In late 1942, things were not going well for the U. S. Navy in the Pacific theater. The Japanese navy had better ships, better trained crews, and better weaponry than the overmatch Allies. And so Thomas and Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, were filled with foreboding when letters from their five sons–George Thomas (28), Francis Henry (26), Joseph Eugene (24), Madison Abel (23), and Albert Leo (20)–suddenly stopped arriving. They’d heard a rumor that their sons’s ship, the USS Juneau (CL-52) had been sunk but military censors refused to release that kind of information in order to deprive the Japanese of intelligence.
On a bitter cold January morning an official black sedan stopped in from of the Sullivan’s clapboard house at 98 Adams Street. Thomas Sullivan met the men on the front porch. They were all wearing Navy hats trimmed with gold braid and bridge coats with gold buttons. He knew something was very wrong but nothing could have prepared him for what happened next. According to John R. Satterfield in his book, We Band of Brothers – The Sullivans & World War II:
“I have some news for you about your boys,” the naval officer said. “Which one?” asked Thomas. “I’m sorry,” the officer replied. “All five.”
The story of the Sullivan Brothers became an overnight sensation. Tom and Alleta Sullivan toured the country selling war bonds. Read the whole story here.
What had happened was that USS Juneau, was part of Admiral Richmond K. Turner’s Task Force 67 escorting a resupply convoy to Guadalcanal. They arrived on station on November 12, 1942 and found themselves in a hornet’s nest. They spent most of the day fighting off Japanese torpedo bombers but things got worse. That night a Japanese squadron consisting of two battleships, one light cruiser, and nine destroyers, plowed into the lightly gunned screen line. In the confused night fighting, Juneau was nearly cut in half by a Japanese Long Lance torpedo. Juneau, limping on one screw, along with the heavily damaged USS Helena (CL-50) and USS San Francisco (CA 38) withdrew from the fight. They next morning at 11 a.m., Japanese submarine I-26 fired a spread of torpedoes. One struck Juneau in nearly the same spot where she’d been hit that night. She broke in two and sank in about 20 seconds.
She went down so quick that it was assumed there were no survivors and no search was made, though 10 men did actually survive the ordeal.
And so the story stood until today.
Wreckage from the USS Juneau (CL-52) was discovered on March 17, 2018, by the expedition crew of Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel. The Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo during the Battle of Guadalcanal, ultimately killing 687 men including all five of the Sullivan brothers. The Atlanta-class light cruiser was found 4,200 meters (about 2.6 miles) below the surface, resting on the floor of the South Pacific off the coast of the Solomon Islands.
“We certainly didn’t plan to find the Juneau on St. Patrick’s Day. The variables of these searches are just too great,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Paul Allen. “But finding the USS Juneau on Saint Patrick’s Day is an unexpected coincidence to the Sullivan brothers and all the service members who were lost 76 years ago.”
The R/V Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) first identified the ship in its side scan sonar on March 17. Upon analysis of the sonar data, the Petrel crew deployed its remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) on March 18 to verify the wreckage through its video capabilities.
WWII ship USS Juneau located by #RVPetrel on St. Patrick’s Day—unexpected coincidence since she is best known for the Sullivans, all 5 brothers were lost, along with the other 682 sailors. Only 10 survived the sinking by Japanese torpedoes. https://t.co/FOkRwR6FXc pic.twitter.com/1PZjNP1uHd
— Paul Allen (@PaulGAllen) March 19, 2018
“Lord God, by the power of your Word you stilled the chaos of the primeval seas, you made the raging waters of the Flood subside, and you calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
As we commit the earthly remains of our brothers to the deep, grant them peace and tranquility until that day when they and all who believe in you will be raised to the glory of new life promised in the waters of baptism. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”