"We Stick Together!"

The legend of the Sullivan Brothers. "They did their part."

Summary of Event

January 3rd, 1942, five brothers enlisted to serve in the Navy. They said that they all had to be together, "We stick together." In November 1942, Joseph,Francis, Albert, Madison, and George Sullivan died in battle as their naval ship, USS Juneau, was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese sub. The ship sunk and Frank, Matt, and Joe died instantly. Al died the next day, and George died 5 days later on November 18, 1942. "They stuck together."


George Thomas Sullivan, age 27 born on Dec. 14 1914, was a gunners mate, 2nd class. Gunners mates are responsible for the maintenance of missile launching systems, gun mounts, and other equipment.

Francis Henry Sullivan, age 25 born on Feb. 18 1916, was a coxswain. A coxswain is the crew member who is steering the ship and coordinating the power.

Joseph Eugene Sullivan, age 23 Aug. 28, 1918, was a seamen, 2nd class. A seamen is the lowest rank on naval ships.

Madison Abel Sullivan, age 22 born on Nov. 8, 1919, was a seamen, 2nd class. Albert Leo Sullivan, age 19 born on July 8, 1922, was a seamen, 2nd class.

On January 3, 1942 the five Sullivan brothers enlisted in the US Navy. Avoiding the Navy's non strict policy of not serving with family, the five were assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau. The USS Juneau participated in a months long navel engagement during the Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August, 1942. During the Navel Battle of Guadalcanal early morning on November 13, 1942, the Juneau was hit by a Japanese torpedo and was forced to withdraw. Later on that day, as it was was leaving the Allied base, Espiritu Santo where they kept other battle surviving US warships, the USS Juneau was struck again. It was hit with another torpedo from the Japanese sub 1-26. The ship exploded and quickly sank to the ocean floor. Joe, Matt and Frank Sullivan died instantly.

Al Sullivan drowned the next day and George Sullivan died after surviving 5 days in the water. 687 people were killed, and only ten men survived the eight days at sea.

The five Sullivan brothers were natives of Waterloo, IA. The sole survivor policy began being harshly enforced because of their tragic deaths. The sole survivor policy is a policy that states that no family members can be in battle together so no family has to suffer multiple deaths in one action. In honor of the Sullivan brothers two naval ships were named after them, The Sullivan's (DDG-68) and The Sullivan's (DD-537). The motto of these ships were just like the Sullivan brothers motto, "we stick together." Al's grandmother christened the first ship, and his granddaughter christened the other.

The ships were the first naval ships to be named after multiple people. Also, Al's son James served on one of the Sullivan's ships.

Fighting Sullivans Theatrical Movie Trailer (1945)


Frank Holmgren will never forget the roar of the water when his Navy ship sank beneath him in the early days of World War II. He won’t forget the sharks circling around his raft as he waited nearly seven days for rescue either.

"I went up in the air, and when I came down my hand hit a life jacket," he said. He quickly put it on, he recalled. "I heard the roar of the water and I thought I was going to die. I did go down with the ship — I don’t know how far — but the next thing I knew, I came back up. That life jacket saved my life."

Holmgren also kept his mouth closed when he went under and didn’t swallow much salt water, which he feels helped him survive. He also did not drink any salt water while drifting in his raft, relying instead on rain for sustenance.

Holmgren said about 100 crew members from the Juneau survived the sinking, but many were badly hurt and died from their wounds. He said others "went out of their heads" while adrift at sea and, thinking they saw land, dove into the ocean to swim to shore only to be devoured by sharks.

"If you got off the raft, they got you," he said.

The thought of swimming for shore never occurred to Holmgren for the simple reason that he did not know how to swim. He still doesn’t.


  • Albert was the first to get married and had a son.
  • The Sullivan brothers were from Waterloo Iowa.
  • The reason they enlisted in the Navy was because their friend Bill
  • Bill died on a battleship during the Pearl Harbor attack.
  • The day the Japanese torpedoes hit the USS Juneau was Friday the 13th.
  • George and Henry had served before.
  • Al's wife Katherine is now remarried and is now Katherine McFarland.


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Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

"TRAGEDY OF THE FIVE SULLIVAN BROTHERS All Five Brothers Were Killed When Their Ship Was Sunk by a Japanese Sub." TRAGEDY OF THE FIVE SULLIVAN BROTHERS. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

"TRAGEDY OF THE FIVE SULLIVAN BROTHERS All Five Brothers Were Killed When Their Ship Was Sunk by a Japanese Sub." TRAGEDY OF THE FIVE SULLIVAN BROTHERS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

"Last Sailor of WWII Ship 'USS Juneau' Eatontown Man Was on Crew ofShip That Carried the Five Sullivan Brothers." Last Sailor of WWII Ship 'USS Juneau' Eatontown Man Was on Crew of Ship That Carried theFive Sullivan Brothers. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

"Diary Entries." Beez Neez. N.p., 13 Aug. 2011. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.