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History's Mysteries - The True Story Of The Fighting Sullivans

The Sullivan brothers on board USS Juneau: Joe, Frank, Al, Matt, and George.

The five Sullivan brothers were World War II sailors who, serving together on the light cruiser USS Juneau, were all killed in action on its sinking around November 13, 1942.

The five brothers, the sons of Thomas (1883–1965) and Alleta Sullivan (1895–1972) of Waterloo, Iowa, were:

George Thomas Sullivan, 27 (born December 14, 1914), Gunner's Mate Second Class (George had been previously discharged in May 1941 as Gunner's Mate Third Class.)

Francis Henry "Frank" Sullivan, 26 (born February 18, 1916), Coxswain (Frank had been previously discharged in May 1941 as Seaman First Class.)

Joseph Eugene "Joe" Sullivan, 24 (born August 28, 1918), Seaman Second Class

Madison Abel "Matt" Sullivan, 23 (born November 8, 1919), Seaman Second Class

Albert Leo "Al" Sullivan, 20 (born July 8, 1922), Seaman Second Class

The Sullivans enlisted in the US Navy on January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy had a policy of separating siblings, but this was not strictly enforced. George and Frank had served in the Navy before, but their brothers had not. All five were assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.

Juneau participated in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. Early in the morning of November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day, as it was leaving the Solomon Islands' area for the Allied rear-area base at Espiritu Santo with other surviving US warships from battle, the Juneau was struck again, this time by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo likely hit the thinly armored light cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship exploded and quickly sank.


USS JUNEAU

Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, commanding officer of the light cruiser USS Helena, and the senior officer present afloat (SOPA), the battle-damaged US task force, was skeptical that anyone had survived exposing his wounded ships to a still-lurking Japanese submarine. Therefore, he ordered his ships to continue on towards Espiritu Santo. Helena signaled a nearby US B-17 bomber on patrol to notify Allied headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors.


But in fact, approximately 100 of Juneau's crew had survived the torpedo attack and the sinking of their ship and were left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, did not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they had landed several hours later. The crew's report of the location of possible survivors was mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and went unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realized that a search had never been mounted and belatedly ordered aircraft to begin searching the area. 

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors were found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors reported that Frank, Joe and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days, before suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia (though some sources describe him being "driven insane with grief" at the loss of his brothers); he went over the side of the raft he occupied. He was never seen or heard from again.

Security required that the Navy not reveal the loss of Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stopped arriving at the home and the parents grew worried, which prompted Alleta Sullivan to write to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January 1943, citing rumors that survivors of the task force claimed that all five brothers were killed in action.

USS The Sullivans (DD-537)

This letter was answered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 13, 1943, who acknowledged that the Sullivans were missing in action, but by then the parents were already informed of their fate, having learned of their deaths on January 12. That morning, the boys' father, Tom, was preparing for work when three men in uniform – a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer – approached his door. "I have some news for you about your boys," the naval officer said. "Which one?" asked Tom. "I'm sorry," the officer replied. "All five."

The brothers left a sister, Genevieve (1917–1975). Al was survived by his wife Katherine Mary and son Jimmy. Joe left a fiancée named Margaret Jaros, while Matt left behind a fiancée named Beatrice Imperato. The "Fighting Sullivan Brothers" became national heroes. President Roosevelt sent a letter of condolence to their parents. Pope Pius XII sent a silver religious medal and rosary with his message of regret. The Iowa Senate and House adopted a formal resolution of tribute to the Sullivan brothers.


Mrs. Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren, ships sponsor of the guided missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), breaks the traditional bottle of champagne

Tom and Alleta Sullivan made speaking appearances at war plants and shipyards on behalf of the war effort. Later, Alleta participated in the launching of a destroyer USS The Sullivans, named after her sons.

On Saturday, March 17, 2018 the wreckage of the USS Juneau was discovered by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen off the coast of the Solomon Islands.

SAVE U.S.S. THE SULLIVANS

Sketch of Cressy sinking (Henry Reuterdahl)

Captain Hoover made a difficult decision. In WWI British officers went to aid a cruiser stricken by a torpedo. HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy were sunk with heavy loss of life.

The Action of 22 September 1914 was a German U-boat ambush that took place during the First World War, in which three obsolete Royal Navy cruisers, manned mainly by reservists and sometimes referred to as the Live Bait Squadron, were sunk by a German submarine while on patrol.

About 1,450 British sailors were killed and there was a public outcry in Britain at the losses. The sinkings eroded confidence in the British government and damaged the reputation of the Royal Navy at a time when many countries were still considering which side they might support in the war.

Lyman Knute Swenson

In August 1920, then Lieutenant Swenson married the San Francisco socialite Milo Abercrombie (1894-1977). Born in Houston, Milo was the niece of John W. Abercrombie, U.S. congressman from Alabama and the former wife of the convicted World War One German spy and later, Hollywood movie actor, Wilhelm von Brincken. Abercrombie had married von Brincken in 1915 when he was a German military attaché in San Francisco. She divorced him in 1919 and was awarded custody of their two children while he was imprisoned at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary on Puget Sound, after being convicted in the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial for plotting to foment an insurrection against British colonial rule in India.


Hugo William Koehler (July 19, 1886 – June 17, 1941) (pronounced KAY-ler) was a United States Navy commander, secret agent and socialite. Following the First World War, he served as an Office of Naval Intelligence and State Department operative in Russia during its civil war, and later as naval attaché to Poland. He was rumored to be the illegitimate son of the Crown Prince of Austria and to have assisted the Romanovs in fleeing Russia following the revolution of 1917. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his service during World War I and was the step-father of United States Senator Claiborne Pell (1918-2009).


Posted by George Freund on July 5, 2019 at 1:38 PM 56 Views