Thursday, October 25, 2012


Imagine're getting ready for work in the early morning and three men in uniform approach your home.  The three, a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer stand at attention as the petty officer knocks.  You open the door and the officer says, " I have some news for you about your boys".  "Which one"? you respond.  "I'm sorry", he replies.  "All Five".

You stand in shock as the officer explains the loss of your five boys.  Yes, not one, not two, or three or four, but all FIVE.  The day was January 12, 1943....almost two months after the ship they served on was sunk by a Japanese torpedo. You, Tom Sullivan and your wife, Alleta, of Waterloo, Iowa,  will forever have your lives changed. Gone are all five of your sons::

1.  George Thomas Sullivan, 27, Gunner's Mate Second Class
2.  Francis "Frank" Henry Sullivan, 26, Coxswain
3.  Joseph, "Joe" Eugen Sullivan, 24, Seaman Second Class
4.  Madison, "Matt" Abel Sullivan, 23, Seaman Second Class
5.  Albert, "Al" Leo Sullivan, 20, Seaman Second Class

We are fast approaching the anniversary of the Sullivans deaths.  November 13th will mark 69 years since the fateful  day the USS Juneau was sunk in World War II.  Not only was the Juneau hit by a Japanese torpedo, but twice.  After first taking a hit in a battle at the Naval Battle at Guadalcanal and forced to withdraw, the cruiser was sent to the depths near the Solomon Islands.  Initially some 100 survived the attack, but a Senior Officer in the Region, Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, doubted anyone could still be alive.  Rather than have the other ships in the area respond, Hoover chose to protect the remaining ships in the area from the Japanese submarine that had done in the Juneau.  Hoover radioed a US B-17 bomber to respond and report any survivors.  The B-17 saw survivors but under orders not to break radio silence they did not report their findings until several hours later.  Their findings went unnoticed in paperwork until several days later when it was realized a search had never been mounted.

Painting at Freedom Rock near Greenfield, Iowa

8 days after the sinking, ten survivors were found.  8 Days!!!  "Survivors reported that Frank, Joe and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day and George survived for four or five days suffering from delirium as a result of the loss of his brothers.  He went over the side of the raft he occupied and was never seen or heard from again.  Security required that the Navy not reveal the loss of the Juneau or the other ships in the area as not to provide information to the enemy.  Letters from the Sullivan sons stopped arriving at the home and the parents grew worried".

So there he is.....Standing.....somehow.......picture Tom Sullivan as he is told of his five sons deaths.  There are few, very few who could ever relate to that.  How could you?   The days, the months and the years after had to have been a blur.  How could they not be?

Several paragraphs from the book "The Sullivans", explains:  " News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice.  Extensive newspaper and radio coverage of the incident made the loss of the brothers a national story, producing " a wave of humility and sympathy".  A sister, Genevieve, enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and with her parents, visited more than 200 hundred manufacturing plants and shipyards encouraging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so the war could come to an end sooner.  "By January 1944, the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio".   President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the family in this manner:

" Dear Mrs. Sullivan:

The knowledge that your five gallant sons are missing in action, against the enemy, inspired me to write you this personal message.  I realize full well there is little I can say to assuage your grief..........

Last March, you, Mrs. Sullivan, were designated to sponsor a ship of the Navy in recognition of your patriotism and that of your sons.  I am to understand that you are, now, even more determined to carry on as
as a sponsor.  This evidence of unselfishness and courage serves as a real inspiration for me, as I am sure it will for all Americans.  Such acts of fate and fortitude in the face of tragedy convince me of the indomitable spirit and will of our people.  I send you my deepest sympathy in your hour of trial and pray that in Almighty God, you will find a comfort and help that only He can bring".

Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt

FYI...The Sullivans weren't the only brother-sailor combination on board the Juneau.  There were at least thirty pairs of brothers on board.

Now.  imagine the parents of the other brother-sailor combinations  as they answered the knock on their doors that morning.......and then the parents who felt the loss of a single child.  As President Roosevelt said, "I send you my deepest sympathy in your hour of trial and pray that in Almighty God, you will find a comfort and help that only He can bring".  Amen.



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