The Sullivan brothers were raised in an Irish-Catholic family, the brothers great-grandfather had emigrated from Ireland.
Early on the morning of 13 November, during the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the SS Juneau was torpedoed and badly damaged. Late that morning, while south of San Cristobal Island withdrawing with other survivors of the 13 November action, Juneau was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-26, exploded and sank very rapidly. Only ten crew members survived to be rescued several days later. The five brothers, George Thomas, Francis Henry, Joseph Eugene, Madison Abel, and Albert Leo had expressed a desire to serve on the same ship.
In 1942, the US Navy commissioned ‘The Sullivans’ (DD-537), to honour the brothers, the first American Navy ship ever named after more than one person.
In 1997, the US Navy commissioned ‘The Sullivans’ (DDG-68), the second ship to be named after the five Sullivan brothers. The motto for both ships was “We stick together.
The brothers’ story was filmed as the 1944 movie The Sullivans (later renamed The Fighting Sullivans) and inspired, at least in part, the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan (Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe Strand, Ballinesker, Co Wexford, were used for the filming of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan, due to similarity to Omaha Beach in Normandy). The Sullivans were also briefly mentioned in Saving Private Ryan.
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