The Sullivan Brothers: an amazing story!

World War II undoubtedly has more amazing stories to tell than any other war or time in history. One such amazing (and tragic) story is what inspired the making of what many consider the greatest war movie of all time: Saving Private Ryan.
On January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together, five brothers–the children of Thomas (1883–1965) and Alleta Sullivan (1895–1972) of Waterloo, Iowa–joined the US Navy. They were Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan, who later became known as “The Sullivans” and “The Fighting Sullivan Brothers.” After basic training and ready to serve in the war effort, all five were assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.
The Juneau participated in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942, and early in the morning of November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, it was struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day, it was struck again by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo likely hit the thinly armored cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship exploded and quickly sank.
Needless to say, all five Sullivan brothers were killed in action with the sinking of the USS Juneau. This unprecedented tragedy caused Congress to pass a law that military siblings not serve together on the same ship or combat command. And this unprecedented tragedy years later inspired film director Steven Spielberg to make the incredibly poignant WWII film Saving Private.
There is so much more to this amazing but tragic story than what we have told here. The brothers left a sister, Genevieve (1917–1975). Albert was survived by a wife and son. The Fighting Sullivan Brothers were national heroes. President Franklin Roosevelt sent a letter of condolence to their parents. Pope Pius XII sent a silver religious medal and rosary with his message of regret. The Iowa Senate and House adopted a formal resolution of tribute to the Sullivan brothers.
Thomas and Alleta Sullivan made speaking appearances at war plants and shipyards on behalf of the war effort. Later, Alleta participated in the launching of a destroyer: USS The Sullivans, named after her sons. Today and every Memorial Day, Veterans Day and July 4th we should remember the Sullivan Brothers and all our military veterans and active military who serve our great country as well as those who gave “the last full measure of devotion.” And this we are honored to do here at the 59 VETERANS PROJECT every day!
To read more about this amazing story, go here: And to learn about our project to help our military veterans, please visit our Headquarters Company here: We hope you join us and we may ascend this lofty summit together!