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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Boston Politician James Michael Curley

james-michael-curleyJames Michael Curley, American Democratic Party politician and one of the best known and most colourful big-city Democratic bosses, dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. He dominated Boston politics throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Curley’s father, Michael Curley, a juvenile petty criminal, leaves Oughterard, County Galway, at the age of fourteen. He settles in Roxbury, an Irish immigrant neighborhood in Boston.

Curley never forgets the needs of new immigrants, and he owes much of his political success to serving those needs in exchange for votes. He enters politics in 1899, winning a seat on the Boston common council. In 1904 he is imprisoned briefly for impersonating a friend at a civil service examination.

Curley serves in a succession of elective capacities—as a state legislator, alderman, city councilman, and U.S. representative—before winning the mayoralty in 1914, resigning his congressional seat to assume the municipal office.

Curley centralizes the powers of patronage in his own hands and distributes public-works jobs in such a way as to retain the loyalty and support of his working-class electoral base. As mayor, he nearly brings the city to bankruptcy by spending enormous sums on parks and hospitals to satisfy his various constituencies. He is a gifted orator and a resourceful political campaigner. He loses his bid for reelection in 1918, wins in 1922, loses in 1926, and wins again in 1930.

Unable to win a seat in the Massachusetts delegation to the 1932 Democratic National Convention in 1932, Curley contrives by means he never explains to be elected a delegate from Puerto Rico. He supports the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but national party leaders look upon the controversial Curley as something of an embarrassment. As governor of Massachusetts from 1935 to 1937, he spends New Deal funds lavishly on roads, bridges, and other public works programs. He is out of elective office from 1938 to 1942, during which period he loses bids for the United States Senate, mayor, and governor. He wins a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1942, however, and is reelected two years later. He follows with another tenure as mayor of Boston (1947–50) but spends five months of his term in federal prison following a conviction for mail fraud. President Harry S. Truman secures his release and, in 1950, grants him a full pardon.

Curley, who has foiled an attempt by the Republican Party to have him replaced while he is in prison, retires from politics after losing reelection bids in 1950 and 1954. His career inspires Edwin O’Connor’s popular novel The Last Hurrah (1956), and the next year Curley’s best-selling autobiography, I’d Do It Again, is published.

James Curley dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. His death is followed by one of the largest funerals in the city’s history. He is interred in Old Calvary Cemetery.


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Commissioning of the USS The Sullivans

The United States Navy commissions the Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537), on September 30, 1943. The ship commemorates the tragedy of the five Sullivan brothers (George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert), descendants of an Irish immigrant, who are killed November 13, 1942 after their ship, USS Juneau (CL-52), is hit by a Japanese torpedo at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Only ten of the almost 700 crew survive. This is the greatest military loss by any one American family during World War II. The ship is also the first ship commissioned in the Navy that honors more than one person.

The Sullivans is originally laid down as Putnam on October 10, 1942 at San Francisco by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation. She is initially renamed Sullivan until President Franklin D. Roosevelt changes the name to The Sullivans to clarify that the name honors all five Sullivan brothers. The name is made official on February 6, 1943 and launches on April 4, 1943. The ship is sponsored by Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, the mother of the five Sullivan brothers. The Sullivans is commissioned on September 30, 1943 with Commander Kenneth M. Gentry in command.

Following a shakedown cruise, The Sullivans gets underway with USS Dortch (DD-670) and USS Gatling (DD-671) on December 23, 1943, arriving at Pearl Harbor five days later. After service in both World War II and the Korean War, USS The Sullivans is assigned to the United States 6th Fleet and is a training ship until she is decommissioned in 1965.

The Sullivans receives nine service stars for World War II service and two for Korean service. On January 7, 1965, The Sullivans is decommissioned at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and she remains in reserve into the 1970s. In 1977, she and cruiser USS Little Rock (CL-92) are processed for donation to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park in Buffalo, New York. The ship now serves as a memorial and is open for public tours. The ship is declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.


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Sullivan Brothers Perish in the Sinking of the USS Juneau

sullivan-brothersFive Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, die when their ship, the light cruiser USS Juneau, is torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 13, 1942. Raised in an Irish Catholic family, the brothers great grandfather had emigrated from Ireland.

The five brothers, the sons of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, are George Thomas Sullivan (27), Francis “Frank” Henry Sullivan (26), Joseph “Joe” Eugene Sullivan (24), Madison “Matt” Abel Sullivan (23), and Albert “Al” Leo Sullivan (20).

The Sullivans enlist in the U.S. Navy on January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy has a policy of separating siblings but it is not strictly enforced. George and Frank have served in the Navy before, but their brothers have not. All five are assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.

The Juneau participates in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. Early on the morning of November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau is struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day, as it is leaving the Solomon Islands area for the Allied rear-area base at Espiritu Santo with other surviving U.S. warships from battle, the Juneau is struck again, this time by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo apparently hits the thinly armored light cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship explodes and quickly sinks.

Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, commanding officer of the USS Helena and senior officer present in the battle-damaged U.S. task force, is skeptical that anyone has survived the sinking of the Juneau and believes it would be reckless to look for survivors, thereby exposing his wounded ships to a still-lurking Japanese submarine. Therefore, he orders his ships to continue on towards Espiritu Santo. Helena signals a nearby U.S. B-17 bomber on patrol to notify Allied headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors.

However, approximately 100 of Juneau‘s crew survive the torpedo attack and the sinking of their ship and are left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, does not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they land several hours later. The crew’s report of the location of possible survivors is mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and goes unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realize that a search has never been mounted and belatedly orders aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, Juneau‘s survivors, many of whom are seriously wounded, are exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors are found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors report that Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days before, suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia, he goes over the side of the raft he occupies and is never seen or heard from again.

Security requires that the Navy not reveal the loss of Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stop arriving at the home and the parents grow worried, which prompts Alleta Sullivan to write to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January 1943, citing rumors that survivors of the task force claim that all five brothers were killed in action.

The letter is answered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 13th, who acknowledges that the Sullivans are missing in action. By then, however, the parents have already been informed of their fate, having learned of their deaths on January 12, 1943. That morning, the boys’ father, Thomas, is preparing for work when three men in uniform approach his door. “I have some news for you about your boys,” one naval officer says. “Which one?” asks Thomas. “I’m sorry,” the officer replies. “All five.”

As a direct result of the Sullivans’ deaths, and the deaths of four of the Borgstrom brothers within a few months of each other two years later, the United States War Department adopts the Sole Survivor Policy.


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Death of William Joseph “Wild Bill” Donovan

william-joseph-donovanWilliam Joseph “Wild Bill” Donovan, a United States soldier, lawyer, intelligence officer, and diplomat, dies on February 8, 1959. Donovan is best remembered as the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II. He is also known as the “Father of American Intelligence” and the “Father of Central Intelligence.”

Of Irish descent, Donovan is born in Buffalo, New York, to first generation immigrants Anna Letitia “Tish” Donovan (née Lennon) of Ulster and Timothy P. Donovan of County Cork. His grandfather, Timothy O’Donovan, Sr., is from the town of Skibbereen, and marries Mary Mahoney, who belongs to a propertied family of substantial means who disapprove of him. They move first to Canada and then to New York, where their son Timothy, Jr., Donovan’s father, attempts to engage in a political career but with little success.

William attend St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before starring on the football team at Columbia University, where he earns the nickname “Wild Bill”, which remains with him for the rest of his life. He graduates from Columbia in 1905. He then attends and graduates from Columbia Law School, after which he becomes an influential Wall Street lawyer.

In 1912, Donovan forms and leads a troop of cavalry of the New York National Guard, which is mobilized in 1916 and serves on the U.S.-Mexico border during the American government’s campaign against Pancho Villa.

During World War I, Major Donovan organizes and leads the 1st battalion of the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division. For his service near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, on October 14-15, 1918, he receives the Medal of Honor. By the end of the war he receives a promotion to colonel, as well as the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.

Donovan serves as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York from 1922 to 1924. Due to his energetic enforcement of Prohibition in the United States, there are a number of threats to assassinate him and to dynamite his home but he is not deterred. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge names Donovan to the United States Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division as a deputy assistant to Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty. Donovan runs unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of New York (1922) and for Governor of New York (1932) as a Republican.

During the years between the world wars, Donovan earns the attention and friendship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although the two men were from opposing political parties, they were very similar in personality. In 1940 and 1941, Donovan traveled as an informal emissary to Britain, where he is urged by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and Roosevelt to gauge Britain’s ability to withstand Germany’s aggression. During these trips Donovan meets with key officials in the British war effort, including Winston Churchill and the directors of Britain’s intelligence services. Donovan returns to the U.S. confident of Britain’s chances and enamored of the possibility of founding an American intelligence service modeled on that of the British.

On July 11, 1941, Donovan is named Coordinator of Information (COI) where he is to oversee America’s foreign intelligence organizations which, at the time are fragmented and isolated from each other. He is plagued over the course of the next year with jurisdictional battles as few of the leaders in the intelligence community are willing to part with any of their power. Nevertheless, Donovan begins to lay the groundwork for a centralized intelligence program.

In 1942, the COI becomes the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Donovan is returned to active duty in the U.S. Army. He is promoted to brigadier general in March 1943 and to major general in November 1944. Under his leadership the OSS eventually conducts successful espionage and sabotage operations in Europe and parts of Asia. By 1943, relations with the British are becoming increasingly strained, partly due to British concerns that OSS operations are sometimes regarded as ill-disciplined and irresponsibly managed. MI6 chief Stewart Menzies is extremely hostile towards the idea of OSS operations anywhere in the British Empire and categorically forbids them to operate within the U.K.

After the end of World War II and the death of President Roosevelt in early April 1945, Donovan’s political position is substantially weakened as he finds himself opposed by President Harry S. Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, and others. Truman disbands the OSS in September 1945 and Donovan returns to civilian life. Several departments of the OSS survive the dissolution and, less than two years later, the Central Intelligence Agency is founded.

Donovan does not have an official role in the newly formed CIA but he is instrumental in its formation. His opinions meet strong opposition from the State, War, and Navy Departments, as well as J. Edgar Hoover. President Truman is also unenthusiastic about some of Donovan’s arguments but he prevails and they are reflected in the National Security Act of 1947 and the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949.

After the end of the war ended, Donovan returns to his lifelong role as a lawyer and serves as special assistant to chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in Germany. On August 3, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower appoints Donovan Ambassador to Thailand and he serves in that capacity from September 4, 1953 until his resignation on August 21, 1954.

Donovan dies from complications of vascular dementia on February 8, 1959 at the age of 76, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower remarks, “What a man! We have lost the last hero.”