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Details on ‘Fighting Sullivans’

St. Linus Students View Poster and Listen to Navy Veterans

Just in time for Memorial Day, St. Linus School hosted a dedication ceremony Tuesday for a portrait of the five Sullivan brothers who died in World War II, with local veterans and the fifth-grade class in attendance. {{more}}

The portrait, signed by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, depicts the five brothers with one of the Navy ships named after them. Loughren is the granddaughter of Albert Sullivan, the youngest brother. She sent the portrait as a thank-you to the school after talking to the fifth-grade class via Skype in January. With Albert in the portrait are his brothers, George, Francis, Joseph and Madison.

While older people might know of the five Sullivan brothers through the 1944 movie, ÒThe Fighting Sullivans,” Dr. Michael Stritch, the St. Linus principal who grew up watching the movie as an annual family tradition, told the fifth-graders about the brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, who enlisted and died together.

At the ceremony this week, he credited an inquisitive fifth-grader with prodding him to get in touch with Loughren when he asked if anyone in the family was still around. She explained during the Skype session that the brothers had received national media attention before they died because of their unique situation, serving all together. After their ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, the Navy ruled that brothers would never again serve together on the same ship.

The Rev. Bill Corcoran, pastor of St. Linus Parish, blessed the portrait and led prayers for all military families during the ceremony, and then three local Navy veterans spoke to the class. Corcoran said the portrait as well as the military flags on display around it in the library will be on the altar during Masses this weekend in honor of Memorial Day. ÒThe whole parish should know what is going on in the school,” said Corcoran. The portrait will then be on permanent display, hanging in the school library.

John Kelbowski, now the custodian at St. Linus, recalled spending 10 years in the Navy, beginning in 1973. ÒThe Navy makes a man out of you,” said Kelbowski. ÒYou grow up pretty fast out there on the ocean.”

He said he helped get refugees out in the waning days of the Vietnam War, and sailed around the world, mainly working in the boiler rooms of five different vessels, and stopping in places like Australia and Taiwan.

ÒI spent a lot of time in Hawaii,” he said, noting that he had intended to make a career of the Navy, but had to come back when his mother became ill.

John Walsh, who grew up in Oak Lawn, spent 20 years in the Navy, handling sonar and radar anti-submarine equipment on ships. ÒWe’d be in the North Atlantic, chasing Russians. I went all over the world, including Antarctica, and saw every continent but one,” he said.

Ken McGuire, the third veteran in attendance, said he went into the Navy at age 17, in the 1950s, serving mainly on the U.S.S. Beale, a destroyer. ÒIt was called a kiddie cruise Ñ in before you are 18 and out before you are 21,” said McGuire, noting that he served during the Korean War. ÒI’ve seen a lot of things, a lot of places,” he added, explaining that he went in because he had no job skills, and worked on submarines and underwater demolition techniques.

ÒI came out with a skill and I had maturity. The Navy was my college,” he said, although he noted that he was able to go to college and get a degree afterward.

When a student asked if he was ever scared aboard ship, McGuire promptly said Òyes.”

ÒIf you are not scared, you are not in your right mind. But you get over it,” he said, explaining that on ships, he was working on sonar, three decks beneath the surface, so if a missile hit the vessel, he would have no chance of survival. ÒThere was one inch of steel between us and the rest of the world,” he said.

The veterans were also asked if they were able to keep in touch with their families, or if if anyone ever cried on onboard ship.

ÒThe only way to keep in touch was by writing letters. We didn’t have email or Skype back then,” said McGuire. ÒIf you don’t get mail, it can be very hard, being cut off from your family. We did hear crying.”

Following the ceremony, Kelbowski invited the students to ask him questions they might think of later when they meet him in the school halls.

The fifth-graders, who were informed at the ceremony that they also received the highest Terra Nova standard test scores in the school, said they enjoyed having the connection to the Sullivans.

ÒI thought it was pretty cool that we were the first class to get to see the movie,” said Natalie Heilmann. She and classmates Clarissa Herrera and Abby Houlihan said they all enjoyed getting to talk to Kelly Sullivan Loughren earlier in the year too.

ÒWe were very lucky and it was very good,” said Abby. She said she might even consider joining the Navy, but only if she could stay safe.

Corcoran said that the students could learn a lot from the Sullivans, and their story ties into what St. Linus tries to teach. ÒWe try to pass on good values, and we learn by example, whether it comes from heroes like this, or the people Catholics would call saints.”

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