Thursday, July 15, 2010

Five Brothers Who Died Together on November 13, 1942

This is such a sad story. My Uncle William Marsh who died in World War II, is buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila Philippines. I recently learned about cluster genealogy and decided to see if I could find any of William's military buddies that died in 1945. I did not find any of his friends, but I did find these five brothers who all died on November 13, 1942.

At first the Navy Department did not release any information on the loss of the Juneau or any of the other ships lost at Guadalcanal for security reasons, but when mail from all five brothers stopped arriving at the family home in Iowa, their parents began making inquiries. Finally, on January 12, 1943, a team from the Navy Department consisting of a doctor, a Lieutenant Commander, and a Chief Petty Officer officially notified Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan. The Lieutenant Commander is reported to have said to Mr. Sullivan, "I have some news for you about your boys." Mr. Sullivan said, "Which one?" The officer said, "I'm sorry -- all five."

The story of "The Fighting Sullivan Brothers" became a national cause -- President Roosevelt and Pope Pius XII sent personal letters of condolence, the Iowa State House and Senate adopted formal resolutions honoring the brothers, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan made a number of appearances at war bond rallies and other speaking engagements in support of the war effort, a Fletcher-class destroyer was named USS The Sullivan’s (DD-537), and in 1944 a Hollywood film, The Sullivan’s, was made about their story, featuring Thomas Mitchell as Mr. Sullivan. Even though it was official Navy policy that brothers not serve aboard the same ship, the policy was often ignored; after the sinking of the Juneau the War Department adopted a stricter "Sole Survivor" policy.

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