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Iowa History Daily: November 13 - The Sullivan Brothers

Iowa History Daily: On November 13, 1942, the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo all died while serving together on the USS Juneau during the Battle of Guadalcanal. George, Frank, Joe, Matt, and Al Sullivan left a legacy of service which forever changed the American military.

After growing up in Waterloo, the Sullivans enlisted together on January 3, 1941, in the weeks following Pearl Harbor. Although the Navy technically separated siblings in service, lacking enforcement allowed the brothers their wish of serving together. After training, all five brothers found assignment with the light cruiser USS Juneau in the Pacific Theater.

After months of fighting in the Pacific, the USS Juneau sustained damage from a pair of Japanese torpedo attacks on November 13. The second hit detonated the ship’s ammunition magazine, leading to a large explosion and the sinking of the ship. Although Al and George survived the initial explosion, both joined their other three brothers as ‘Killed in Action’ before rescuers reached the stranded sailors.

Due to wartime restrictions in communication, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan did not learn of the tragic sacrifice of their family until Alleta inquired with the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January of 1943. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded personally, but only after Navy officials broke the news in person the day prior on January 12. The tragedy led to the U.S. War Department’s Sole Survivor Policy, the naming of two Navy destroyers, as well as the founding of the Sullivan Brothers Museum in Waterloo. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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