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More Than One Local Connection To The USS The Sullivans


It’s a retired navy ship that’s part of the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park downtown. It’s the USS The Sullivans – the only navy destroyer named in honor of more than one person. It was named in honor of five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa who served together on the USS Junea during World War Two.

The Sullivan brothers: George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert, all in their 20’s; all marched down to the navy recruiting office following the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor and even though there was a Navy policy to separate family members – the Sullivans insisted on serving together on the same ship and the Navy finally approved.

The Sullivan brothers were killed along with 700 other soldiers during the Battle of Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942 when a Japanese submarine torpedoed their ship. Four of the brothers died in the attack. The fifth, George – the oldest, was wounded, and survived on a raft for five days before he either died of his wounds, exhaustion or a shark attack. It was the greatest military sacrifice by any one family during World War Two.

All five brothers were posthumously given the Purple Heart Medal, the American Defense Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal among other honors.

President Roosevelt personally wrote to their parents expressing the sorrow and gratitude of the nation and also directed the Secretary of the Navy to name the very next ship to be built to be named The Sullivans and it joined the fleet in 1943.

Because of the Sullivans tragedy, the United States instituted a sole survivor policy and it’s what inspired the movie Saving Private Ryan. The movie was based on the effort to find Sgt. Frederick Niland whose three brothers had been killed during World War Two. Very odd that the Sullivans ship would end up in Buffalo, because the Niland brothers were from Tonawanda.


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