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And off they went . . .

Many families have given the ultimate sacrifice in times of war, and many have lost more than a single family member. Others, return home but "the spectre of war never subsides."


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A recent article in the Canadian Press, "Remembrance Day special for PEI family that saw 10 brothers go to war," recounts the history of Holden Shaw and nine of his brothers from Prince Edward Island who all served in the military in the Second World War. Shaw's daughter, Rosena Frobel, states, "When war came to Europe in 1939, the Shaw patriarch . . . told his sons, 'if a country is worth living in, it's worth fighting for.' And off they went."

The story brought to mind my four older brothers, too young to serve in World War II, but as they grew up, likened themselves to the five Sullivan brothers, all of whom died during the sinking of the USS Juneau, the vessel on which they served together in World War II. My brothers related to the 1944 movie based on the story, The Fighting Sullivans, which depicted the Sullivan's boyhood antics and close knit relationship. In later years, three of my brothers went on to serve in the Navy.

The Juneau, a United States Navy Atlanta-class light cruiser, played an active role in the Battle of Guadalcanal, in November 1942. In that action, the Juneau was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, exploded and sank — only ten crew members survived. Among the many lost were the five Sullivan brothers.

As a direct result of their deaths a Sole Survivor policy was adopted, aimed at limiting family loss, a policy that continues today. The Navy itself does not limit family members serving together on the same ship, which is a common misconception. An article by Rod Powers, based on Selective Service information, explains that while details of the sole survivor policy have changed over the years, the basic premise remains the same, "where a family member has been lost as a result of military service, the remaining family members should be protected insofar as possible."

We were reminded of this policy in the 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan, a fictional account of U.S. soldiers, following the D-Day invasion, sent behind enemy lines to locate and return a young paratrooper whose three brothers had been recently killed in action, leaving him as the only surviving son in his family. On today's battlefront, the policy continues as evidenced in an August 2007 BBC News article,"US 'sole survivor' to leave Iraq."

In February 1943, to honor of the Sullivan brothers, the Navy renamed a destroyer under construction, USS The Sullivans, which launched in San Francisco on April 4, 1943. The ship is said to have fought in the Marshalls, Carolines, Mariannas and Philippines and earned nine battle stars. After deployment in Korea, the Cuban blockade, and the rescue efforts for the sub Thresher, she was laid up. The vessel was acquired by the City of Buffalo and is on display at the Buffalo and Erie county Naval & Servicemen's park. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. A second ship honoring the brothers was launched 12 August 1995.

Many lives were lost at Guadalcanal, indeed, throughout the war, and not one is more or less significant than another. Unlike the Sullivans, none of the Shaw brothers died in combat, but war lingers, and their lives were never the same after the war, as the article so poignantly . . . and tragically illustrates. Of her father, Frobel reports, "Often he would wake up in the middle of the night, leap out of bed and begin constructing an imaginary slit trench, shouting "They're coming! They're coming! . . . There was pain in his ears; the shelling had left him partially deaf. Globally, the spectre of war never subsided."

The ten Shaw brothers have all since passed away, but Frobel works to keep their story alive. "The kids should know their history and it's so easily forgotten," she said. "And once I'm gone, who's here to teach the kids?" A question we might all ask.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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