I don’t know if I believe in ghosts but I believe in a good ghost story.  Even though I’ve mostly moved towards digital reading, I still visit a bookstore from time to time.  When there, I often look through the bargain book section and recently I happened upon a book published by West Side Publishing, a division of Publications International Ltd entitled

Armchair Reader Haunted America

It being October, the month for all things Halloween, I bought the book.  Under the plan to share some of the stories with my followers, the book has many stories I heard before.   This is my fourth story from this book:

Haunted Prisons

Ghostly New York

Winchester Mystery House

Haunted Destroyer – The Five Sullivan Brothers

Many of you may know that Steven Spielberg was inspired by the story of the five Sullivan brothers to make his epic film, Saving Private Ryan (1998).  In the aftermath of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served together on the light cruiser, USS Juneau.  Their names were George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan.  Their story is tragic because in November 1942, the Juneau was sunk by a Japanese submarine and all five men perished.  There story is also immortalized in a the movie The Fighting Sullivans (1944).


In 1943, the U.S. Navy honored the Sullivans by naming a destroyer after them, USS the Sullivans.  The ship served during the rest of World War II, the Korean War and other engagements afterwards.  After it was decommissioned in 1965, no one wanted to maintain and clean the ship as the spirits of the Sullivan brothers were apparently haunting the ship.


The Haunting Begins

Not active while the destroyer was still on active duty, but the ghosts made themselves known when the ship was retired.  What did the workers see and hear?  The workers on the Sullivan at its retirement reported seeing flying objects, weird sounds and terrifying moans.  They witnessed fleeting glimpses of young men dressed in World War II-era naval uniforms.  An electrician’s mate refuse to come aboard on Friday the 13th as he claimed the last time he was on board on that date, an unseen hand had reached out from the bulkhead, grabbed him by the ankle and tripped him. (Did he just want a Friday off of work? :))

After the Friday the 13th story became known, others felt it was safe to come forward with their frightening stories.  Here are what was reported:

  • A toolbox snatched out of the hands of another electrician’s mate by an unseen hand.
  • Five glowing spheres passing in a darkened hallway.
  • Chills and a sense of dread upon boarding the ship.
  • A skeptic had trouble breathing and buzzing in his ears after boarding.
  • Most of the reported events occurred while the ship was docked in Philadelphia but when it was relocated, the activity slowed dramatically.

A Museum

In 1977, the USS Sullivan was donated to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park (Buffalo, New York).  In 1986, the ship was designated as a National Historical Landmark.  http://www.buffalonavalpark.org/index.html

The story of the five Sullivan brothers and their deaths led to immediate policy changes within the U.S. Navy regarding family members serving together.  The story of the haunting is not well known outside the small group of people who worked on board and experienced the spirits of George, Francis (Frank), Joseph (Red), Madison (Matt) and Albert (Al) Sullivan.



9 responses

  1. Some peoples imaginations run wild, and then once a story becomes known it then fuels the fire as people then expect to see things.
    Cool story and interesting about the five brothers all perishing, I knew SPR was based on that loosely but didn’t know the connection.


  2. gpcox says:

    I was very young when I first saw this movie and went to my father to ask if it was actually a true story. It was one story that has stayed with me to this day. How awful that it took the loss of 5 brothers to create change.


    • Apparently my paternal grandmother used to speak about the Sullivan story in reference to her 5 boys all serving in the war. Of course they all survived and didn’t serve together. I think my dad and his twin had been in some of the same theater on separate ships though.


  3. […] Haunted Destroyer – The Five Sullivan Brothers […]


  4. I’m spending the night on this ship this weekend, with a bunch of cub scouts. IF I see anything, I’ll report back, but I’m was most people would consider a skeptic.