The Fighting Sullivans

November 14, 2009 by USA Post 

CUMBERLAND – Bob Sullivan isn’t related to the “œSullivan brothers” of World War II, whose story became widely known after all five were killed in combat in 1942.

But people always ask, especially after they learn that Sullivan and his four brothers, who grew up in Allegany County, served in the military during wartime.

His family’s story had a happier ending. He and his brothers all made it home.

“My brother Frank was in the Army in World War II,” said Sullivan, 71, a Vietnam veteran and the youngest of the local Sullivan clan. “He got a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. My brother Joseph was in the Navy in World War II … My brother Andy was in the end of World War II. And John was in Korea.

“We wanted to defend our country,” Sullivan said.

The other Sullivan brothers, of Waterloo, Iowa, apparently felt the same way. Ages 20, 23, 24, 26, and 27, they all enlisted Jan. 3, 1942, under one condition — that they serve together, despite the Navy’s policy of separating siblings.

Assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau, the brothers died after their ship was struck by a Japanese torpedo. Nicknamed the “Fighting Sullivan Brothers,” they became national heroes, and their parents, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, made speaking appearances on behalf of the war effort.

Last November, the Sullivan Brothers Veterans Museum opened in Waterloo, a tribute to the family’s sacrifice.

The Allegany County Sullivans were too far separated by age to serve simultaneously. Frank, the eldest, was 21 years older than Bob. Andy, the second-youngest, who lives in Wisconsin, was nine years older than Bob.

Frank, Joseph and John have passed away, Sullivan said.

“They were good men,” said Sullivan, who has kept records of each of his siblings’ military service. “They really loved their country.”

Sullivan remembers watching young men stand in line to join the military when his brothers joined in World War II. He joined the Air Force in 1956 and served for 22 years before retiring in 1977 to work civilian jobs.

None of his five children joined the military.

“I didn’t push them,” Sullivan said. “I wanted them to choose what they wanted to do with their lives, not be hammered into the military by me. It’s not for me to make their choice.”

Though he doesn’t always support the policies around the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Sullivan believes servicemen and women should be given everything they need to succeed.

“I know what it’s like to be condemned as a soldier,” Sullivan said. “I felt it when I came back from Vietnam. … I appreciate the veterans we have. I sincerely do.”

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