Between the Solomon Islands and Tarawa in the George H. W. Bush Gallery, you will find an in-set exhibit honoring five brothers who gave their lives when the USS Juneau was sunk after being hit by a Japanese torpedo. They were Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George-“The Fighting Sullivans.”
The five boys from Waterloo, Iowa signed up for the Navy together requesting that they get to serve together. Although there had been a decision made before that time that forbid brothers to serve on the same ship, their request was honored. In January of the following year, rumors began to fly around their hometown that the boys had been lost at sea. Their mother Alleta Sullivan, wrote the Bureau of Naval Personnel for more information. In the exhibit, Albert’s granddaughter Kelly Sullivan Loughren reads the letter:
“I am writing to you in regards to a rumor going around that my five sons were killed in action in November. A mother from here came and told me that she got a letter from her son, and he heard my five sons were killed. It is all over town now, and I am so worried.
My five sons joined the Navy together, January 3, 1942. They are on the Cruiser, USS JUNEAU. The last I heard from them was Nov. 8th. Their names are George T., Francis Henry, Jospeh E., Madison A. and Albert L.
If it is so, please let me know the truth. I am to christen the USS TAWASA, Feb 12th, at Portland, Oregon. If anything has happened to my five sons, I will still christen the ship as it was their wish that I do so.
I hated to bother you, but it has worried me so that I wanted to know if it was true. So please tell me. It was hard to give five sons all at once to the Navy, but I am proud of my boys that they can serve and help protect their country...”
Mrs. Sullivan received a personal response from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The text of this letter is displayed in the exhibit.
After the tragic event, the only surviving sibling, Genevieve, joined the WAVES and both Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan continued to support the war effort by going on a war-bond tour and speaking at war plants and shipyards. In 1943, Mrs. Sullivan helped launch USS The Sullivans (DD-573), and in 1995, Kelly Sullivan Loughren christened USS The Sullivans, DDG-68.
The museum was honored to have Kelly Sullivan Loughren present at the Grand Opening of the new George H. W. Bush Gallery in December 2009.