Sullivans' uncle served on brothers' namesake ship in WWII

Posted by Pat Kinney on Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Pictured Left to Right: Joe, Mike, Patrick, Tom and George Sullivan

Waterloo's five Sullivan brothers and their sister weren't the only members of their clan to serve during World War II.

A seventh family member served -- and fate spared him from being the sixth family member to die in service on the USS Juneau on Nov. 13, 1942.

Patrick Henry Sullivan of Harpers Ferry, IA, the uncle of the five brothers, and the brother of their father, Thomas Sullivan, also served in the Navy, during two wars - including combat on his nephews' namesake ship.

He served during and after World War I on the battleship USS Wyoming, which along with other American ships was attached to the British fleet and performed convoy escort duty in the North Sea during that war.

On June 21, 1942, the Waterloo Courier carried the headline, "Sixth Sullivan Will Join Navy: He's Patrick, 42." His nephews, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan, had enlisted in the Navy together six months earlier, immediately after losing a friend, Bill Ball of Fredericksburg, on the USS Arizona in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 -- 80 years ago.

Patrick Henry Sullivan had been staying in Waterloo at his nephews' home at 98 Adams St. with his brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, at the time of his enlistment, the Courier reported.

A subsequent Courier article noted that Alleta had requested her brother-in-law be allowed to join her five sons in service on the Juneau, a light cruiser.

"The request was granted, but the Juneau sailed before Patrick could report for duty," the Courier reported. The Juneau departed New York for the Pacific Theater Aug. 22, 1942. It had stopped in New York for alterations after having performed patrol and escort duty in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean from June 1 to Aug. 12 of that year.

Less than five months after Patrick Henry Sullivan's enlistment, and following the Juneau's service in the battles of Santa Cruz and Savo Island, the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine on Nov. 13, 1942, as it and other battle-damaged American ships were returning from the naval Battle of Guadalcanal. All but 14 of the Juneau's crew of 700 were lost, including all five Sullivan brothers. It was the greatest combat-related loss of life by one family at one time in U.S. military history.
After her brothers' deaths, Genevieve Sullivan enlisted in the U.S. Navy WAVES to support the war effort. A Navy destroyer, USS The Sullivans DD-537, so named by President Franklin Roosevelt and sponsored by Alleta Sullivan, was commissioned into the Navy Sept. 30, 1943.

The Five Sullivan Brothers

Patrick Henry Sullivan, still in the Navy, "and his sister-in-law (Alleta) asked that he be assigned to the new ship," the Courier reported. That request was granted. The USS The Sullivans would receive nine battle stars for its World War II service, in battles in the Marshall Islands, Truk lagoon, the Philippines, the Marianas, Leyte Gulf and Iwo Jima, among others. The ship, sporting a " lucky shamrock" in honor of the brothers, also became known as "The Good Samaritan" according to a Warfare History Network article. The ship participated in many rescues of sailors from ships crippled in battle and searches following Typhoon Cobra in December 1944, when three other destroyers were sunk.

USS The Sullivans (DD-537) underway at sea on 29 October 1962

Patrick Henry Sullivan left the Navy in April 1945 after serving on the USS The Sullivans for more than year.

On Dec. 12, 1945, the Courier reported that at a meeting at Veterans Memorial Hall in Waterloo, Patrick Henry Sullivan was elected provost marshal for the AMVETS for the entire state of Iowa. Waterloo attorney and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Robert Buckmaster was elected state AMVETS judge advocate. Buckmaster would briefly serve as mayor of Waterloo and become one of the founders of KWWL radio and television.

The USS The Sullivans DD-537 is a National Historic Landmark and is moored at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park in Buffalo, N.Y. It was recently part of a major repair and restoration campaign. The second USS The Sullivans, DD-68, an Arleigh Burke-Class guided missile destroyer commissioned in April 1997, most recently has been on a tour of duty with the British Navy -- just as Patrick Henry Sullivan's original ship, the USS Wyoming, did more than a century ago. 

The Grout Museum District's exhibit on the Pacific Theater of World War II in which the Sullivans served, "Over Land and Sea: Iowans in the Pacific in World War II," is open now through Dec. 31, 2022. Next year will mark the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the Juneau and the Sullivans' sacrifice. 

The Grout's Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum is dedicated to the service of all Iowa veterans of all eras and conflicts.

About The Author

Pat is the Director of Institutional Advancement for the Grout Museum District.