WATERLOO – Saturday’s discovery of the wreck of the USS Juneau, on which the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo served and perished with nearly 700 shipmates during World War II, was a moving and bittersweet experience for descendants of deceased sailors.
“There are over 700 Navy families affected by this and my heart goes out to all of them,” said Kelly Sullivan, granddaughter of Albert Sullivan and great-niece of George, Francis, Joseph and Madison Sullivan, who all died after the Juneau was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk on November 13, 1942.
“For me, it’s like finding my grandfather’s grave,” said Knute Swensen of Huntington Beach, Calif., the grandson of the Juneau’s commanding officer, Captain Lyman K. Swenson, also among the dead in the Juneau.
The crew of the research vessel Petrel, on an expedition funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, found the wreckage of the Juneau at the bottom of “Ironbottom Sound” off Guadalcanal in the Solomons on the day of the Saint Patrick.
In audio accompanying a video of the wreckage, Robert Kraft, the expedition’s director of underwater operations, noted that it was fitting that Juneau’s remains were discovered on St. Patrick’s Day, given of the Irish heritage of the Sullivan brothers.
“The luck of the Irish was with them,” Kelly Sullivan said, echoing a wish she made for USS The Sullivans, the current Navy destroyer named for her grandfather and of her great-uncles, when she christened the ship in Bath, Maine, in 1995. She is the official navy sponsor of this ship.
This wknd Paul Allen’s team found the wreck of WW2 USS Juneau in the Pacific Ocean In 1942 this ship was sunk by a Japanese torpedo carrying the 5 Sullivan brothers from Waterloo These Iowa heroes + hundreds of ‘others lost their lives on this ship protecting our country Shld not b forgotten
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) March 20, 2018
The crew of the Petrel sent a message to The Courier, which said: “Our team is comprised of professional underwater operators and engineers with years of industry experience who are truly honored to have the ‘opportunity to honor our fallen service members and bring an end to their families.’
The crew credited Allen with making the expedition possible.
Ironically, Kelly Sullivan was at the USS The Sullivans on St. Patrick’s Day in her homeport of Mayport, Florida to attend a retirement party for one of her former commanding officers.
“When this discovery happened, I was sitting on the Sullivans’ fantail…It’s amazing,” Sullivan said.
On her trip home on Sunday, she heard about the find from US Navy Vice Admiral Rich Brown, commander of Navy surface forces and former commanding officer of USS The Sullivans. Brown was in Waterloo last November for a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Juneau. On Monday, Knute Swensen contacted her.
“It’s bittersweet, that feeling,” Sullivan said. “There is closure. It also opens a wound.”
She said her father, Albert’s son Jim Sullivan, reacted with surprise and had similar feelings.
“My first thought was my prayers for all Juneau families, not just the Sullivan brothers,” Kelly Sullivan said, as well as all veterans and their families. She said her great-grandmother, Alleta Sullivan, never really shut down because her sons’ bodies were never found and held out hope that they might have survived.
Swensen said he watched the Petrel’s underwater video in amazement as the crew made out the name Juneaus inscribed on the fantail.
“Seeing this video gave me chills,” he said.
He also thought of his father, US Navy Commander Robert Swensen, who died in April 2016 at the age of 93 and who was very close to his father, Commander Juneau. Knute’s grandfather’s last name was misspelled as “Swenson” by a staff member at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and he never had it corrected. It was in Annapolis, when Robert was a cadet, that Commander Juneau and his son had their last meeting.
In audio accompanying the video, Kraft of the Petrel Expedition notes that the ship’s bow and stern were found relatively close together, but the wreckage of the ship was strewn for a mile on the bottom of the ship. the ocean – an indication of the devastating explosion that sank it.
Most of the sailors were killed in the sinking itself; more than 100 died at sea in the days that followed from injuries, exposure or shark attacks, including George Sullivan, the eldest of the brothers. Ten sailors survived the sinking and a four-person medical team was sent to the USS San Francisco to treat the injured there before the attack.
Swensen hopes the gallantry of the Juneau crew will also be remembered. The ship earned several battle stars for the engagements it fought in – including one the night before it sank, when it and other overwhelmed American ships repelled a Japanese task force heading towards beleaguered American troops at Guadalcanal .
Sullivan praised Paul Allen’s passion for pursuing the expedition — a lesson she used as an example for her third-grade students at Lincoln Elementary School in Cedar Falls.
“I really admire Mr. Allen and his team for having the faith to do this,” she said, and encouraged her students to pursue their passions as well.
The two were in New York last November during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Juneau at the same Staten Island dock where the ship was commissioned into the Navy in 1997. This ceremony took place in the port of New York from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the Juneau was commissioned into the navy and sailed out of port, never to return.
She hopes the USS The Sullivans can sail to the Juneau’s final resting place on a future mission, along with some of her surviving sailors and family members.