116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It's all hands on deck to keep the USS The Sullivans from sinking.
Kelly Sullivan, the granddaughter and grandniece of the five Waterloo brothers killed while serving in the Navy during World War II, was at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday to lend her support at the launching of a $1 million fundraising campaign. The money will be used to keep the 78-year-old decommissioned ship from sinking at its dock in Buffalo's inner harbor.
'I was 5 years old the first time I went to Buffalo with my dad, Jim, and mom, and it was a huge event when the ship was brought here. Buffalo has a special place in my heart, and I remember vividly being here,' she recalled.
The USS The Sullivans, a Fletcher-Class destroyer, was named in honor of the Waterloo brothers and saw action in World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War. For many years, Kelly Sullivan has attended reunions held by sailors who served on the ship and their families.
The Sullivan brothers — Albert, George, Francis, Joseph and Madison — were killed in action when their light cruiser USS Juneau was struck by a torpedo and sank in the South Pacific around Nov. 13, 1942, during the Battle of Guadalcanal. It was the greatest military loss suffered by any single American family during World War II. Albert is Kelly Sullivan's grandfather.
A major attraction at the military park, the USS The Sullivans needs permanent repairs to its hull beneath the water line damaged by years of severe winter weather. The vessel had been taking on water and listing to port before emergency repairs began earlier this month.
'This ship is an artifact and a big part of American history we don't want to lose. It's not just about my family losing five boys, but the sacrifice all veterans have made for this country,' said Kelly Sullivan, a third-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Cedar Falls.
Originally, the ship was laid down in 1942 as the Putnam, but was renamed Sullivan. President Franklin Roosevelt then changed the name to Sullivans to honor all five brothers.
The ship was christened in 1943 by their mother, Alleta Sullivan, and it is a National Historic Landmark.
'I think so much about her and how she felt when she christened the ship, which was only two months after she found out that all five of her boys were gone,' said Kelly Sullivan, who christened a second ship named for the Sullivans, a guided missile destroyer, in 1995.
Between $75,000 and $100,000 was raised at the St. Patrick's Day benefit, said Paul Marzello, president and chief executive officer for the Buffalo Naval Park, the largest inland naval park in the country.
So far, an additional $15,000 has been donated by the public at savethesullivans.org.
The invitation-only fundraiser took place on the ship's fantail.
Marzello said the USS The Sullivans was never meant to last more than 20 to 25 years with its thin steel hull. 'It was made to be a fast, maneuverable ship. She's lasted three times longer than she was made for,' and keeping her in good condition to be a floating museum piece and educational tool is a paramount concern.'
Staff noticed the ship listing this winter. About 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of water had poured into the engineer's room through a series of pin holes below the water line.
Emergency repairs to keep her afloat cost $100,000.
'A full bow-to-stern survey of the ship's hull was conducted and an engineered plan developed for the necessary repairs. It involves applying a two-part epoxy coating to the entire hull below the waterline and the installation of a cathodic protection system that will prevent further corrosion,' Marzello said.
Officials estimate the total cost at $1 million. Marzello said repairs will be made with the vessel in the water at the park. 'Taking the ship out of water and moving it to the nearest dry dock, which in our area the closest is Cleveland, I don't think the ship could withstand the pressure of being hauled there by a tug. Plus, the cost would be $4 or $5 million,' he said.
The park was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in the last year, seeing revenue from the park, gift shop and restaurant fall 87 percent because of closures and cancellations.