D D Ď s from
----Determanís cruise diary.
9 July 1945.
The CONKLIN had been escorted from Pearl Harbor back to the United States
by the Sullivan Squadron of 5 destroyers; the USS Miller DD 535, USS Owen DD
536, USS The Sullivans DD 537,
USS Stephen Potter DD 538, and
the USS Tingey DD 539.
The squadron was named for
the 5 Sullivan brothers, Albert, Francis, George, Joseph and Madison, who had
grown up together in Iowa, enlisted in the Navy together in response to the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and had insisted on serving together on the
same ship despite the Navyís reservations.
The brothers were assigned to the cruiser USS JUNEAU CL 32, and in
November of that year the ship was torpedoed and sunk. All 5 brothers were
killed in that battle at Guadalcanal in a story too sad for me to bear to repeat.
Only 10 of the nearly 800 crewmen of the USS JUNEAU survived.
When President Roosevelt heard of the JUNEAU disaster and the fate of the
five brothers, he was profoundly moved. He wrote to their parents that an entire
nation shared their sorrows. The President directed that the next ship to be
commissioned be named the USS THE SULLIVANS, not the more usual ďUSS
SullivanĒ. President Roosevelt wanted the name to capture the essential
ingredient of the story - the commitment and self-sacrifice of a family of
average Americans stirred to great deeds.
That the CONKLIN was escorted home from the war by the
Sullivan Squad is replete with meanings. My Dad would have been 15 and a
sophomore in high school when he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many of
those who became the crew of the CONKLIN were so young then. Imagine, if you
cannot remember, the emotions of young men, and what urges to protect family and
country must have been stirred in their hearts to hear of such an assault. Think
what they saw next, as their fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, and neighbors
changed before their eyes from someone they thought they knew into something
Ernie Pyle writes about it best, this transformation, in his book Brave
Men. Warfare reveals a deep part of a manís soul. A part he knows is
always there, but that the rest of us rarely or never get a chance to see. And I
think that part is his true self, for good or bad, and he knows it.
It is with a sense of wonder that I think about the men I knew as I was
growing up, my relatives and neighbors, and try to imagine these family men who
I remember from summer picnics and Thanksgiving dinners as they must have been
in WWII. There is my Uncle Jimmie Rauch, paint salesman and football fan. I try
to imagine him as a waist-gunner on
a B17 Flying Fortress in North Africa as his plane screams through the air amid
a hail of enemy fire. I think about my gentle Uncle Bob Frank, good father and
husband, now so quiet, and I try to picture him in the middle of bloody chaos as
an infantryman crawling through the mud of Europe, and as witness to hell when
liberating the concentration camps at Dachau. And even now I look at my neighbor
William Hultgren who lives alone with his cat, and who is getting a bit bent and
gray with age. As he walks slowly in the slanting morning sun to get his mail I
wonder what he did to win his Bronze Star at the Battle of the Bulge. He wonít
I think about these things and I am jealous. And sad. Because I realize
that I could know these men, or my Dad, for decades and still at some level
never understand them as well as I would if I had spent one week with them in
combat in WWII.
Something deep in Thomas and Alletaís five boys responded too, when
their close friend was killed on
the USS ARIZONA during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Sullivan brothers became
instantly famous when they enlisted together, and they appeared in movie house
newsreels and papers nationwide, including my Dadís hometown of Pittsburgh. I
know this because a young woman from Pittsburgh, Margaret Jaros, wrote to one of
the brothers, Joseph ďRedĒ Sullivan, when she saw his picture in the
newspaper. He answered her letter, and they corresponded frequently after that.
In May of that year, 1942, JUNEAU shipmate Bob McCann headed home to Pittsburgh
on liberty, and Red, with his brother Francis Sullivan came along. Red paid a
call on Margaret, and after a brief courtship they became engaged.
Iím sure, then, that the boys of my Dadís parochial high school in
Pittsburgh, almost all of them poor and Irish Catholic, were very aware of the
Sullivan brothers who were so much like themselves. They must have had a special
bond to them, seen them as symbols of who they were and who they hoped to be.
What happened in the hearts of my Dad, Uncle Jimmie and all of boys of
North Catholic high school of Pittsburgh, in the hearts of all the young boys of
that generation, when they learned at the end of 1942 that the JUNEAU had been
sunk and all five Sullivan brothers had been killed in the battle for Guadacanal?
There had to be a wave of horror and fear at this terrible news. But you already
know what they did. They enlisted. My father even
enlisted prematurely, ďduring his minorityĒ. And since most of the
crew of the CONKLIN were young men his age, who had only turned old enough to
enlist in mid-war, they must have been influenced by the sacrifice of the
Sullivan brothers too.
Many years later, my Dadís life would be touched indirectly by the
Sullivan brothers again. Long after the war, two of my fatherís close friends
would be Mr. and Mrs. Bill Dietrich. Mrs. ďAngieĒ Dietrich had been born
Angeline Caracciolo in Galeton, Pennsylvania. Her brother, Anthony ďTonyĒ
Carracciolo F1c was lost on the USS JUNEAU along with the Sullivan brothers.
Tears will still come to Angieís eyes when she speaks of her brother, and not
long ago she traveled half way across the world to place a wreath on the waters
where Tony died. There is no sense of time in the heart. There is no past. It is
May I also here tell the young and foolish who belabor under such
illusions of past and present that the brave, handsome, innocent, muscular,
strong, funny, frightened, loving, determined young men of the CONKLIN are all
still here. When a man ages, the young man does not leave but is merely
added-on-to. We donít loose parts of our soul, we only acquire them. If you
are speaking to a silverhaired grandfather and fail to see the passionate
serviceman within him, it is not because that brave young man has gone, it is
only because of your own failure to evoke him.
So perhaps in some symbolic way the Sullivan brothers that led the young
sailors of the USS CONKLIN DE 439 out to the war also brought them home. When I
try to picture it I see the CONKLIN in her haze gray and black camouflage paint
and battered decks steaming across the huge flat expanse of the Pacific seas,
the waters slate gray and embroidered like swiss lace with small white burst of
sea foam. Around the CONKLIN like guards around a quarterback I see the 5 ships
of the Sullivan Squadron, bright in the morning sunlight. But as quick as I
imagine them, I canít help it, I see the shades of the Sullivan brothers
themselves, so tall they could hold the destroyers in their hands like toys.
Maybe they do. They are wearing their jaunty blue dress uniforms with those
improbable ribbons on their hats, and have that gregarious smile the Irish have
even when they are sober. Especially then, perhaps. Looming over the Sullivan
brothers I see more figures. These figures are incredibly tall. I have the sense
that they are protective, and gentle, but they are so huge that I canít make
them out. I donít think Iím supposed to be able to make them out. Not yet,
anyway. I think they are angels.