WATERLOO — Richard Brown said he left his claw marks in the quarterdeck when he turned over the USS The Sullivans DDG 68 to another commander in 2004.
But the U.S. Navy rear admiral said no such effort was required to get him to Waterloo on Saturday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Juneau, which claimed the lives of Waterloo’s five Sullivan brothers.
“It truly is a special honor for me — it is not a task, it is not a chore — it is an honor for me to be here in Waterloo,” said Brown, who previously commanded the ship named after the brothers.
“All the good the military does in the world today is because of the legacy given to us by those who cherish service, the legacy of the five brothers and their family,” Brown said. “Their sacrifice has helped make this country the great power that it is today.
“With every action undertaken and every conflict resolved and every life improved, we pay tribute to these heroes,” he added. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Brown, who currently heads U.S. Navy Personnel Command and serves as deputy chief of naval personnel, was the keynote speaker at the commemorative event, which drew a crowd to the Grout Museum District’s Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.
George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan were among 687 shipmates who perished after the Juneau was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank Nov. 13, 1942, following the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II.
A commemoration of the anniversary was part of ceremonies held in New York City during Veterans Day weekend, which included the crew of The Sullivans, a ship sponsored by Kelly Sullivan, Albert’s granddaughter.
“There are so many people that are at every event,” Kelly Sullivan said. “It’s like a family.
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“In New York I was with my crew, so it’s my Navy family,” she said. “Here I’m with my Waterloo family, and there’s really great people here.”
Her brother, John Sullivan, came from Lenexa, Kan., to take in the ceremonies.
“I’m in awe of the people that show up, who take time out of their day to honor veterans, and of course my family is a part of that story,” he said. “This was humbling and inspiring at the same time.”
Brown said everyone who serves in the Navy knows the story of the Sullivan brothers.
“One theme persists throughout all those discussions,” he said. “And that is the theme of service: service to our nation, service to our Navy, service to our ship, submarine or squadron, service to our family, to our friends, service to our shipmates and service to the men and women we lead and serve with.”
Brown said he felt a special bond to the ship and the Sullivan family.
“My mother’s maiden name is Sullivan; her mother’s maiden name is Sullivan,” he said. “I’m the first Irish (commanding officer) of the ship. I’m the first C.O. to bring the ship to Ireland.”
U.S. Navy veteran Russell Rosenberger drove from Gladbrook for the ceremony Saturday.
“I heard about it on the radio, and knew I had to be here,” said Rosenberger, who served from 1962 to 1966 and later in the reserves. “Honestly and truly, in naval history the Sullivan name is preeminent.”
Mayor Quentin Hart also spoke at the event, noting the Sullivan motto of “we stick together” lives on today.
“The Sullivans embody the Waterloo work ethic and story,” Hart said. “It is appropriate that they are recognized for their sacrifice and for the blue collar family that they were.”