown smoke. Debris showered down among ships of the formation for several minutes after the explosion to such an extent as to indicate erroneously, a high level bombing attack.?
Due to the delay
operation would cause and the low probability of survivors
, the force was immediately ordered to return to base as fast as possible. A nearby aircraft reported the position of the Juneau
, but the report did not reach the proper authorities until much later.
At least 80 of the crew made it into the life rafts, and the oldest brother, George, was among them. They were not worried about being rescued - the American-held island San Cristobal was visible, and since they were sunk among friends, help would soon be on its way. However, Captain Hoover maintained radio silence, confident that the Boeing B-17's report would reach a rescue party, and word of the sinking did not get out until the task force arrived at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. During that time, meny of those who survived the explosion and the sinking had died of dehydration, starvation, injuries suffered during the sinking of the Juneau, and sharks. Among the dead was George Sullivan, the last remaining brother. Nine days after the sinking ten (out of 693) survivors were rescued.
The fate of the Juneau and the rest of the task force was considered classified material, but as rumors about the boys' fate started cirkulating and no letters from her sons arrived, Mrs. Sullivan wrote a letter to the Bureau of Naval Personnel:
I am writing to you in regard to a rumor going around that my five sons were killed in action in November. A mother from here came and told me she got a letter from her son and he heard my five sons were killed.
It is all over town now, and I am so worried. My five sons joined the Navy together a year ago, Jan. 3, 1942. They are on the cruiser, U.S.S JUNEAU. The last I heard from them was Nov. 8th. That is, it was dated Nov 8th, U.S. Navy.
Their names are, George T., Francis Henry, Joseph E., Madison A., and Albert L. If it is so, please let me know the truth. I am to christen the U.S.S. TAWASA, Feb. 12th at Portland, Oregon. If anything has happened to my five sons, I will still christen the ship as it was their will that I do so. I hated to bother you, but it has worried me so that I wanted to know if it was true. So please tell me. It was hard to give five sons all at once to the Navy, but I am proud of my boys that they can serve and help protect their country. George and Francis served four years on the U.S.S HOVEY, and I had the pleasure to go aboard their ship in 1937.
I am so happy the Navy has bestowed the honor on me to christen the U.S.S. TAWASA. My husband an daughter are going to Portland with me. I remain,
Mrs. Alleta Sullivan
98 Adams Street
The letter re-ignited the debate
members serving together at sea. Commandind officers had been recommended not to forward requests from family members to be stationed on the same ship, but in light of the sinking of the Juneau
and a similar case from the USS Arizona
, where three brothers died during the attack on Pearl Harbor
. Now, members of the same family were not to serve on the same ship, in line with the sole-survivor policy
CIRCULAR LETTER NO. 345-44
44-1285--Return to the United States of Sons of War-Depleted Families
Pers -10D -JK, P16-3/00, 15 November 1944
ACTION: ALL SHIPS AND STATIONS
1. In recognition of the sacrifice and contribution made by a family which has lost two or more sons who were members of the armed forces and has only one surviving, and he is serving in the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, consideration will be given to his return to, or retention in, the continental limits of the United States, except when he is engaged in nonhazardous duties overseas.
2. Applications for return to, or retention in, the continental limits of the United States must be filed by the serviceman himself or his immediate family. Request from the individual concerned shall be submitted officially to the Bureau of Naval Personnel for naval personnel, Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps for Marine Corps personnel, and Commandant of the U. S. Coast Guard for Coast Guard personnel by their commanding officers. Applications received from immediate families shall be referred to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps, or Commandant of the U. S. Coast Guard, as appropriate.
-BuPers. L. E. Denfeld.
"The Sullivan Brothers and the Assignment of Family Members to U.S. Navy Ships",
"A People at War: the Pacific War", http://www.nara.gov/exhall/people/pacific.html
"The Sullivan Brothers of Waterloo, Iowa", http://www.castletown.com/Brothers.htm
The policies: "The Sullivan Brothers: U.S. Navy Policy Regarding Family Members Serving Together at Sea",http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq72-5.htm