Paul Gardner Allen is an American business magnate, investor and philanthropist who besides being the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation is the founder and Chairman of Seattle based Vulcan Inc. Which is the catalyst behind Allen’s network of organizations and initiatives that drives his various business and philanthropic efforts, and he has a multibillion-dollar investment portfolio including technology and media companies, real estate holdings, and stakes in other companies. As well he owns two professional sports teams, the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL and the Portland Trail Blazers of NBA and is part-owner of the Seattle Sounders FC, which joined Major League Soccer in 2009. Additionally, He is the founder of Allen Institute for Brain Science, Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Institute for Cell Science, and Stratolaunch Systems.
His latest accomplishment in the domain of underwater exploration is the discovery of two renowned shipwrecks the USS Juneau and USS Lexington both sunk in the South Pacific in 1942 during historical WWII naval battles between the United States and the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Allen has led a series of successful expeditions recently in search of lost warships, including the discovery of the Lexington earlier this March. And finding the USS Juneau is particularly resonant due to the enduring curiosity around the tragic legacy of the Sullivans.
On this past St. Patrick’s Day, Allen’s research vessel Petrel discovered the wreck of the USS Juneau, which went down in the Battle of Guadalcanal with the loss of 687 men including the five brothers Sullivan. They were all of the same tight knit Irish-Catholic family that hailed from Waterloo Iowa and who had enlisted together in the U.S. Navy on the condition that they all are permitted to serve on the same ship.
The loss of the Sullivan brothers became a rallying cry for the US war effort and the Library of Congress documents a widely distributed government poster depicting the five sailor siblings with the message, “They did their part.” Moreover, they are now part of Navy lore and have had two USN ships named for them, first the now decommissioned Fletcher Class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537) and later the Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer (DDG-68) USS The Sullivans bears their name. These were the first American navy ships ever to be named after more than a single person. The motto for both ships was the very motto of the Sullivan brothers, “We stick together.”
The Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) first identified the Juneau utilizing side scan sonar on March 17. And, after analysis of the sonar data, the Petrel crew deployed their remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) on March 18 to verify the identity of the wreckage.
The deaths of the five Sullivan brothers were unimaginable at the time and so horrifying that the U.S. War Department adopted “The Sole Survivor Policy” to prevent it from ever reoccurring. Officially, DoD Directive 1315.15 “Special Separation Policies for Survivorship” it describes a set of regulations in the U.S. military that are designed to protect members of a family from the draft or from combat duty if they have already lost family members in military service. The policy was enacted as law in 1948. However, no nominally peacetime type of restriction was in ever in place until 1964 during the Vietnam War when in 1971, Congress amended the law to include not only the sole surviving son or daughter but also any son or daughter who had a combat-related death in the family. The five brothers were; George Thomas Sullivan, 27, Gunner’s Mate Second Class; Francis “Frank” Henry Sullivan, 25, Coxswain; Joseph “Joe” Eugene Sullivan, 23, Seaman Second Class; Madison “Matt” Abel Sullivan, 22, Seaman Second Class; and Albert “Al” Leo Sullivan, 19, Seaman Second Class.
The Juneau had successfully fought in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Battle of Guadalcanal. Then, during an engagement with Japanese forces on November 13, 1942, it was struck by a torpedo and seriously damaged. Consequently, she broke off the fight and headed towards Espirito Santo in south-eastern Brazil for repairs. However, during her retreat, a Japanese submarine torpedoed her a second time and the munition struck on her port side cutting the ship in half and she sank quickly, killing most of those on board immediately. Owing to the risk from the enemy submarine being in the area the other units of Juneau’s task force couldn’t risk staying on station to search for survivors. Even though approximately 115 of the Juneau crew had reportedly survived the initial explosion and the sinking including two of the five Sullivan brothers. So, it wasn’t until eight days later that the ten survivors remaining were retrieved from the water, and they reported that Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days.
Afterwards, Al Sullivan’s son, James, served on board the first USS The Sullivans, and his grandmother christened the first ship. The second USS The Sullivans was christened by Al’s granddaughter Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren. The brother’s parents Thomas and Alleta Sullivan toured the country supporting war bonds requesting that the public honor the memory of their sons. However, the grief overwhelmed Thomas and he died in 1947 a broken man.
The brothers’ story has been depicted via pop culture first with a filmed as the 1944 movie The Sullivans, later renamed The Fighting Sullivans, and their story inspired the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. That movie was also inspired in part by the story of the Niland Brothers where one of those brothers was returned home under the Sole Survivor Policy. Too, one of the biggest hits by the rock band Caroline’s Spine is entitled “Sullivan”, a song about the grief of the mother of the Sullivan brothers; lyrically, it focuses on Mrs. Sullivan’s communication both with her sons and the military.
Additionally, the brothers’ hometown of Waterloo, Iowa has a convention center named “The Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center”, and has renamed a street, and also has a public park in their honor. The park is on the location of their childhood home. As well, the brothers have an elementary school in Yokosuka, Japan named in their honor.
The Sullivans were not the only brother sailors on board the Juneau, as there were at least thirty pairs of brothers including the four Rogers brothers from New Haven, Connecticut. Before the ill-fated Solomon Islands operation, two of the Rogers were transferred to other commands. According to those who survived, had the ship returned to port safely at least two Sullivans would have also transferred off too.
Over the past three years, Paul Allen’s Petrel has also found the USS Lexington, USS Indianapolis, USS Ward, USS Astoria, the Japanese battleship Musashi and the Italian destroyer Artigliere. The Allen-led team also recovered the ship’s bell from the ill-fated HMS Hood for presentation to the Royal Navy.
Prior to finding the Juneau, Allen’s team discovered the wreck of the famed Aircraft carrier USS Lexington also sunk during World War II in the Coral Sea. The wreckage was found on March 4, 2018 again by the team’s research vessel, the RV Petrel at 10,560 feet below the sea surface and 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia.
The search team released pictures and video of the Lexington, one of the first ever built USN aircraft carriers, along with some of the planes which went down with the ship. The remarkably preserved aircraft can be seen on the seabed bearing the five-pointed star insignia of the US Army Air Forces on their wings and fuselage. One aircraft had an emblem of the cartoon character Felix the Cat along with four miniature Japanese flags depicting “kills.” Pictures and video released also portray parts of the ship, including a name-plate, and anti-aircraft guns now covered over with sea slime.
The USS Lexington CV-2 and another renowned USN aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown CV-10, engaged with three Japanese Navy aircraft carriers from May 4-8, 1942 in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first ever naval battle between aircraft carriers.
The USS Lexington was carrying 35 aircraft when it went down, and the search team reported that 11 planes had been found including Douglas TBD-1 Devastators, Douglas SBD-3 Dauntlessness’ and Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats. They said that Lexington was on their priority list because she was one of the capital ships that was lost during WWII. Also, that based on geography, time of year and other factors, they had been planning to locate the Lexington for about six months and it all came together nicely.
USS Lexington (CV-2), nicknamed “Lady Lex”, was an early aircraft carrier built for the United States Navy and she was the lead ship of the Lexington class; her only sister ship, Saratoga, was commissioned a month ahead of her. Originally designed as a battlecruiser, she was converted into one of the Navy’s first aircraft carriers during construction to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, a treaty among the major nations that had won World War I, which agreed to prevent an arms race by limiting naval construction and that which essentially terminated all new battleship and battlecruiser construction. The ship entered service in 1928 and was assigned to the Pacific Fleet for her entire career.
Lexington was at sea during the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and was ferrying fighter aircraft to Midway Island. However, her mission was cancelled and she returned to Pearl Harbor a week later. After a few days in port, she was sent to create a diversion from the force en route to relieve the besieged Wake Island garrison by attacking Japanese installations in the Marshall Islands. Though the island surrendered before the relief force got close enough, and the mission was cancelled.
Subsequently, Lexington returned to Pearl briefly to be refitted then rendezvoused with Yorktown in the Coral Sea in early May. Then, A few days afterwards the Japanese began Operation Mo, the invasion of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. The two American carriers attempted to halt the invasion forces and they sank the light aircraft carrier Shōhō on 7 May during the Battle of the Coral Sea but did not encounter the main Japanese force of the carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku until the following day. Subsequently, Aircraft from Lexington and Yorktown badly damaged Shōkaku, but Japanese fighter aircraft attacked and crippled Lexington. A mixture of air and aviation gasoline in her improperly drained aircraft fueling trunk lines which ran from the keel tanks to her hangar deck ignited, causing a series of explosions and fires that quickly blazed out of control. More than 200 members of the crew perished in the battle, but most were rescued by other US vessels prior to the Lexington being sunk. The badly damaged Lexington was intentionally sunk by another US warship at the conclusion of the battle to prevent her from falling into enemy hands.
It’s too soon to know if there will be any attempts to salvage either the Juneau or the Lexington. But, there’s certainly a treasure trough of artifacts trapped within their sunken hulls to entice would be deep sea explorers into to making an attempt.
As for what motivates Mr. Allen and his crew it can be summed up by a statement issued in a news release; “We do these missions as a testament to the brave souls who served on these ships,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Paul Allen, said. “Each ship has a story that touches families and friends of those who perished or survived. It’s gratifying to hear those stories each time we announce a new discovery.”