The Sullivans were an Irish Catholic, American family living in Waterloo, Iowa. Thomas and Alleta Sullivan had six children named George Thomas, Francis Henry, Joseph Eugene, Madison Abel, Albert Leo, and Theresa.
The Sullivan brothers enlisted in the United States Navy on January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy enforced a strict policy of separating siblings. However, in this case, the rule was not strictly enforced and the Navy Department granted official permission for the boys to serve together aboard the USS Juneau, a light cruiser.
On the early morning of November 13, 1942, while sailing across the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, the USS Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw, and left the Solomon Islands with other surviving US warships from battle. While leaving, the Juneau was struck for the second time by a Japanese submarine. The Juneau exploded and quickly sank.
All five brothers were lost at sea, and their parents were notified by a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer on January 12, 1943. The Sullivan brothers were national heroes, and President Roosevelt sent a letter of condolence, and Pope Pius XII sent a silver religious medal and rosary with his message of regret to Tom and Alleta Sullivan, parents of the five brothers.
On behalf of the war effort, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan appeared for speaking engagements at war plants and shipyards, and later Alleta participated in the launching of a Destroyer named after her sons, USS The Sullivans.
The Sullivans were not the only brothers to die on a ship. The Borgstrom brothers perished within a few months of each other, two years later. Therefore, as a result of the Sullivans’ death, the U.S. War Department adopted the Sole Survivor Policy, a set of U.S. military regulations designed to protect members of a family from the draft or combat duty if they have already lost family members in military service.
The 1944 biographical film, The Fighting Sullivans, starring Anne Baxter is worth watching!