Fighting Sullivans’ story comes to St. Linus School
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org January 30, 2013 10:53PM
Harrison Morg, center, a student at St. Linus School, skypes with Kelly Sullivan Loughren during a class project at the school in Oak Lawn, IL on Wednesday January 30, 2013. Kelly, a teacher from Iowa, is the granddaughter of Albert Sullivan, one of the Fighting Sullivan's, the five brothers from one family who died together on ship in WWII. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 2, 2013 11:35AM
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, a group of fifth-graders in Oak Lawn talked Wednesday with a woman in Iowa whose grandfather was part of one of the most famous families in American military history.
Students at St. Linus School, 10400 S. Lawler Ave., used Skype to talk with Kelly Sullivan Loughren from her home in Waterloo, Iowa.
Skype allows users to communicate via the Internet with a microphone, webcam and instant messaging, which enabled the students to talk with Sullivan Loughren about her famous relatives. They were joined by Principal Michael Stritch, the reason they became interested in the Sullivans’ story.
In December, Stritch told the students about Pearl Harbor. That led to his telling them about the Sullivans, a topic that’s fascinated him since childhood.
The five Sullivan brothers all died after their ship was torpedoed during World War II. As a boy, Stritch heard the story from his father. Eventually, the Stritch family made it a tradition to watch the 1944 movie “The Fighting Sullivans” every year.
“My dad was insistent we watch that movie because he felt it was important we understand the sacrifices families have made,” Stritch said. “It was mandatory. The Sullivan family has been in my family for 50 years.”
St. Linus students watched the movie, which got them more interested in the story. That led Stritch, 65, to find Sullivan Loughren via an Internet search. A few emails and a couple of phone calls later, they arranged Wednesday’s event.
While the students learned more about the Fighting Sullivans, Sullivan Loughren — who teaches third-graders in Iowa — enjoyed answering their questions.
Her grandfather, Albert, was one of the five brothers who tragically died in 1942 when the USS Juneau was hit by a Japanese torpedo in the South Pacific. Albert’s four older brothers, Joe, Francis, Madison and George, also perished.
Harrison Morg, 10, of Palos Heights, was impressed hearing the story from a Sullivan family member but thought he had made a mistake by asking Sullivan Loughren her age.
“I thought I was being given a detention,” Harrison said after he was sent to the library to chat with a reporter.
Sullivan Loughren, 41, was not offended and thought Morg “was cute.”
“I teased him about it, and told him when you get older, you can’t ask a lady her age,” she said.
Samantha Davidson, 10, of Oak Lawn, who has three sisters, said she couldn’t imagine going through the pain the Sullivans’ parents must have endured.
“I wouldn’t want to live without them,” Samantha said of her siblings.
Despite losing five boys in the prime of life, ages 20 to 27, the Sullivan family endured. The parents toured the country selling war bonds, and Genevieve Sullivan, the sister of the five boys, joined the Navy Waves, Sullivan Loughren said.
Sullivan Loughren is the family spokeswoman and said, “People still enjoy hearing the story. They were a very normal Irish-Catholic family from Iowa and a very patriotic family. People looked up to them for the way they handled themselves after the boys were killed. They felt the need to do their part. ... They said the boys had not died in vain.”
Erin Gilmartin, 10, of Oak Lawn, said she learned “that the military people on the boats are like family to (Sullivan Loughren).”
Erin is interested in learning more about World War II and may read some books.
Harrison will not.
“I’m more interested in the war,” he said, “but not the reading part. I’m not a very big reader.”
The students are interested in visiting the $11.5 million Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, which opened in 2008 in Waterloo.
“It tells their story and those of other Iowa veterans, too,” Sullivan Loughren said.
Unable to teach Wednesday because of a snowstorm in Iowa, Sullivan Loughren is thinking of spring break, when she plans to head to Jacksonville, Fla,, and visit the USS The Sullivans — the only ship in the Navy with a plural name.