(one of the 4 Rogers brothers who served aboard the USS Juneau)
provided by the grandson of Joseph Rogers
Friday the 13th... How many of you are superstitious about this date? I'm not but my friends joke with me when I tell them I was born on Friday the 13th. They would say, "That explains everything!"
I grew up in Darien, Connecticut, living right down the street from my grandparents. All holidays were spent at their house, eating Grandma's delicious Italian meals and listening to Grandpa's intriguing war stories. No matter how many times you'd hear the same stories, you'd always get caught up in Grandpa's emotions and feel you were right there with him.
'll never forget one story in particular as the events, which took place played a huge part in my family's destiny. How many of you remember hearing about the 5 Sullivan brothers who went down with their ship in WWII? There were also 4 Rogers brothers who served on that ship as well. The eldest Rogers was my grandfather, Joseph. Joey, as he was called back then, was put in charge by his father to look after his brothers Pat and Louie, and especially the youngest, Jimmy.
Like the Sullivan brothers, the Navy allowed the Rogers brothers to serve on the USS Juneau together. The Juneau was a brand new light antiaircraft cruiser. And in March of 1942, there were about 700 men serving on her. The men passed the time on the peaceful sea with boxing matches against men from other ships anchored nearby. Joey was a professional boxer and the other Rogers boys were semipro. They relished every chance they had to get in the ring. Besides boxing, they all held jobs on the ship. Joey took a job as a tailor, Pat became a barber, Louie was a laundry man and Jimmy was a captain's orderly.
After several months of simulated battle, the crew of the Juneau saw it's first real action on October 26th 1942 when they blasted enemy aircraft from the sky while protecting the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. After a successful but nerve racking battle, the Navy issued a bulletin requesting that all brothers serving on the same ship should apply for duty on separate ships to minimize family casualties.
The Sullivans ignored the advice, but Joey began to think about his promise to his father. How could he protect all of his brothers? Fate stepped in all because Joey was a poor tailor. He broke more needles than anyone could imagine so he requested to board a supply ship anchored nearby to replenish his needle supply.
After he climbed aboard the supply ship, USS Antaries, he passed by the mess hall where a boxing match was going on. He was so excited to see that this ship also had a boxing training facility. This was the perfect ship for he and Jimmy to switch to in order to split up the 4 brothers.
Pat and Louie were happy to stay on the Juneau as they had good jobs and both were sending money home to their fiancées. Joey and Jimmy tried to convince the Sullivan brothers to follow suit but they weren't ready to separate yet. The four brothers said their sad good-byes and looked forward to seeing each other when the war was over. Joey and Jimmy boarded their new ship.
In November 1942, there was evidence that Japan was preparing a huge battle off the coast of Guadalcanal. 13 American ships including the Juneau formed an attack force and set off to build up forces around the area. The Juneau participated in a terrible battle causing her to narrowly escape permanent damage.
Only six of the 13 ships were able to sail away from the battle area including the Juneau and the severely damaged ship, the USS San Francisco.
Still concerned about being attacked again, radio contact was banned as the American forces sailed away. A lone Japanese submarine set it's torpedo sights on the USS San Francisco, which sailed in front the Juneau. The torpedo sped past the San Francisco and slammed into the center of the Juneau causing it to vanish in seconds.
Miraculously, approximately 140 men survived the explosion. The survivors were thrown into the oil-slicked waters then watched in horror as the remaining 5 American ships sailed away in fear of another attack. After hearing of the Juneau’s deadly hit, Joey and Jimmy were crushed and they wondered why their lives had been spared and not their brothers’.
It wasn't long before the severely injured men died of their wounds, which led sharks to their next meal. Between hallucinating from drinking the salt water and the vicious shark attacks, the remaining men tried in vain to stay alive and prayed a rescue team was on the way.
It took an unbelievable 8 long days before a serious rescue mission was deployed. In the end, only 10 men survived. Pat and Louie were not among the lucky few. It's hard to believe that the other 130 men could have lived if a search and rescue team was sent to the scene immediately. Who knows if Pat and Louie survived the torpedo blast.
Grandpa always felt responsible for his brothers' deaths. His eyes filled up with tears and his voice cracked every time he'd tell this tragic story. It wasn't until 1994 when the author Dan Kurzman published a book about the ill-fated USS Juneau called Left to Die. Grandpa and Uncle Jimmy were interviewed for it and a TV documentary based on the book came out in 1995.
Unfortunately, Grandpa never saw the book or the documentary. He died on January 2, 1993 of cancer and emphysema. Uncle Jimmy passed away in 1999. I never asked Grandpa if he was superstitious but I bet he was since that fatal torpedo struck the Juneau on Friday the 13th.