Irish American Heritage Month: The Fighting Sullivan Brothers
DID YOU KNOW that in the annals of America’s heroes, there is scarcely a brighter entry than that of the fighting Sullivan brothers? Born in Waterloo, Iowa to Railroad conductor Tom Sullivan and his wife Alleta, George, Francis, Albert, Joseph, and Madison grew up the best of friends in the closeness of an Irish family and matured into patriotic Americans. It was no surprise therefore, that when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Sullivan brothers headed straight for the nearest U.S. Navy recruiting office.
Navy policy discouraged family members from serving together, but the Sullivans were determined that nobody would split them up. If the Navy wouldn’t take them, they would try somewhere else. With the demand for recruitment high, and five healthy young Irish-Americans offering to serve, the request was granted and on Jan 3, 1942, they enlisted. Later, George tried to explain their decision to their mother. His words were tragically prophetic; he said, If worse comes to worst, at least we’ll go down together. In less than a year the worst came to pass.
On the morning of Nov 13, 1942, during the battle of Guadalcanal, east of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, the Sullivans were aboard the USS Juneau when she was hit by a torpedo in her forward engine room. Minutes later another shot hit her weapons magazine. In a violent blinding flash, the ship erupted. In 42 seconds she sank in shark-infested waters; only 10 of her 711 crew members were rescued; the Sullivans were not among them! The sinking of the Juneau was one of the most tragic losses of the war, but the loss of the five brothers shocked the nation.
It was the greatest military loss by any one American family during World War II. The Waterloo Courier reported that, In the history of the Navy, no mother has received a blow as severe as that which has come to this mother. Mrs. Alleta Sullivan endured her sorrow by helping other families overcome their own personal tragedies. Helping others in sorrow kills your own sorrow, she told a reporter. Condolences poured in from every level of society, Presidential letters and visits and even Congressional resolutions could not ease the pain that the nation felt. Hollywood even immortalized the boys in a full-length feature film: The Fighting Sullivans that left those who saw it teary-eyed.
The ultimate tribute however, came in April, 1943 when the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company invited Mrs. Sullivan to christen the U.S. Navy’s new Fletcher-class destroyer, the USS Sullivans (DD537). It would be a fighting memorial to her sons. The USS Sullivans was the first ship ever commissioned to honor more than one person. The Sullivans were on the sea once more. The USS Sullivans received nine battle stars for service in World War II and two more for service in the Korean action.
Then on 7 January 1965, USS Sullivans was decommissioned, but remained in reserve into the 1970s. In 1977, she was donated to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park in Buffalo, NY as a public memorial. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and today, the decommissioned USS Sullivans sits proudly at Buffalo’s Naval Park with her shamrock flag still waving from her mainmast and a brass plaque on her quarterdeck recalling the vow of the five Sullivan brothers – We stick together! However, that’s not the end of the story.
The USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided-missile destroyer was launched on 12 August 1995. She was christened by Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren, the granddaughter of Albert Sullivan – one of the brothers. This newest ship to carry the Sullivans’ name was officially commissioned on 19 April 1997 and still carries the name of the five Sullivan brothers across the seas with her official motto: We Stick Together commemorating just a few of the Irish-Americans who made America Great!
Mike McCormack, National Historian
THIS IRISH AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH PROFILE IS PRESENTED BY THE ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS (AOH.COM)
On Saturday, September 6, members of the Division travelled to Totowa, NJ, to the gravesite of Fr. Mychal Judge. Fr. Judge was the FDNY Chaplain, the first confirmed death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Fr. Vic Kennedy, Division Chaplain led us in prayers as we paid homage to our Division namesake.
On Saturday, October 19, 2013, members of the Division went to Kearny, NJ, for a fundraiser for the Brendan Marrocco Road to Recovery Trust at the Scots- American Club. The Division presented a check for $1,000 to Brendan’s trust.
On January 15, 2008 Brendan entered service in the United States Army and was assigned to complete basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Brendan completed basic training on May 2nd 2008. Upon graduation he volunteered for service in the Infantry and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Specifically, Brendan was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Regiment.
In late October 2008, Brendan’s unit was deployed to Iraq for a twelve month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit was stationed at Forward Operating Base Summerall located 130 miles north of Baghdad. The mission of Brendan’s Company was to root out terrorists, stop acts of terrorism, search for and seize weapons caches and maintain security in their area of operation.
During the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, while returning to base after a night mission, Brendan’s vehicle sustained a direct hit by an Explosive Fired Projectile (EFP) resulting in one fatality and two injuries.
As a result of the EFP entering the vehicle through Brendan’s door, Brendan sustained severe, permanent and life changing injuries.
His injuries included:
•Amputation of both arms and both legs;
•Severed left carotid artery;
•Broken nose, left eye socket and facial bones;
•Loss of eight teeth;
•Shrapnel to the left eye and face;
•Severe lacerations to the face;
•Burns to the neck and face; and
•Pierced left eardrum.
Following the attack, Brendan was kept from bleeding to death by his platoon’s medic and fellow soldiers long enough to be transported to the US Army trauma hospital in Tikrit, Iraq. At Tikrit he was resuscitated, stabilized and underwent emergency surgeries. Following the surgeries, Brendan was transported to the Joint Operating Base in Balad, Iraq, then to Landstuhl Medical Center, Germany and lastly to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. All this was accomplished within three days which is a testament to the awesome capabilities and commitment of the men and women who serve our country.
Brendan is currently recovering and undergoing physical and occupational therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he is expected to remain for an extended period of time. His brother Michael has graciously put his life on hold by moving in with Brendan and assisting with his recovery. He is Brendan’s non-medical assistant and as such he is with him 24/7.
Brendan is doing well. He has been and continues to be an inspiration and source of strength for our family and to his fellow soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Brendan may have lost his arms and legs but he never lost his will to survive and has maintained an extremely positive yet realistic attitude about his recovery and life after recovery. He knows that his recovery will be long, setbacks will occur and that his future will be challenging. Regardless, he continues to focus and channel his energies on his recovery and is looking forward to the future.