Through Sullivan's Eye

 

"Sullivans Join US Navy"
by J C Sullivan, Ohio, USA

 

December 7, 1941 was the "day that will live in infamy, the Japanese bombing of the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. "I remember I was crying a little, Aletta Abel Sullivan said, as reported in the Waterloo Sunday Courier. "Then George said, Well, I guess our minds are made up, aren't they fellows? And, when we go in, we want to go in together. If the worst comes to the worst, why we'll all have gone down together. Serving together in the US Navy became a term of the brothers' enlistment.

Both Gunner's Mate George Sullivan, 27, and Coxswain Francis Sullivan, 25, had four years of prior Navy service. Joe (Red), 23, Matt, 22 and Al., 19, became seamen, second class , when they enlisted and were assigned to the new $13,000,000 light cruiser, Juneau, the first American war ship commissioned in camouflage. Nine months later, during the Battle of Guadacanal, near the Solomon Islands, she was steaming toward base when an explosion sent her to the bottom. Later reports said she'd been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

"It just happened all at once and the Juneau was gone, reported an officer who witnessed it from another ship. One of the most extraordinary tragedies which has ever been met by any family in the United States., spoke Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the United States, referring to the sinking . The Navy issued a statement: "Loss of the five Sullivan brothers ranks as the greatest single blow suffered by any one family since Pearl Harbor and probably in American Naval history. In peacetime the Navy has allowed brothers to serve together but in wartime it has been Navy policy to separate members of the same family. Presence of the five Sullivans aboard the USS Juneau was at the insistence of the brothers themselves and in contradiction to the repeated recommendations of the ship's executive officer. Serving together had been one condition of their enlistment.

The lads were the sons of Thomas F. and Aletta Sullivan., 98 Adams Street. Mr. Sullivan was born on a farm in Taylor Township, Allamakee County, Iowa, near Harpers Ferry, Iowa.

On January 12, 1943 the headlines of the Waterloo Daily Courier screamed SULLIVANS MISSING!

The family were parishioners at St. Mary's Church. A sister, Genevieve, survived them. Al was the only brother to marry. In February, 1941, his wife Katherine bore him a son, James T., who lives today in Waterloo. Quite naturally, he is a Navy veteran.

In their honor a U S Naval Destroyer was named The Sullivans. It earned nine battle stars in the Pacific and two battle stars for action in Korea. The 376-foot, 2,050 ton destroyer has since been decommissioned and in 1977 was dedicated as part of the Naval and Servicemen's Park, Buffalo, New York. Attending the dedication was James Sullivan, his spouse Sally, and their two children, John and Kelly. The ship had been towed from Philadelphia, manned by volunteer crews and financed with a $250,000 state grant to Buffalo's Urban Renewal Agency.

In Iowa a memorial was constructed at Waterloo's 8-acre Sullivan Brothers Memorial Park, Fourth and Adams Street, in which the family homesite is incorporated. It honors the five Sullivan brothers and all of America's fighting men who die in the cause of freedom throughout the world. A pentagonal concrete dais topped with a circular polished granite base supports a bronze shamrock, insignia from the destroyer USS The Sullivans. Today, the Five Sullivan Brothers AOH Division 1 in Waterloo holds an annual ceremony at Sullivan Park following St. Patrick's Day Mass.

Ship on Commissioning Day

 

On April 17, 1997 Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren and John Sullivan, grandchildren of Albert and the daughter of James and Sally Sullivan, was a present at Stapleton Pier, Staten Island New York for the formal commissioning into the US Navy of the second The Sullivans (DDG68). Kelly is a schoolteacher at Southdale Elementary School in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, with a crew of 26 officers and 315 sailors, will be commanded by Commander Gerard D. Roncolato. Last year Commander Roncolato visited Waterloo and was escorted by Mike Magee, AOH Five Sullivan Brothers Division 1, Waterloo.

The commissioning week schedule of events began with the arrival of the ship in the vicinity of Verrazano Narrows Bridge on Monday April 14, 1997. New York Stadium hosted Sullivans Day beginning at 7:30pm. April 17th from 2 - 6:30pm was Sullivans Day at Manhattan's Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum (NLUS).

The evening before the commissioning ceremony we visited Staten Island's Sullivan's Pub, owned by the genial former New York City fireman Charley Sullivan. While at Sullivans Pub we personally met some of the USS Sullivans crew who were on liberty that evening. One of them was FC3 Christopher M. Diedrich, Smithville, Texas. Even though he calls himself "Peon", in a self-deprecating fashion, he nonethless possesses a security clearance to work in the Tomahawk Missile area of the ship. "We were off the coast of Maine practicing the drills that would allow us to pass certification to travel the seas," he said. " At the moment that Commander Roncolato announced to us over the loudspeaker that we had indeed passed certification, crewmembers on deck noticed an American bald eagle circling the mast of the ship. It caused all to have their hearts raise up into their throats."

The following morning, April 20, 1997, we sat not more than five miles from where the five Sullivan brothers ship, the Juneau, was commissioned in 1942. We sat among thousands who were there to witness the commissioning of the new USS the Sullivans, DDG 68. It carries the motto of the Sullivan Brothers - "We Stick Together."

We were honored to meet the great-grandchildren of the late Thomas Sullivan. Thomas, father of the five lads, was a railroader and belonged to a Chicago Hibernian Division as there were none in Waterloo at the time. Kelly-Sullivan Loughren and John Sullivan are the children of James and Sally Sullivan. James is the son of Albert, the only one of the five brothers who married. "The five Sullivans were common men who made an uncommon sacrifice," Sullivan-Loughren said. "I wish to thank those who decided the ship's name, and also those who have worked so hard to bring her to where she is today, the greatest ship ever built. ...I send my love and prayers to the commander and his crew. May the luck of the Irish always be with you and your crew."

The Commander of the ship, G.D. Roncolato, spoke to the assemblage in an emotion-laden voice. "Today is one of the most significant days in the life of this new warship - she comes alive! Thank you for being here for his memorable occasion. The motto of the Sullivan Brothers, "We Stick Together," lives today in this ship and crew. These young people, two-thirds of whom had never been to sea before and whose average age is a little over 20 years old, have stuck together in a way that has been an inspiration to everyone that has seen them in action. In an era when we are bombarded with bad news about the status and future of our society, you need look no further than this crew to see what is right in America."

Roncolato addressed two survivors from the Juneau sinking, Frank Holmgren, Eatontown, N.J. and Lester Zook, Springfield, Ore. "Your courage is an inspiration to us, he said. He then led the crowd and crew in three cheers for them. Zook later said, "It seems like a long time ago. The Juneau was forgotten for a long time and still would be if it wasn't for the five brothers."

Left to Right

JC Sullivan, Cleveland

John Sullivan, Waterloo, Iowa
(Grandson of Albert Sullivan)

Eddie Sullivan, Cleveland

 

Also on hand was the O'Sullivan, James O'Sullivan, the Master, Droum House, Castletownbeare¸ County Cork. He made a special presentation to Commander Roncolato on behalf of the Sullivan/O'Sullivan clan in Ireland. "I was delighted to come as I'm the chieftain of the O'Sullivans in Ireland and I thought it my duty. I believe their ancestors came from Harjole, Castletownbeare, Co. Cork. There's an old road left there, just a few stones. It's known as Johnny O'Johns. There was a man who had a pub there, Mark Sullivan. He's long since deceased and he always claimed he was related to the five Sullivan Brothers. I've asked Mike Magee of Waterloo to go to the headstone down at Harper's Creek, Iowa and find out if it shows the age at which he died. This would be the grandfather of the five boys. Thomas emigrated with his wife Bridget Agnes and his brother Owen in 1849.

Commenting on the U.S., which he's visited five times, O'Sullivan said, "I like this country. You can talk your mind out without any restrictions. O'Sullivan presented Commander Roncolato with a map of Bantry Bay, a video and a map of Ireland and hopes to greet the ship in Ireland at some point in time. Commander Roncolato hopes that is the case too.

The following morning we all sat dockside on the Stapleton Pier and watched the ship come alive as the she was placed into commission and the crew, in dress uniforms, ran single file off the pier and onboard the ship.

The National President of the AOH in America, Edward J. Wallace, was there for a special presentation. It was his second experience with the commissioning of US Navy vessel. "I was at the USS Barry commissioning two years ago in Alabama, coming from O'Sullivan lineage, it's a personal pleasure for me to participate and meet some of the dignitaries who are here." Wallace added that he was very happy to learn the father of the Sullivan Brothers was a Hibernian. " That makes this day all the more special," he added.

"This is a wonderful day honoring five brave American boys who made the ultimate sacrifice, said Kevin McKernan, Staten Island. "It's a great honor that the Navy has seen fit to bestow on these boys, as well as all Irish Americans."

Chip McLean offered his feelings. "My brothers here on Staten Island are thrilled to have the commissioning of the Sullivans occurring here. We're happy to see so many Hibernians from throughout the nation and extend our hospitality to the National President and those others present here."

Eddie Sullivan, Boland-Berry Division, Cleveland, offered a little humor. "My brother told me we were going out on a boat. I never dreamed it was a Destroyer," he kidded. "I was impressed with the crew and how they understood the history of the original USS Sullivans 537 and the relation to the new ship, DD68. It seems to have brought them together in a family spirit similar to that of the five Sullivan Brothers. They recognize the historical and modern day importance of the unity aboard the vessel."

The Shield. The dark blue and gold represent the sea and excellence. They are also the Navy's tradition colors. Red is emblematic of courage and sacrifice. The five interlaced swords honor the five Sullivan brothers killed in action during WW II and commemorate their spirit of teamwork and patriotism. The upright points of the swords allude to the present ship's combat readiness and its missile system. The boarder reflects unity and the eleven stars represent the battle stars earned by the first USS THE SULLIVANS; nine for WW II and two for the Korean War. The Crest The trident, symbol of sea prowess, symbolizes DDG 68's modern warfare capabilities; the AEGIS and vertical launch system. The fireball underscores the fierce battle of Guadalcanal where the five brothers courageously fought and died together and highlights its firepower of the past and present USS THE SULLIVANS. The inverted wreath, a traditional symbol of the ultimate sacrifice, is in memory of the Sullivan brothers. The shamrock recalls the Irish heritage. The Seal The arms are blazoned in full color upon a white oval enclosed by a dark blue collar edged on the outside with a gold rope and bearing the name "USS THE SULLIVANS" at the top and "DDG 68" in the base in gold.

Working very hard since January has been a member of the Five Sullivan Brothers Division in Waterloo, Iowa , Mike Magee "I feel very privileged to be here. It's a day I've been looking forward to for a long time. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of people I met in Waterloo in 1992 when we dedicated the Sullivan Convention Center. As a matter of fact, I'm enjoying everything." He introduced us to the mayor of Waterloo.

"We have nearly one hundred people here from our fine city," said Mayor John Rooff. "We think it's an honor to be here on behalf of the citizens of Waterloo to present the silver service to Commander Roncaloto and the USS the Sullivans and to be part of this historic moment. We're pleased to represent all the people of the City of Waterloo, the home of the Sullivans."

The service was acquired and engraved as a result of an initiative by Waterloo attorney Ed Gallagher, Jr., a Navy veteran who organized a 1992 event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the brothers' sacrifice. Gallagher, a member of Waterloo's Five Sullivan Brothers Division, said, as reported in the Waterloo Courier, "...silver service is a traditional gift to naval ships and the service from the original USS The Sullivans, commissioned in 1943 and now decommissioned and docked at a Buffalo, NY military naval park, could not be located." ' Virginia Brown Hogan , Ladies AOH Chairlady of Catholic Action, and Joan Barry Hughes, President of the LAOH on Staten Island, were also dockside. "This is really wonderful. I'm really honored to be here on behalf of the Ladies AOH." Barry-Hughes, a direct descendant of Commodore Barry, was pleased to personally meet Commander Roncolato.

Any doubters of what's best in and about America would have had their eyes and faces brightened by inner and outer light if they, too, had the privilege of seeing and hearing what we saw and heard. America's best were on Staten Island, New York this weekend. No doubt about that!

The ship's store can be visited.

One-Time Rights to Mayo Alive


Copyright © 1997 J C Sullivan, 9240 Milford Dr, Northfield, OH 44067

Sullivan is an internationally-published Irish-American writer residing in Northeastern Ohio. He is an American correspondent for the Mayo News. jcs1@alltel.net

About Sullivan

Towns and villages in County Mayo, Ireland