U.S. military kids make 'Sullivans to Sullivans' virtual visit from Japan to Waterloo museum

Posted by Pat Kinney on Thursday, April 11, 2024

WATERLOO – History recently came to life across 6,100 miles for children of U.S. military personnel at a school in Japan – courtesy of the Grout Museum District and the granddaughter and grandniece of five Waterloo brothers killed during World War II.

Kelly Sullivan, a descendant of the Waterloo's five Sullivan brothers killed during that war, conducted a virtual education session from Waterloo with students at the brothers' namesake school - The Sullivans Elementary School, a U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity institution in Yokosuka, Japan.

"I'm super, super excited....Go Dolphins!" Sullivan said to the kids, referring to the school mascot.

The school is named for Kelly Sullivan's grandfather, Albert Sullivan, and great uncles George, Francis, Joseph and Madison Sullivan.

Kelly Sulivan, granddaughter and grandniece of Waterloo's five Sullivan brothers killed during World War II, and Grout Museum District education director Benjamin Miller, make a virtual presentation to students of the Sullivans Elementary School in Yokosuka Japan from a re-creation of the Sullivan family living room at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.

Kelly Sullivan delivered a presentation about the brothers and her family via the Zoom teleconferencing link to the kids in Japan from the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, part of the Grout Museum District.

"The boys loved their town, they loved to go fishing, they loved to go dancing, they liked to ride motorcycles...and they also loved to charm the ladies," Sullivan told the kids.

She answered questions from the kids via live chat. Questions ranged from how big the brothers' ship was, to whether they tap danced. Sullvan delivered the presentation, within the museum, from the re-created living room of the Sullivan family home at 98 Adams St., where Sullivan Park is now located. 

"I liked the fact that they did so many things together. They were best firends," Kelly Sullivan said.

Prior to her presentation, Grout education director Benjamin Miller took the kids on a virtual tour of the museum via video camera on a rolling platform, showing them statues, various artifacts and photos of the brothers arouind the museum and inside the re-created Sullivan living room. 

Grout Museum District education Director Benjamin Miller makes a presentation to students of the Sullivans Elementary School in Yokosuka, Japan from the Sulliavn Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.

Faculty and staff at the Sullivans Elementary School had made contact with Grout Museum District staff to set up the session. Miller and Grout information technology director Jonathan Etringer set up and handled equipment and mechanical details.

There is a 14-hour time difference between Waterloo and Yokosuka. It was a Monday evening in Waterloo and a Tuesday morning in Japan when the session was conducted.

Kelly Sullivan's grandfather Albert was the youngest of the brothers and the only one who married. She is not only a Sullivan family member, but also a third grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Cedar Falls.

"I've got my 'I'm a Third Grade Teacher' shirt on!" she told the kids.

She's also the official sponsor of the currently serving Navy ship named for her grandfather and great uncles, the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) a guided missile destroyer based in Mayport, Fla. She also is one of the most active sponsors in the Navy, having visted the ship many times. She has brought many crew members to Waterloo and arranged for a reunion of Navy veterans who served on that ship, and the first USS The Sullivans (DD-537) which served from 1943 to 1965, during Iowa Irish Fest in Waterloo in 2022.

The Sullivan Elementary School was opened in 1947, five years after the five sons of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo perished when their ship, the USS Juneau, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk on Nov. 13,1942 following the naval Battle of Guadalcanal. All but 14 of the Sullivans' nearly 700 shipmates perished.

During the session, Sullivans Elementary School students got to see a video of the discovery of the shipwrecked Juneau, donated to the museum by the crew of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Research Vessel Petrel. The RV Petrel crew found it via underwater drone on St. Patrick's Day 2018. It is on permanent display in the museum.

Kelly Sullivan told the students she also had been able to meet Juneau survivors several times, beginning from when was a little girl, and learn more from them about her grandfather and great uncles.

Kelly Sullivan has had a connection with the Sullivan Elementary School for almost 20 years, dating back to 2006, thanks to state-renowned award-winning Grout historian Bob Neymeyer. It was Neymeyer who made contact with the school when one of its principals, Dave Russell, visited the Grout while attending a conference at the University of Northern Iowa, where Neymeyer is a history instructor. Neymeyer holds a Ph.D frm the University of Iowa.

Sullivan's third graders began a pen-pal corrspondence with Sullivans Elementary School students at that time, and in 2007, she visited the Sullivans School. Her trip was chronicled in an article by Stars & Stripes U.S. military news organization.

"One of my very favorite trips of all time was coming to visit yours school," Sullivan told the students.

Sullivan said her ship has been there too. The USS The Sullivans was at Yokosuka in 2021 on deployment and crew members visited the Sullivans School. The USS The Sullivans stopped in Yokosuka as part of a seven-month world tour deployment, during which it was attached to the British Royal Navy and the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in a joint United States - United Kingdom exercise.  

Kelly Sullivan told the  kids she want to come back to the Sullivans School again too – and take a turn teaching at the school, after she retires in a few years.

"I've always wanted to come out and teach there," Sullivan said. "Woundn't that be fun?"

The kids and teachers sent Sullivan a box of gifts, such as school yearbooks, and treats, which she planned to share with her own students in Cedar Falls.

Noting that April is Military Child Appreciation Month, Sullivan also told the kids, "Thank you for all you do to support your parents. It's a big, big deal."

Sullivan Elementary School students singing during a "Month of the Miltary Child" celebration at the school on April 7. A Navy brass quintet also played for them

About The Author

Pat is the Oral Historian for the Grout Museum District.