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LEFT TO DIE

Left to Die
The Five Sullivan Bros., who died together in 1942 with nearly 700 shipmates.

Left To Die
Produced, Written & Directed by Kenneth A. Simon

Broadcast Premiere: 1995
PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Printer-Friendly Version    

OPEN

NARRATOR: On Friday, November 13, 1942, the cruiser USS Juneau disintegrated when hit by a Japanese torpedo just hours after surviving a vicious World War II sea battle.

Most of its 700-man crew were instantly killed.

But 140 were thrown alive into the angry waters off Guadalcanal. Only 10 ultimately survived.

 The Navy glorified the crew’s heroic deaths. But the scandalous story of how the Juneau crew was left to die is a heartbreaking tragedy of American military errors

TITLE: LEFT TO DIE: THE TRAGEDY OF THE USS JUNEAU

JAMES SULLIVAN (Son of Albert Sullivan): This is a picture of the five Sullivan Brothers -- my father and my four uncles.  They all served together in the Navy on the USS Juneau.

And this is Joe, my Dad Al, George, Frank and Matt.  They were known as the "Fighting Sullivans"

NARRATOR: Thomas and Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, were destined to suffer an unprecedented loss in battle of five sons.

NEWSREEL
“Dad, our boys did not die in vain.”

SULLIVAN: My grandfather was a brakeman on the Illinois Central Railroad. They were your typical Irish Catholic family.  The boys liked to get in trouble a little bit, but they didn't get in any bad trouble.

My dad, he was the youngest.  He was 19 and he was the only one that was married at the time.

Their motto, "We stick together" was true from the time they were little kids.

NARRATOR: After the December 1941 surprise Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the Sullivan Brothers decided to join up together, but only if they could serve on the same ship. 

SULLIVAN: Initially, the Navy had reservations about them serving together on the same ship, but George wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy and that's how they got permission to all be on the same ship together

NARRATOR: The Navy needed men and this would make great headlines and boost recruiting efforts. 

NEWSREEL 
NAVY GETS A SHIP A MINUTE

Record ship building! Four months ahead of schedule and already in war paint, the 6,000-ton light cruiser Juneau is commissioned at an eastern port. The fighter’s crew is a family affair. The four Rogers brothers come from Bridgeport, Connecticut. The five fighting Sullivan brothers hail from Waterloo, Iowa. They’ll all ship aboard the Juneau!

JAMES ROGERS (USS Juneau Crew): After we were on there we had to meet them, so we went and all got together and we couldn’t get over it -- five of them and four of us. It was really something.

NARRATOR: Connecticut’s four Rogers brothers were all expert boxers, encouraged to do so when they were very young by their father, a reformed mobster and bootlegger.

ROGERS: We were very, very close. We let them know in boot camp, that we wanted to stay together.

When we went aboard the ship we said "oh this is a beauty, brand new."  And it was fast and it had depth charges, torpedo tubes and all kinds of anti aircraft guns.

ORREL CECIL (USS Juneau Crew): She was commissioned on Valentine's Day of 1942.

We had an extraordinary amount of ammunition and of course being a fast ship, why she had more fuel as well .

LESTER ZOOK (USS Juneau Crew): She was thin-skinned so she was gullible when it'd come to torpedoes or anything like that or even bombs hitting her.  And that was the captain's initial worry all the way.

NARRATOR: Capt. Lyman Swenson was proud of his sleek new ship, but he was deeply concerned about the safety of its crew.

DAN KURZMANN (Author, Left to Die): Captain Swenson was greatly loved by his men and he really loved his men and the one reason is because he had a terrible a- situation in his family life.

NARRATOR: Swenson’s naval career had stalled because of a nasty 1920s divorce and false accusations of family abuse. Finally, after years of loyal service, the Navy gave him command of the Juneau.

ROBERT SWENSEN (Son of Lyman Swenson): His pride was best demonstrated by his -- on a shakedown cruise, he made it a point to call at Annapolis when I was there.  And he anchored the ship and invited me aboard of course.

That was on my mother's birthday and he gave me a pair of cuff links that the Australian Navy had given him in 1925. That was the last time I saw him was April 9, 1942.

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