Haunted Western New York-The Sullivans

Repost from several years ago. Unfortunately, this is also in my pre-link to source era. As stated in earlier HWY entries-all stories are already established in the public record (i.e. media coverage, Internet discussion) prior to publication unless otherwise noted.

I thought that Memorial Day weekend would be a good day to post this, since the story of the Sullivans has been linked with Memorial Day in my head since I was in high school- my father used to camp out on the couch on Memorial Day watching as many war movies as he could find on AMC.

Since they were playing war movie marathons…that would be a lot.

I have mentioned I’m a Navy brat, right? Both my parents served.

The story of the Sullivan brothers is a fairly tragic one, and one of those horrible stories that destroyed a family but led to other families being spared the same trauma. During World War II, all five of the Sullivan boys enlisted in the Navy. Two of them had already served their tours, but had re-enlisted.

At the time, there was already regulations preventing family from being stationed together but the brothers enlisted with the requirement that they serve on the same tour. At this point of the war, the regulations preventing this type of behavior were not being enforced (I’m not a military historian, but I can imagine that if it meant getting able bodied men on boats, they weren’t going to be picky). All five of the brothers, ranging in age from 19 to 28 were stationed on the USS Juneau, a light cruiser seeing action in the Pacific Theater.

The Juneau was hit during the Battle of Guadalcanal, though she managed to survive the first torpedo hit. She was hit again later the same day near the weapons magazine and went down. It’s speculated that at least 3 of the brothers died at this time. Due to a desire to not  break radio silence, paperwork confusion, and other factors, a search for the approximately 100 survivors left in the water was not mounted until much later- leaving the men to fend off dehydration and sharks.

Eventually 10 survivors were pulled out of the water- but none of the 5 Sullivan brothers made it through the battle. Three were killed in the torpedo hits, one drowned, and the last went insane in the five days between the sinking and the search efforts, eventually going over the side of the life raft.

In an even more tragic twist to the story, the brothers’ family was not notified until 2 months after their deaths. This was due to wartime Naval security measures. However, after their parents were finally notified, the Sullivan brothers were treated as national heroes. After their deaths the Navy developed the sole survivor policy, which obligates that an individual who has lost a child or sibling during wartime actions be exempt from the draft or combat. However, the draft protection only stands during peacetime operations, and the combat exception has to be approved in times of war. This also does not apply to families with only one child.

The Navy would also name two destroyers The Sullivans- the first time a ship was named after more than one person. One of these destroyers is currently docked in the Buffalo Naval Park.

The Fletcher class Destroyer docked in Buffalo is said to be one of the most haunted naval vessels in the United States- it’s often listed with other haunted ships like the Queen Mary. The Sullivans saw action in the Korean war and World War II and most likely saw heavy casaulities. It may be that many of the first hand accounts (and there are many) may be the crew that were lost when the Sullivans was an active Destroyer.

However, at least one of the urban legends surrounding the vessel suggests that one of the most active spirits may be George Sullivan, the last brother to die, searching for his brothers. While I’m not going to say that it’s not possible, since there are two of these ships (the other was sent to Maine), why would he pick this one over the other?

People have reported being touched directly, lights will flicker in areas of the ship with no power, and items will move around seemingly with a mind of their own. At least one story reports that people refused to work on the ship on Friday the 13th because the Sullivans were said to be more active on that day than any other. One of the legends surrounding the ship suggested the entirity of the Battle of Guadalcanal is cursed, and that those who died during and directly after it, including the Sullivans, won’t rest until they are able to clear their Admiral’s name (who has been heavily critized for his actions during said campaign) (it would be interesting to see how this would be done- at least one source I’ve read has said that it would ‘require’ the The Sullivans to see active duty again to reclaim that honor, which seems unlikey for a Destroyer(s) mothballed in the 1970s).


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