During the night of November 12, 1942, and into the early morning hours of November 13, a pitched battle between the navies of the United States and the Empire of Japan occurred off the coast of Guadalcanal. It was a confused and bloody fight. By the time it was over, both navies had taken a beating. But onboard the sunken U.S. cruiser Juneau, the singular tragedy of the five Sullivan brothers would take place. 

The deaths of the Sullivan brothers, along with eight other brothers on board the ship, caused the U.S. military to change the way it manned its units henceforward.


The Sullivan Brothers Insist on Serving Together

The family of five brothers, and one sister (Genevieve), grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. The boys all left school early and sought work because of the Depression. The two eldest, George and Frank, joined the Navy in 1937, serving for four years before returning to Iowa in the spring of 1941. 

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, the five brothers went to enlist together. George wrote to the Department of the Navy asking if the five brothers and two friends from Waterloo be allowed to serve together. 

“We had five buddies killed in Hawaii. Help us,” George wrote adding that they “would make a team together that can’t be beat [sic].”

“When we go in, we want to go in together,” said George. “If the worst comes to the worst, why, we’ll all have gone down together.”

The Navy, while not encouraging siblings serving together, didn’t discourage it either, and the brothers were assigned to the USS Juneau.