The Warship That Sank With 5 Sullivan Brothers Aboard Has Been Found

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Wreckage from the USS Juneau — the ill-fated ship on which five Sullivan brothers served — was found on St. Patrick's Day by an expedition backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. News of the find was released by Allen.


The Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, ultimately killing 687 men aboard including all five Sullivan brothers. The Irish-American family’s story inspired the 1944 movie “The Fighting Sullivans.” Two Navy ships have since been named for the brothers; the second USS The Sullivans was christened by Al Sullivan’s granddaughter, Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren.

The Juneau was found 4,200 meters below the surface on the floor of the South Pacific off the coast of the Solomon Islands.

“We certainly didn’t plan to find the Juneau on St. Patrick’s Day. The variables of these searches are just too great,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for the expedition. “But finding the USS Juneau on St. Patrick’s Day is an unexpected coincidence that allows us to pay final respects to the Sullivan brothers and all the service members who were lost 76 years ago.”

Allen’s team is on a mission to find and explore historic warships. Over the past year, team members on the 250-foot Research Vessel Petrel used state-of-the-art equipment to locate wreckage from several U.S. warships — including the Lexington, the Indianapolis and the Ward.

The Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle first identified the Juneau on its side scan sonar Saturday. The crew deployed its remotely operated underwater vehicle Sunday to verify the wreckage through its video feed.

“As the fifth commanding officer of USS The Sullivans, a ship named after five brothers, I am excited to hear that Paul Allen and his team were able to locate the light cruiser USS Juneau that sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal,” said Vice Adm. Rich Brown, commander, Naval Surface Forces. “The story of the USS Juneau crew and the Sullivan brothers epitomize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s greatest generation.”

The USS Juneau had a short service history only being commissioned just under a year prior to it sinking. During its fateful battle Nov. 13, 1942, the Juneau was hit and forced to withdraw. A second torpedo hit the ship hours later on its port side, creating a significant explosion that cut the ship in half and killed most of the men onboard.

Because the Juneau sank in 30 seconds and due to the risk of further Japanese attacks, the American task force did not stay to check for survivors. Although approximately 115 of Juneau’s crew reportedly survived the explosion, including possibly as many as two of the five Sullivan brothers, naval forces did not undertake rescue effort for several days, and only 10 men were rescued from the water eight days after the sinking.

The Sullivan family of Waterloo lost their sons George, Francis “Frank,” Joseph, Madison “Matt” and Albert despite the naval policy that prevented siblings from serving together. The brothers insisted they be assigned to the same ship as a condition of their enlistment, so the policy was not enforced. According to naval historians, the brothers’ deaths became a rallying cry for the allied forces.

“I had the opportunity to visit The Sullivans earlier this month and I can tell you the fighting spirit of the Sullivan brothers -- George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al -- lives on through the fantastic crew that mans the ship today. The crew embodies the ship’s motto, ‘We Stick Together’ each day. My time on The Sullivans and the relationship I formed with the ship’s sponsor, Kelly, the granddaughter of Albert, are some of my most cherished memories,” said Brown.

Allen-led expeditions also have resulted in the discovery of the USS Lexington (March 2018), USS Indianapolis (August 2017), USS Ward (November 2017), USS Astoria (February 2015), Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team also was responsible for retrieving the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood for presentation to the British Navy in honor of its heroic service.

Allen’s expedition team was permanently transferred to the newly acquired and retrofitted Petrel in 2016 with a specific mission around research, exploration and survey of historic warships and other important artifacts. The 250-foot R/V Petrel is fitted with state-of-the-art subsea equipment capable of diving to three and a half miles.

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©2018 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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