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The Sullivan Brothers Papers

Dates: 1948 and 1992

Collection Number: COLL/706

Finding Aid (PDF, 14KB)

The Five Sullivans Biography

On the morning of Nov. 13, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired the fatal blow on the USS Juneau in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Of the speculated 140 who survived the sinking, only 10 were rescued. Among those who were lost in the tragedy were five from Waterloo, Iowa: The Five Sullivan Brothers. The loss of George, 28; Francis, 27; Joseph, 24; Madison, 23; and Albert, 20; has been called the biggest blow to any one family in U.S. wartime history.

They had all talked about joining the Navy. When their buddy, Bill Ball of Fredericksburg, Iowa, was killed on the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the five brothers decided to enlist together to avenge his death. It was also for this reason that the five brothers were adamant about serving together. During wartime, the accepted policy was to separate family members. But the brothers persisted, and their request was finally approved.

George, the eldest, summarized the brothers' philosophy: "If the worst comes to worst, why we'll all have gone down together." Unfortunately, that came to pass.

Surviving the brothers were their parents, their only sister, Genevieve, and the youngest brother's wife and son, Mrs. Katherine Sullivan and Jimmy. Commitment to the Navy and to the war cause lived on with the remaining Sullivans. Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan set forth on a nationwide tour of the shipyards and war plants supporting the Navy cause and praising the workers to inspire their continued efforts. Genevieve did her part by joining the Naval service as a WAVE (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). Little Jimmy Sullivan went on to serve, too. When he turned 17, he enlisted in the Navy, just like his father.

Scope and Content Notes

This fragmentary collection of papers relate to the five Sullivan brothers, who were lost in action following the battle of Guadalcanal November 13, 1942.

The collection consists of newspaper clippings of the Waterloo, Iowa newspaper, applications to Gold Star Mothers, and a photocopy of commemorative stamps issued in their honor. Also included is a brief fact sheet outlining the events of the tragedy and a ship named in their memory.

Preferred Citation 

This collection should be cited as Papers of The Sulivan Brothers, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.

Published: Fri Jul 30 09:11:24 EDT 2021