Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley says he was "taken aback" Sunday night as he watched a World War II documentary on public television and heard a mistaken reference to one of the most famous Iowa families involved in that war.
Braley, who is from Waterloo, is a "big fan" of documentary-maker Ken Burns and he sat down to watch the first installment of Burns’ series entitled "The War" which focused on the battle of Guadalcanal. (Photo: L to R: Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan.)
The narrator says that among the American sailors who died were the five Sullivan brothers and a black-and-white image of the brothers appeared on the screen. But Burns’ script mistakenly said the five were from Fredericksburg, Iowa. Braley says he watched the show again when it was replayed to be sure he hadn’t misheard, and the narrator clearly said "Fredericksburg, Iowa."
"That came as a great surprise to all of us living in Waterloo, home of Sullivan Park and the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center," Braley says. Braley faxed a letter to Burns today, praising his work as a filmmaker but pointing out the error. Fredericksburg is in Chickasaw County, north of Waterloo.
"If you Google ‘Five Sullivan Brothers’…all you will see is multiple references to their birthplace in Waterloo, their parents residence along the Illinois-Central railroad tracks and their long history of being associated with the city of Waterloo," Braley says.
Braley has watched "most" of the documentaries Ken Burns has made, dating back to the first one about the Brooklyn Bridge. "One of the things that has always been so impressive is the level of research and documentation of factual accuracy in all of the productions," Braley says, "and since we’re talking about what is probably the most famous family in World War II, I found it rather shocking that they would get that fact wrong."
Ken Burns documentaries, such as his Civil War series, are notable for their haunting music, narration and use of photos to match the text. Braley believes he recognized the black-and-white image of the Sullivan Brothers that was used in Burns’ latest documentary. "They used the recruiting poster with the picture of the five Sullivan brothers…that was used after their (deaths) to solicit support for the war bond drives," according to Braley.
A number of Iowa Public Television viewers noticed the error and called IPTV headquarters in Johnston to urge Burns to correct when the series airs again. Braley’s father is a World War II veteran who served in the battle of Iwo Jima.