On Jan. 3, 1942, five brothers of Waterloo, Iowa enlisted in the United States Navy to defend their nation in the Pacific.

George Thomas Sullivan, 27, Gunner’s Mate Second Class; Francis “Frank” Henry Sullivan, 25, Coxswain; Joseph “Joe” Eugene Sullivan, 23, Seaman Second Class; Madison “Matt” Abel Sullivan, 22, Seaman Second Class and Albert “Al” Leo Sullivan, 19, Seaman Second Class enlisted with stipulation that they serve together to avoid being separated.

George and Frank had served in the Navy previously, but for their younger brothers, it would be their first time in uniform, first time at sea and their first time at war.

The brothers were assigned to the light cruiser, USS Juneau and saw their first battle Oct. 24 during the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, where they were stationed to intercept Japanese forces headed for Guadalcanal. Over the next two days, the Juneau would assist in shooting down 38 enemy planes.

Less than two weeks later on Nov. 12, the USS Juneau and the Sullivan brothers took their positions at Guadalcanal. By mid-afternoon, the Juneau and crew would be credited with six more downed enemy planes, but the worst was yet to come. Just before 2 a.m., a Japanese force of two battleships, one light cruiser, and nine destroyers attacked. The Juneau and crew would fight hard throughout the pre-dawn hours, slugging it out at near point-blank range with enemy vessels. By noon the next day she was out of the fight and steaming on one propeller when an enemy submarine landed a torpedo in an already damaged portion of the ship – blowing the ship in two and sinking it in less than 20 seconds.Sullivan-brothers-uss-Junea

More than 100 sailors had survived the sinking of Juneau, but the Sullivan brothers were not among them. As a direct result of this tragic loss to the Sullivan family, the U.S. War Department (now Department of Defense) adopted the Sole Survivor Policy designed to protect family members from the draft or combat if they have already lost family members in military service.

“VA recently announced the launch of the Veterans Legacy Program to memorialize Veterans’ service and sacrifice through educational programming using the rich resources found throughout VA national cemeteries, soldier’s lots and monument sites,” said Matthew Sullivan, deputy under secretary for finance and planning for the National Cemetery Administration. “NCA will bring their stories to life.”

“The Veterans Legacy Program officially launched on Memorial Day, at two pilot sites, Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina and Riverside National Cemetery in California. The program will use online educational products such as lesson plans, interactive maps and short video vignettes to engage the general public, students and educators. Over the next several years, NCA will develop online educational products and programs for all VA national cemeteries.”

The Veterans Legacy Program will allow access to Veteran stories and their contributions to America’s history and their sacrifices on behalf of grateful nation. The story of the Sullivan Brothers is one of millions waiting to be told, but their story is special to NCA’s chief financial officer, because George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al were his great uncles.

“My family has always believed in the sacred honor of military service, and I’m proud to have been a part of that legacy and tradition,” Sullivan said. “Additionally, as a proud VA/NCA employee, I feel a keen sense of personal responsibility to ensure that NCA effectively provides all Americans with the opportunity to commemorate the military service of their loved ones through our VA national cemeteries. It’s important to educate the public about the service of our Veterans and show how their stories are intertwined with American history.”

Matthew Sullivan is no stranger to service either. He began his career as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and and his brother is currently a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

“Military service was a great way for me to give back to a country that has given my family and me so much,” he explained. “West Point and the Army was a good baseline for me and influenced my decision to join VA.”

As the deputy under secretary , Sullivan leads a broad range of management activities, including policy, strategic planning, performance management, budget and financial operations, business and customer service process improvements, internal controls, program evaluations, and legislative and regulatory actions.

For more information about the Veterans Legacy Program visit http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/legacy/ or call the Office of Communications and Outreach Support at (202) 632-8035.

uthor photo Shawn GrahamShawn Graham joined VA in March 2016. He retired from the U.S. Navy at the rate of chief mass communication specialist with nearly 21 years of service. He deployed several times as a communication and public affairs asset in remote areas which included Afghanistan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Share this story

Published on May. 30, 2016

Estimated reading time is 4.1 min.

Views to date: 219


  1. Howard Rudo June 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    The legacy of the Sullivan’s lives on in the USS The Sullivans,, now retired to Buffalo, NY,, as part of a floating museum. My uncle, Dr. Morton E. Bassan, served as the Ship’s Doctor during WW2.

  2. R. Carl DePoy June 3, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I served aboard The USS The Sullivans DD537 1962-63 during the Cuban crises, have been out to sea aboard the DDG68., have met and know Kelly Sullivan Logran, grand daughter of one of the brothers. I am a member of The USS The Sullivans DD537-DDG68 Association and hosted our last reunion May 2015 in Jacksonville, Fl. “We Stick Together”

  3. Charles F. Kosack, Jr. June 3, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Mr. Sullivan, I read stories and saw the movie of your great uncle’s sacrifice. It has always been a very heartfelt and inspiring story. I am an Army Veteran that served in Vietnam. I have more friends that I grew up with who’s names are on the wall. The price all paid to keep this nation great is not lost on anyone who served, we know of the true cost of freedom and we remember all that bore the that cost.
    God bless you and your family.

  4. Maggie June 3, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    I love learning about our Veterans. I’m always telling my customers, friends and family the importance of preserving the old military photos because they each have stories that contribute to our american History. Thank you for your service. I will share this with my followers.

  5. Kenneth Evans June 3, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Mr Sullivan, you might not be aware of this, but in the mid 1990’s the rock band Caroline’s Spine had a popular alternative song titled Sullivan, that paid tribute to your great uncles. From one soldier to another, thanks for your service and the sacrifices of your family.

  6. Ron Heth June 3, 2016 at 11:10 am

    I had the recent pleasure of being on an Honor Flight out of Waterloo, IA, the home of the Sullivans. Their image is painted on the Cedar Falls, IA Freedom Rock in our Veterans Park. Proud to be a Vietnam Vet.

  7. Vetsvoice June 3, 2016 at 9:52 am

    who is holding the picture at the cemetery?

    • Megan Moloney June 3, 2016 at 9:54 am

      That’s NCA’s Matthew Sullivan, who is featured in the story.

  8. Jason Finley June 2, 2016 at 7:28 am

    i appreciate this article from the core of my heart. Truly saying, Veterans stories are not just stories, they are our history. Bless you all.

  9. Tom Rainsberry May 30, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Mr. Sullivan, if my friend is still alive; contact; Eberstoser, Dave, (sp_) from Bismarck, ND, he has a very in tense history of the ND cemeteries, which have Veterans in them. Keep up the great work!

    Semper Fi

    Tom Rainsberry (Rainman)

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • Here are the most asked questions and answers about Long COVID. Also, a list of many of the symptoms. Use this list to tell your clinician or care team.

  • Check in for your appointments using your smartphone allows you to practice physical distancing while offering ease and convenience.

  • Today, VA named finalists and Promise Award recipients in Mission Daybreak—a $20 million challenge to help VA develop new suicide prevention strategies for Veterans.