USS Juneau (CL 52)
USS Juneau (CL-52) was a light cruiser whose brief but spectatcular service in the United States Navy helped stem the Japanese advance in the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II, but is better known as the ship which carried, and lost, the five Sullivan brothers.
Juneau was laid down by Federal Shipbuilding Company of Kearny, New Hampshire on 27 May 1940, launched on 25 October 1941, and commissioned 14 February 1942, Captain Lyman K. Swenson in command.
Following a hurried shakedown cruise along the Atlantic coast in the spring of 1942, Juneau assumed blockade patrol in early May off Martinique and Guadaloupe Islands to prevent the escape of Vichy French Naval units. She returned to New York to complete alterations and operated in the North Atlantic and Caribbean from 1 June to 12 August on patrol and escort duties. The cruiser departed for the Pacific Theater 22 August.
After stopping briefly at the Tonga Islands and New Caledonia, she rendezvoused 10 September with Task Force 18 under the command of Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes, flying his flag in Wasp (CV-7). The following day Task Force 17, which included Hornet (CV-8), combined with Admiral Noyes' unit to form Task Force 61 whose mission was to ferry fighters to Guadalcanal. On 15 September Wasp took three torpedo hits from the Japanese submarine I-19, and, with fires raging out of control, was sunk at 2100 by Lansdowne (DD-486). Juneau and screen destroyers rescued 1,910 survivors of Wasp and returned them to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 16 September. The next day the fast cruiser rejoined Task Force 17. Operating with the Hornet group, she supported three actions that repulsed enemy thrusts at Guadalcanal: the Buin-Fasi-Tonolai Raid; the Battle of Santa Cruz Island; and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Third Savo).
The ship's first major action was the Battle of Santa Cruz 26 October. On 24 October Hornet's task force had combined with the carrier Enterprise (CV-6) group to reform Task Force 61 under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. This force positioned itself north of the Santa Cruz Islands in order to intercept enemy units that might attempt to close Guadalcanal. Meanwhile, on Guadalcanal, the Japanese achieved a temporary breakthrough along Lunga Ridge on the night of 25 October. That short-lived success evidently was a signal for enemy surface units to approach the island.
Early in the morning of 26 October, U.S. carrier planes uncovered the enemy force and immediately attacked it, damaging two Japanese carriers, one battleship, and three cruisers. But while our aircraft were locating and engaging the enemy, American ships were also under fire. Shortly after 1000 some 27 enemy aircraft attacked the Hornet. Though Juneau and other screen ships threw up an effective anti-aircraft barrage which splashed about 20 of the attackers, Hornet was badly damaged and sank the next day. Just before noon Juneau left Hornet's escort for the beleaguered Enterprise group several miles away. Adding her firepower, Juneau assisted in repulsing four enemy attacks on this force and splashing 18 Japanese planes.
That evening the American forces retired to the southeast. Although the battle had been costly, it combined with the Marine victory on Guadalcanal, turned back the attempted Japanese parry in the Solomons. Furthermore, the damaging of two Japanese carriers sharply curtailed the air cover available to the enemy in the subsequent Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
On 8 November Juneau departed Nouméa, New Caledonia, as a unit of Task Force 67 under the command of Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner to escort reinforcements to Guadalcanal. The force arrived there early morning 12 November, and Juneau took up her station in the protective screen around the transports and cargo vessels. Unloading proceeded unmolested until 1405 when 30 Japanese planes attacked the alerted United States group. The anti-aircraft fire was devastating, and Juneau alone accounted for six enemy torpedo planes shot down. The few remaining attackers were pounced on by American fighters; only one bomber escaped. Later in the day an American attack group of cruisers and destroyers cleared Guadalcanal on reports that a large enemy surface force was headed for the island. At 0148 on 13 November Rear Admiral D.J. Callaghan's relatively small Landing Support Group engaged the enemy. The Japanese force of 18 to 20 ships, including 2 battleships, far outnumbered and outgunned his force, but did not outfight it.
American gunnery scored effectively almost immediately sinking an enemy destroyer. Juneau teamed with Atlanta (CL-51) to destroy another as the two forces slugged it out at close range. During the exchange Juneau was struck on the port side by a torpedo causing a severe list and necessitating withdrawal. Before noon 13 November, the battered American force began retirement. Juneau was steaming on one screw, keeping station 800 yards on the starboard quarter of the likewise severely damaged San Francisco (CA-38). She was down 12 feet by the bow, but able to maintain 13 knots. A few minutes after 1100 three torpedoes were launched from the Japanese submarine I-26. Juneau successfully avoided two, but the third struck her at the same point which had been damaged during the surface action. In the explosion Juneau broke in two and disappeared in 20 seconds. The gallant ship with Captain Swenson and most of her crew was lost. Only 10 members of the crew survived the tragedy to be rescued several days later.
Juneau received four battle stars for World War II service.
The Sullivan Brothers
Onboard were five brothers named Sullivan: Albert Leo; Francis Henry; George Thomas; Joseph Eugene; and Madison Abel. In the aftermath of Juneau's loss, the Navy notified Mr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, that all five of their sons were missing in action. Two of the brothers had served previous four-year enlistments in the Navy and so, when all five brothers enlisted together on 3 January 1942, the Navy was the obvious choice. They had also insisted on serving together on the same ship. Although the accepted Navy policy was to separate family members, the brothers had persisted and their request was approved.
It was later learned, through survivors' accounts, that four of the brothers died in the initial explosion. The fifth, George Thomas, despite being wounded the night before, made it onto a raft where he survived for five days before succumbing either to wounds and exhaustion or a shark attack.
The brothers received the Purple Heart Medal posthumously and were entitled to the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four engagement stars and the World War II Victory Medal. They had also earned the Good Conduct Medal.
They were survived by their parents, Mr. Thomas F. Sullivan and Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, a sister, Genevieve Sullivan, and by Albert Leo Sullivan's wife, Katherine Mary Sullivan. Their son, James Thomas, was twenty-two months old at the time of his father's death.
News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice. Extensive newspaper and radio coverage of the incident made the loss of the brothers a national story, producing "a wave of humility and sympathy..." and condolences poured in on the Sullivan family in Waterloo, Iowa. One woman told the Associated Press, "And now I wonder how the sugar and coffee hoarders feel." War bond drives and other patriotic campaigns culminated in a 1944 movie, The Sullivans.
Their sister Genevieve enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and, with her parents, visited more than two hundred manufacturing plants and shipyards under the auspices of the Industrial Incentive Division, Executive Office of the Secretary, Navy Department. According to a 9 February 1943 Navy Department Press Release, the Sullivans "...visited war production plants urging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so that the war may come to an end sooner." By January 1944, the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio.
To honor the five Sullivan brothers, the Navy has named two destroyers USS The Sullivans. On 10 February 1943, the Navy officially canceled the name Putnam (DD-537) and assigned the name The Sullivans to a destroyer under construction. Sponsored by Mrs. Alleta Sullivan and commissioned 30 September 1943, The Sullivans served the Navy until final decommissioning on 7 January 1965. In 1977, the destroyer was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen's Park. The second The Sullivans (DDG-68), an Arliegh Burke-class destroyer, was laid down on 14 June 1993 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works Co. and launched on 12 August 1995 sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan. Commissioned on 19 April 1997 at Staten Island, New York under the command of Commander Gerard D. Roncolato, the motto of the ship is "We Stick Together."
Text taken in part from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain