The story of the five Sullivan brothers will forever be intertwined with the history of Waterloo. It’s up to us as a community to make sure the colossal sacrifice of the Sullivan family is never forgotten.
When George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan perished together with hundreds of their shipmates, it served as one of the most poignant junctures in one of the most historic wars the world has ever seen.
The headlines, articles and photos published in this newspaper in November 1942 were arguably some of the most heartbreaking and thought-provoking in the history of The Courier.
Five Waterloo brothers, all died when their ship, the Navy cruiser USS Juneau, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine Nov. 13, 1942.
Their deaths are generally considered the greatest combat-related loss of life by one family at one time in U.S. military history.
No matter how much time has passed, that kind of sacrifice is worth remembering, honoring and passing on to coming generations of Cedar Valley residents.
In commemorating the 75th anniversary of their deaths, The Courier published several articles. News Editor Pat Kinney accompanied Kelly Sullivan, granddaughter of Albert Sullivan, to New York, where members of the USS The Sullivans took part in various commemorations.
We hope you found the series interesting. More importantly, we hope the stories gave you opportunity to reflect on the tremendous impact the brothers’ fates had on one family and on one community out of all the communities across this nation who mourned sons of their own.
The festivities and solemn commemorations last week served as a timely reminder of our duty here through the actions and reactions of people far away from Waterloo.
That included shipboard ceremonies aboard the USS The Sullivans that marked the 75th anniversary of the deaths of the brothers and the 20th anniversary of the ship’s commissioning at Staten Island.
It took sailors from the ship to ground zero in Manhattan and participation in a Manhattan Veterans Day parade.
In the 75 years since the sinking of the Juneau, the honors, recognitions and memorials have been numerous and widespread. They include two Navy ships named the USS The Sullivans — a World War II era destroyer, now decommissioned and docked at Buffalo, N.Y., and the present USS The Sullivans, a guided missile destroyer.
Stapleton Pier at Staten Island, where the USS The Sullivans was commissioned in 1997, was renamed USS The Sullivans Pier.
In 2001, five memorial markers for each of the Sullivan brothers were placed at Arlington National Cemetery.
A Department of Defense Sullivans American Elementary School is located on the island of Okinawa, Japan, and The Sullivans School is located on Yokosuka Navy Base in Yokosuka, Japan.
In 1956, a memorial to the Sullivan brothers was erected in their home parish, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Waterloo. The memorial fund was initiated by those bearing the Sullivan name in Boston and quickly spread across the country.
Contributions were solicited from schoolchildren all over the United Sates. The statue was truly a gift from a sorrowful nation.
The 60-year-old statue has most recently been relocated to an outdoor chapel on the grounds of Columbus High School.
Our duty here was reinforced recently, when there was some discussion that a new owner of The Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center would change the name to the Waterloo Convention Center – dropping the iconic Sullivan name from the title.
Individuals with strong ties to the brothers quickly urged the city to keep the name. That included the grandson of Capt. Lyman Swenson, the Sullivans’ commanding officer aboard the USS Juneau. The captain died along with most of the crew of 700.
Fortunately, through discussions with city officials, members of the Sullivan family and the new owner of the convention center, a palatable agreement was reached.
It was determined the entire block where the convention center is located will be named for the Sullivan brothers, and the center will be named Waterloo Convention Center at Sullivan Brothers Plaza.
Last week’s activities in New York, and all of the honors and recognition bestowed upon the Sullivan brothers in this country and overseas only strengthens our resolve to maintain and cherish each and every memorial and landmark in our own city. They stand not only for the Sullivan family, but for all soldiers and sailors who have died in the line of duty.
And in the case of the Sullivan family, Waterloo’s history is a very heroic and a very sad chapter of American history.