Friday, November 13, 2009
Shortly after midnight November 13, 1942, a Japanese battle group of two battleships, a light cruiser, and eleven destroyers steamed past Savo Island, heading toward Guadalcanal. Those Japanese naval units were moving to support Imperial land forces locked in a bloody battle for the island against the US Marines and Army units who had landed there earlier. A force of American warships steamed to intercept the Japanese and prevent reinforcement. Leading destroyers of both forces sighted each other briefly in the darkness, and the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52) received the order, "Stand by to open fire."
Japanese and American warships engaged at a mere 1,600 yards, firing at point-blank range in the darkness. Just a few minutes into the battle, Juneau was hit by a Japanese torpedo on the port side, in the forward fireroom. The explosion buckled her deck, shattered all the fire control computers, and knocked out power in part of the ship. The wounded cruiser limped away from the battle, listing and down by the bow, struggling to maintain 18 or 20 knots. The Chief Engineer opined that her keel had been broken by the torpedo hit she took.
She rejoined some surviving American warships at dawn on November 13, and zig-zagged to the southeast in company with two other cruisers and three destroyers. About an hour before noon, the task force crossed paths with another Japanese submarine (I-26), which fired three torpedoes at USS San Francisco. None of the torpedoes hit that cruiser, but one of them passed under her and struck Juneau on the port side very near the previous torpedo hit. One of Juneau's magazines probably exploded, blowing the light cruiser in half, and killing most of her crew. Both sections of Juneau sank in a matter of seconds.
Owing to the risk of another submarine attack, the American task force did not linger to check for Juneau survivors. About 115 of Juneau's crew actually had survived the explosion and sinking. Rescue efforts did not begin for several days, and exposure, exhaustion, and shark attacks took their toll on the survivors. Ten men were eventually rescued, having been pulled from the water eight days after the sinking. Together with four other Juneau medical crew members who had transferred to USS San Francisco the morning of November 13 to assist in the treatment of battle casualties, they are the only known survivors of the ill-fated Juneau.
Among those in Juneau's ships company who were listed as missing in action following the preceding events were the five brothers Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan from Waterloo, Iowa. The Sullivan brothers were plank-owners (They were part of the commissioning crew of the ship) and had specifically asked to serve together in the same ship. Later, the President wrote to their mother:
Dear Mrs. Sullivan:
The Navy has since named two destroyers in honor of the Sullivan brothers. The first of these was USS The Sullivans (DD-537), a Fletcher class destroyer christened by the boys' mother, that was in service from 1943-1965, earning nine Battle Stars during World War Two, and two more during the Korean conflict. That ship has since been retired after serving as a school ship at the Naval Destroyer School, and is now a monument in Buffalo, New York.
The second ship to be named for this family is USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), which is still in service and homeported in Mayport, Florida. The motto of the ship is "We Stick Together," which was the motto of the Sullivan brothers.
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Last updated on November 14, 2009