Throughout a Navy career, worlds often collide in surprising ways. Occasionally, paths cross in a manner that is truly amazing. I recently experienced an astonishing twist of fate at the Navy Recruit Training Command.
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Lt. Cmdr. Blue (pictured as a Lieutenant) was the navigator on board the Juneau.
In March 2015, I was attending the Navy Leadership and Ethics Course in Newport, Rhode Island, in preparation for an upcoming assignment as a Commanding Officer. The course includes a trip to Naval Station Great Lakes to visit the Navy Recruit Training Command (NRTC) so that COs understand how recruits are turned into Sailors. And more importantly, to understand that America’s parents are entrusting their daughters and sons to the Navy’s care and leadership.
The first event was dinner with recruits who recently completed the eight week boot camp, and were to graduate the next morning. We remained spread throughout the mess hall as recruits sat down to eat around us. Nervously, they answered our questions. Some even asked a question or two. This was the first meal in eight weeks at which they were allowed to talk.
During the meal, I spotted a shipmate from a previous tour at the Pentagon. He is now the Commanding Officer of the NRTC, and I went to talk with him. He was surprised to see me, and talked about the job and all the challenges that come with transforming young Americans into Sailors.
He then pointed out a civilian talking with the recruits, and mentioned that she was a school teacher and was there as sponsor of the graduating class. He then said something that immediately snapped my mind to attention … she was the granddaughter of one of the five Sullivan Brothers.
For those not aware, the five Sullivan Brothers were from Waterloo, Iowa. They enlisted in the Navy during World War II, under the condition they could serve together. Navy agreed despite the rules against this, and they ended up together on board the cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52).
Also serving on the Juneau was a relative of mine, Lt. Cmdr. John Stuart Blue, who was the ship’s Navigator. It was not surprising Lt. Cmdr. Blue was in the Navy. His father retired as a Navy Admiral. The destroyer USS Blue was named in the Admiral’s honor, and was the only ship to get underway from Pearl Harbor during the attack. Early in the Guadalcanal campaign, the USS Blue was damaged by Japanese torpedoes and scuttled.
The Juneau also joined the fight off Guadalcanal. Just after midnight on November 13, 1943, the Juneau was struck by multiple Japanese torpedoes. The mighty ship exploded and sank in seconds. Of the nearly 700 crew members, most died in the explosion and subsequent sinking. Some survived, only to perish in the sea. Ultimately just ten crewmembers were rescued.
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Capt. Harry Thetford and Kelly Sullivan at the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois. Both are
relatives of Sailors who died on board the USS Juneau during World War II.
The five Sullivan Brothers and Lt. Cmdr. Blue all perished.
The Sullivan and Blue families were about to be reunited nearly 72 years later on March 19, 2015, at Naval Station Great Lakes…the same place the five Sullivan Brothers attended boot camp.
I approached Kelly Sullivan, who was busy talking to recruits and congratulating them. I told her the story of Lt. Cmdr. Blue. We instantly became siblings, bonded by the blood of family sacrifice in support of our Nation.
The Sullivan Brothers are honored by the USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), a destroyer home ported in Mayport, Florida. Lt. Cmdr. Blue was honored by the USS Blue (DD 744), which was decommissioned in 1974.
The Sullivan Brothers are also honored today by the selfless service of Kelly Sullivan and her work with Navy recruits.
To top it off, there were two Navy Admirals there that night for the graduation. Incredibly, both Vice Adm. Dixon Smith and Rear Adm. Richard Brown were previous Commanding Officers of the USS The Sullivans. You can’t make this stuff up!
This chance meeting made the trip to RTC much more rewarding. My heart swelled with pride as the recruits marched in to graduate, witnessed by a large crowd of family and military members. I could imagine the Sullivan Brothers and John Stuart Blue smiling up above; comfortable that their legacy lives on and that the future of our Nation’s Navy is in good hands.
By Capt. Harry Thetford, SC, USN, Commander, DLA Distribution