All five brothers were killed when their ship was sunk by a Japanese sub.

The death of the five Sullivan brothers was impossible to imagine. So horrible it forced the U.S. War department to adopt “The Sole Survivor Policy” so it would never happen again. Can anyone even think of the heartache that the Sullivan family suffered? How much sorrow can a family take?

The brothers on board Juneau; from left to right: Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan.
The Sullivan brothers were five siblings who all died during the same incident in World War II, the sinking of the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52), the vessel on which they all served.

The Sullivans were natives of Waterloo, Iowa.

They were:

George Thomas Sullivan, 27, Gunner’s Mate Second Class

Francis "Frank" Henry Sullivan, 25, Coxswain

Joseph "Joe" Eugene Sullivan, 23, Seaman Second Class

Madison "Matt" Abel Sullivan, 22, Seaman Second Class

Albert "Al" Leo Sullivan, 19, Seaman Second Class

The Sullivans enlisted 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.

The Juneau fought in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Battle of Guadalcanal. On November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau was struck by a torpedo and had to withdraw. Later that day, as it was leaving the Solomon Islands' area, the Juneau was struck again, this time from a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-26. The ship quickly sank and rescue efforts were not forthcoming due to fears about the Japanese naval presence. Eight days later ten survivors were 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.


As a direct result of the Sullivans' deaths, the US War Department adopted the Sole Survivor Policy.

The Navy named two destroyers The Sullivans to honor the brothers: The Sullivans (DDG-68) and The Sullivans (DD-537). These were the first American navy ships ever to be named after more than one person. The motto for both ships was the very motto of the Sullivan brothers, "We stick together."

Al Sullivan's son, James, served on board the first USS The Sullivans. His grandmother christened the first ship. The second USS The Sullivans was christened by Al's granddaughter Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren.

Thomas and Alleta Sullivan toured the country raising war bonds and asked that none of their sons died in vain. However the grief overwhelmed Thomas and he died in 1947 a broken man.

Genevieve served in the WAVES. She was the girlfriend of Bill Ball whose death at Pearl Harbor prompted her brothers to join the Navy to avenge him.

The brothers' story was filmed as the 1944 movie The Sullivans (later renamed The Fighting Sullivans) and inspired, at least in part, the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. That movie is also inspired in part by the story of the Niland Brothers, where one of those brothers was sent home under the Sole Survivor Policy.

One of the biggest hits by the band Caroline's Spine was "Sullivan", a song about the grief of the mother of the Sullivan brothers.

The brothers' hometown of Waterloo, Iowa has a convention center named "The Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center", renamed a street, and has a public park in their honor. The park is the location of their childhood home.

The Sullivans were not the only brother sailors on board the ship. There were at least thirty pairs of brothers including the four Rogers brothers from New Haven, Connecticut. Before the ill-fated Savo Island operation two of the Rogers were transferred to other commands. According to those who survived, had the ship returned to port safely at least two Sullivans would have also transferred.

The Sullivan Brothers have a DoDDs elementary school in Yokosuka, Japan named in their honor.



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