Shipmates Salute 5 Brothers Killed in World War II Attack
With tears, T-shirts and photographs, veterans on Friday remembered the five Sullivan brothers and 700 other sailors killed when a Japanese torpedo sank their ship 50 years ago at Guadalcanal.
The deaths of Madison, Albert, Joseph, George and Francis Sullivan--who served together on the cruiser Juneau because they refused to be separated--were the greatest loss of life from one family in U.S. naval history.
“I saw the darn thing coming,” said Lester Zook, one of four survivors still living. “We had about four seconds warning. The ship totally disintegrated.”
The Sullivan brothers’ hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, about 75 miles northeast of Des Moines, is holding a parade, a banquet and a memorial service this weekend.
About 50 Navy veterans and others attended a ceremony Friday in Buffalo, N.Y., where the ship christened as The Sullivans has been docked at the Buffalo Naval & Servicemen’s Park since it was decommissioned in 1965.
Four ex-sailors who served on The Sullivans in the 1950s and 1960s tossed a wreath into Buffalo harbor.
Frank Mozgawa of Lackawanna, N.Y., cried as he recalled his 19-year-old brother Edmund, also killed aboard the Juneau. “My brother was with the Sullivans,” he said. “I never got over it.”
The Navy no longer allows family members to serve together.
In Waterloo, organizers sold posters and shirts bearing a picture of the brothers, their Navy caps tilted and all wearing cocky smiles.
Survivors Arthur Friend and Frank Holmgren attended. The fourth, Allen Heyn, suffered a stroke last month and could not be there.
The Juneau was part of a task force attacked by Japanese ships during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
Four of the brothers died in the blast on Nov. 13, 1942. The fifth, George, was among about 100 survivors who made it into life rafts. But only 10 men were alive when rescuers arrived a week later. George Sullivan was killed by a shark.
“The same school of sharks followed us for seven days. We rolled the corpses off the sides of the life net. Every day, 10 or 15 people would expire,” said Zook, a retired lieutenant commander.
Bill Anderson was a crew member of a rescue plane equipped with pontoons that landed in the raging sea to pluck five men out of the water.
“One of the hardest things for me was that we took off and didn’t get the other fellows. We just couldn’t get them,” Anderson said.