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    [Sullivan Brothers] Naval Archive Relating to the Commemoration of the Deaths of the Sullivan Brothers, the Inspiration for Saving Private Ryan. Comprising twelve items: an autograph letter signed from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan; typed letters signed from Admirals William "Bull" Halsey, William D. Leahy, and Ben Moreell, and autograph letter signed from Admiral H.E. Yarnell, to Iowa senator Guy Gillette; three additional typed letters signed from The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and AMVETS officials; mimeographed program; two gelatin silver prints; poster. Mostly quarto in size. Dated May-June 1952.

    A who's who of the United States Navy offers expressions of patriotic support- and invokes American heroism and sacrifice from the Revolution to the Civil War to World War II- on the occasion of the "Sullivan Brothers Dedication Ceremonies" of June 12, 1952. The event commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the loss of the five brothers, who died in the sinking of the U.S.S. Juneau during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The brothers' tragic fate led to the enactment of the Sole Survivor Policy, engendered innumerable memorials and a 1944 biopic, and served as an inspiration for Steven Spielberg's 1998 Oscar-winning film, Saving Private Ryan. The archive is accompanied by the iconic wartime poster "They Did Their Part," which pictures the brothers aboard the Juneau.

    Condition: Light toning.

    More Information:


    The prompt response of your five sons to the call to the Colors in World War II... is reminiscent of similar patriotism of the five O 'Brien boys in the first naval action in our history... in April 1775, shortly after the battle of Lexington. ... Here was established a patriotic tradition which your five sons have bravely carried on. When their Country needed their help they promptly gave their services - and, unfortunately, their lives.

    C. W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, U.S. Navy


    I was the Commander of the South Pacific at the time the U.S.S. Juneau was lost and, of course, I feel the loss of the ship and its five fine men very keenly. I do not know of any case in the history of the Navy where five brothers have all gone down to heroic deaths the way these men did.

    W. F. Halsey [Fleet Admiral U.S. Navy] 


    The commemoration ... in the form of a permanent memorial in the Nation's Capitol is indeed fitting as is our gallant destroyer THE SULLIVANS (DD 537) which serves as a constant reminder to our Navy of the many sacrifice made by the people of this country in their quest for Peace in a Free World. May the FIVE SULLIVAN TREES serve as a similar reminder for the future generations of our home land.

    William D. Leahy, [Fleet Admiral, U.S. Navy]


    The sacrifice made by Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan constitutes a shrine at which all of us for whom they died can renew our devotion to our God, our country and those principles of freedom and equity by which we Americans live.          

    Ben Moreell [Admiral, U.S. Navy]


    [T]hese gallant young men ... typify the spirit of our young men who during and since the Civil War have lived up to the noblest traditions of patriotism and gave the supreme sacrifice.

    H.E. Yarnell [Admiral (ret.), U.S. Navy]


    I pray that the trees which are to be planted in their memory during this ceremony will be a constant reminder, not only of their supreme sacrifice for their country, but of the devotion of Americans to their families and the true brotherly love that prompted these five to prefer to serve and die together.

    Donald R. Wilson National Commander [The American Legion]


    Historical Background:

    The five Sullivan brothers were all killed in action when the cruiser on which they were serving, the USS Juneau, was sunk on November 13, 1942. An exception to the policy of sons from the same family serving together had been made for the brothers, who were determined to fight together. The subsequent correspondence between their mother, trying to find out what happened to her sons, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt is housed in the National Archives. Their loss served as a sentimental patriotic rallying symbol for the nation, and was made into a wartime movie "The Fighting Sullivans." They are currently commemorated by the Sullivan Veterans Museum in Iowa, and the decommissioned USS Sullivans, now stationed at the Buffalo and Erie Naval Historical Park, New York. In 2005, cuttings were taken from the five crab-apple trees planted in their honor at the June 12, 1952 ceremony in Washington, D.C. These were grown at the U.S. Botanic Garden, and then replanted on the north oval lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The "Sullivan Brothers Memorial Trees" are currently overseen by the office of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol.


    The Sullivan Brothers, George (b. 1914), Frank (b. 1916), Joe (b. 1918), Matt (b. 1919), and Al (b. 1922), of Waterloo, Iowa enlisted in the U.S. Navy after learning of the death of their sister's boyfriend in the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After asking to be stationed together, all five men were assigned to the USS Juneau. On November 13, 1942, during the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, their ship was hit by two torpedoes from Japanese submarines. Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly; Al and George died awaiting rescue. When their parents learned of their fate, they actively campaigned for the war effort, asking that their sons' deaths not be in vain. The brothers were awarded posthumous Purple Hearts. Their guiding maxim, "We stick together," became the motto for the two U.S. destroyers named in their honor, The Sullivans (DD-537) and The Sullivans (DDG-68).   


    Only four men have ever held the rank of fleet admiral in the U.S. Navy; three of them are represented in this archive: Chester W. Nimitz (1885-1966) rose through the ranks of the U.S. Navy from ensign (1907) to fleet admiral (1944). During the Second World War, he served as commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and commander in chief, Pacific Ocean Areas. Nimitz was considered the military's leading authority on submarines. William "Bull" Halsey (1882-1959), like Nimitz rose from ensign (1906) to fleet admiral (1945) in the U.S. Navy. As commander of the South Pacific Area, Halsey led Allied forces during the Guadalcanal and Solomon Island campaigns. He was made commander of the Third Fleet in 1943. William D. Leahy (1875-1959) began his career as an ensign in 1899 and became the first U.S. fleet admiral in 1944. He was the senior-most U.S. military officer during WWII, serving as the president's personal chief of staff and as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under both FDR and Truman. Ben Moreell (1892-1978), a four-star admiral, served as chief of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Yards and Docks and of the Civil Engineer Corps. A brilliant naval engineer, Moreell is known as the "Father of the Seabees." Harry E. Yarnell, also a four-star admiral, served the U.S. Navy in the Spanish-American War, and the First and Second World Wars. In a 1932 war games exercise dubbed "Fleet Problem 13," Yarnell revealed American vulnerability to a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His findings were dismissed, with calamitous results.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2016
    19th Wednesday
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