On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked, over 2,400 Americans lost their lives. America entered World War II, and Genevieve Sullivan lost her boyfriend, Bill Ball. On January 3, 1942, to avenge Bill’s death, George, Frank, Matt, Al, and Joe Sullivan enlisted in the US Navy, with the understanding that the five brothers would be allowed to serve together. The siblings went through training and were finally assigned to the USS Juneau, which was later engaged in the Guadalcanal Campaign. On November 13th, only ten months after the brothers had enlisted, their light cruiser was struck by a Japanese torpedo, and survived. As the ship and its crew headed to a new location, it was struck again, but this time the ship exploded and sank quickly. Joe, Matt, and Frank died instantly. Al died the next day and George, a few days after that.
It is because of the Sullivan brothers, and men and women like them, that we set aside one day a year, Memorial Day, to honor their ultimate sacrifice.
A Time to Remember
Originally referred to as Decoration Day, the practice of visiting graves of fallen soldiers and placing flowers on them dates back to the War Between the States. The original date and location of an established “Decoration Day” has not been settled but on May 5, 1868, General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, designated “the 30th of May” as the official Decoration Day. It was said that this day was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. The title of Memorial Day was first officially used in 1882, but it was not declared a Federal holiday until 1967. On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May.
While many older Americans still recognize Memorial Day as a day of remembering those who gave their lives in service of the country, younger generations see it as the first official day of summer, the running of the Indianapolis 500, and the opening of city swimming pools.
Field of Dreams
In 1915, Moina Michael, having read the poem “In Flanders Fields,” was inspired to pin a red poppy on her jacket in honor of those who died in battle. She sold poppies to her friends and family, encouraging them to honor the fallen as well, and used the money to support servicemen in need. The idea spread and soon artificial poppies were made and the money used to benefit war orphans. In 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) joined Ms. Michael and soon the concept spread.
After WWII began, Boyd, LeRoy, Clyde, Rolon, and Rulon Borgstrom were drafted into the military. Although they served in separate units, within a short period of time, Clyde was killed while clearing an airstrip, LeRoy was killed in Italy, Rolon died in a bombing raid in Germany, and Rulon died in France. Their parents, Alben and Gunda, petitioned to bring their only surviving son, Boyd, home, before it was too late. Boyd was found and returned home and discharged by special order. The film, Saving Private Ryan, was loosely based on their story.
Because of the ultimate sacrifice of the Sullivans, Borgstroms, and many other families, in 1948 the Sole Survivor Policy was enacted, designed to “protect members of a family from the draft or from combat duty if they have already lost family members in military service.”
At the Appointed Time
On Memorial Day, as hot dogs and steaks are grilled and children swim, Americans are encouraged to stop their activities at 3:00 p.m. and remember families like the Sullivans and the Borgstroms. Wear a red poppy, remember the fallen, and take time to tell the next generation about the brave men and women that sacrificed their lives for ours.