While Friday was Veterans Day, Sunday marks the 69th anniversary of the torpedo attack on the U.S.S. Juneau that took the lives of five Waterloo brothers in World War Two. The death of the Sullivan brothers 28-year-old George, 27-year-old Francis, 24-year-old Joseph, 23-year-old Madison, and 20-year-old Albert, remains the single largest wartime loss for one family.
Kelly Sullivan Loughren is the granddaughter of Albert, the only brother who had children. Loughren is a third grade teacher in Waterloo and carries on the family story, speaking at veterans gatherings and other events. She also christened the newest ship named after the boys.
“There have been many times when I have felt that spiritual connection to the boys, and I do, I feel like this is my duty, this is my obligation,” she says. Loughren attends many events on behalf of the family and tells the story of what happened during the Battle of Guadalcanal on November 13th, 1942 She says George was a gunners mate and was topside on the ship while the other four were down below.
Loughren says when the torpedo hit, anyone down below the ship was lost, and those on top of the ship were blown off the ship. She says there were around 100 survivors left in the water, including George. “Supposedly George did live a couple of days,” Loughren says, “but the stories I’ve been told is the guys were all covered with oil from the ship so you couldn’t tell who was who.”
She says there were papers and rage in the water and she says the story she’s heard is that George went from man to man and wiped off their faces to see if they were his brothers. “It hurts my heart to think about that,” Loughren says. Loughren says she’s been told that George was eventually attacked by a shark and died. The last of the U.S.S. Juneau survivors died in 2009.
“When we talk about the five Sullivans, I like people to understand that we’re not just focusing on one family’s loss,” Loughren says. She says even the guys that come back healthy may’ve missed the birth of their child or their first steps and she says being a Sullivan has made her very aware of the sacrifices that veterans make.
There have been two other ships named Juneau since the brothers deaths, and those who served on them will hold a reunion in Waterloo next year on the 70th anniversary of the torpedo attack that led the Sullivan’s deaths.