A bittersweet Mother’s Day story


While browsing through the Mother’s Day greetings on social media after celebrating with my wife and calling my own mom, I stumbled across this famous story and immediately realized it should be shared again, especially on this special day. The words have been pulled directly from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website.


News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice. Extensive newspaper and radio coverage of the incident made the loss of the brothers a national story, producing “a wave of humility and sympathy…” and condolences poured in on the Sullivan family in Waterloo, Iowa. One woman told the Associated Press, “And now I wonder how the sugar and coffee hoarders feel.” War bond drives and other patriotic campaigns culminated in the 1944 movie, “The Sullivans.”

Their sister Genevieve enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and, with her parents, visited more than two hundred manufacturing plants and shipyards under the auspices of the Industrial Incentive Division, Executive Office of the Secretary, Navy Department. According to a 9 February 1943 Navy Department Press Release, the Sullivans “…visited war production plants urging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so that the war may come to an end sooner.” By January 1944, the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio.

To honor the five Sullivan brothers, the Navy has named two destroyers, USS The Sullivans. On 10 February 1943, the Navy officially canceled the name Putnam (DD-537) and assigned the name The Sullivans to a destroyer under construction. Sponsored by Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, mother of the five Sullivan brothers, and commissioned 30 September 1943, The Sullivans served the Navy until final decommissioning on 7 January 1965. In 1977, the destroyer was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park. The second The Sullivans (DDG-68) was laid down on 14 June 1993 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works Co. and launched on 12 August 1995 sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan. Commissioned on 19 April 1997 at Staten Island, New York under the command of Commander Gerard D. Roncolato, the motto of the ship is “We Stick Together.”

Navy Department Press Release of February 2, 1943

The following letter was sent to Mrs. Sullivan by President Roosevelt when he learned that her five sons were listed as missing in action after the USS Juneau was sunk:

“Dear Mrs. Sullivan:

“The knowledge that your five gallant sons are missing in action, against the enemy, inspired me to write you this personal message. I realize full well there is little I can say to assuage your grief.

“As the Commander in Chief of the Army and the Navy, I want you to know that the entire nation shares your sorrow. I offer you the condolence and gratitude of our country. We, who remain to carry on the fight, must maintain the spirit in the knowledge that such sacrifice is not in vain. The Navy Department has informed me of the expressed desire of your sons; George Thomas, Francis Henry, Joseph Eugene, Madison Abel, and Albert Leo, to serve on the same ship. I am sure, that we all take pride in the knowledge that they fought side by side. As one of your sons wrote, `We will make a team together that can’t be beat.’ It is this spirit which in the end must triumph.

“Last March, you, Mrs. Sullivan, were designated to sponsor a ship of the Navy in recognition of your patriotism and that of your sons. I am to understand that you are, now, even more determined to carry on as sponsorer. This evidence of unselfishness and courage serves as a real inspiration for me, as I am sure it will for all Americans. Such acts of fate and fortitude in the face of tragedy convince me of the indomitable spirit and will of our people.

“I send you my deepest sympathy in your hour of trial and pray that in Almighty God you will find a comfort and help that only He can bring.

Very sincerely yours,

“/s/ Franklin D. Roosevelt”

Hug your mom if you can. Happy Mother’s Day.


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