“When you get out on the sea with its vast distances, its storms and mists, and with night coming on and all the uncertainties which exist,” Winston Churchill said to the House of Commons in 1940, “you cannot possibly expect that the kind of conditions which would be appropriate to the movements of armies have any application to the haphazard conditions of war at sea.” On the moonless night of November 12th, 1942, in the waters near Guadalcanal, a US Navy task force sent to reinforce and resupply the American ground forces struggling to secure the island, nearly collided with a Japanese naval force on a similar mission. Both sides loosed furious barrages at nearly point blank range; both took heavy losses. The wounded USS Juneau limped on – until a torpedo from a Japanese submarine struck close to its ammunition stores. “The whole ship disappeared in a large cloud of black, yellow black, and brown smoke,” one witness remembered. “It is certain,” another reported, “that all on board perished.” In fact, most of its crewmen were killed – including four of the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, who had insisted on serving together on the same ship. The eldest brother, George, was among the few dozen men who made it into life rafts, but he was not among the ten who survived more than a week of drifting in dangerous seas. The tragic loss of five of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan’s six children in this single engagement focused renewed home-front attention on the battles raging across the world’s oceans.
From World War II: 365 Days, by Margaret E. Wagner