On Jan. 3, 1942, five brothers of Waterloo, Iowa enlisted in the United States Navy to defend their nation in the Pacific.
George Thomas Sullivan, 27, Gunner’s Mate Second Class; Francis “Frank” Henry Sullivan, 25, Coxswain; Joseph “Joe” Eugene Sullivan, 23, Seaman Second Class; Madison “Matt” Abel Sullivan, 22, Seaman Second Class and Albert “Al” Leo Sullivan, 19, Seaman Second Class enlisted with stipulation that they serve together to avoid being separated.
George and Frank had served in the Navy previously, but for their younger brothers, it would be their first time in uniform, first time at sea and their first time at war.
The brothers were assigned to the light cruiser, USS Juneau and saw their first battle Oct. 24 during the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, where they were stationed to intercept Japanese forces headed for Guadalcanal. Over the next two days, the Juneau would assist in shooting down 38 enemy planes.
Less than two weeks later on Nov. 12, the USS Juneau and the Sullivan brothers took their positions at Guadalcanal. By mid-afternoon, the Juneau and crew would be credited with six more downed enemy planes, but the worst was yet to come. Just before 2 a.m., a Japanese force of two battleships, one light cruiser, and nine destroyers attacked. The Juneau and crew would fight hard throughout the pre-dawn hours, slugging it out at near point-blank range with enemy vessels. By noon the next day she was out of the fight and steaming on one propeller when an enemy submarine landed a torpedo in an already damaged portion of the ship – blowing the ship in two and sinking it in less than 20 seconds.
More than 100 sailors had survived the sinking of Juneau, but the Sullivan brothers were not among them. As a direct result of this tragic loss to the Sullivan family, the U.S. War Department (now Department of Defense) adopted the Sole Survivor Policy designed to protect family members from the draft or combat if they have already lost family members in military service.
“VA recently announced the launch of the Veterans Legacy Program to memorialize Veterans’ service and sacrifice through educational programming using the rich resources found throughout VA national cemeteries, soldier’s lots and monument sites,” said Matthew Sullivan, deputy under secretary for finance and planning for the National Cemetery Administration. “NCA will bring their stories to life.”
“The Veterans Legacy Program officially launched on Memorial Day, at two pilot sites, Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina and Riverside National Cemetery in California. The program will use online educational products such as lesson plans, interactive maps and short video vignettes to engage the general public, students and educators. Over the next several years, NCA will develop online educational products and programs for all VA national cemeteries.”
The Veterans Legacy Program will allow access to Veteran stories and their contributions to America’s history and their sacrifices on behalf of grateful nation. The story of the Sullivan Brothers is one of millions waiting to be told, but their story is special to NCA’s chief financial officer, because George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al were his great uncles.
“My family has always believed in the sacred honor of military service, and I’m proud to have been a part of that legacy and tradition,” Sullivan said. “Additionally, as a proud VA/NCA employee, I feel a keen sense of personal responsibility to ensure that NCA effectively provides all Americans with the opportunity to commemorate the military service of their loved ones through our VA national cemeteries. It’s important to educate the public about the service of our Veterans and show how their stories are intertwined with American history.”
Matthew Sullivan is no stranger to service either. He began his career as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and and his brother is currently a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
“Military service was a great way for me to give back to a country that has given my family and me so much,” he explained. “West Point and the Army was a good baseline for me and influenced my decision to join VA.”
As the deputy under secretary , Sullivan leads a broad range of management activities, including policy, strategic planning, performance management, budget and financial operations, business and customer service process improvements, internal controls, program evaluations, and legislative and regulatory actions.
For more information about the Veterans Legacy Program visit http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/legacy/ or call the Office of Communications and Outreach Support at (202) 632-8035.
Shawn Graham joined VA in March 2016. He retired from the U.S. Navy at the rate of chief mass communication specialist with nearly 21 years of service. He deployed several times as a communication and public affairs asset in remote areas which included Afghanistan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.