Angeline Dietrich was a young woman of 19 working in Buffalo, N.Y., when she got a momentous phone call from her sister, Catherine, Jan. 10, 1943.
“Come on over, I have something important to tell you,” her sister said.
The rueful quality of the news she heard remains with her to this day.
In a telegram sent to her parents by the U.S. Navy, her family learned her brother, Anthony Bernard Caracciolo, had been declared missing. The fireman first class was one of 550 sailors, including the five now-heralded Sullivan brothers, who went down with the USS Juneau minutes after a Japanese torpedo struck the cruiser Nov. 13, 1942, at the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II.
“It’s a day I always remember because it also happens to be my mother’s birthday,” said Dietrich, now 94 and a resident of Friendship Village in Upper St. Clair. “My mother never got over it.”
In mid-September, Dietrich was one of about 154 people who attended a seminar that focused on Pittsburgh’s connection to the USS Juneau and the five Sullivan brothers.
The Sept. 16 presentation at Peter’s Place in Kirwan Heights was part of the Robert M. Rodrigues History Series.
Kelly Sullivan, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan, one of the Sullivan brothers, was the main speaker, while Dietrich was given the honor of receiving the ceremonial folded flag.
“It was a very touching event that included an honor guard and the playing of taps,” she said.
The Rev. Vincent Kolo, event organizer and member of the Rodrigues Fund board, said the series is named after Rodrigues, who taught history for 43 years before his retirement this year.
Kolo wanted the seminar scheduled closer to the 75th anniversary of the ship’s sinking Nov. 13, but because Sullivan is a third-grade teacher in her hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa, she was unable to make a visit to Pennsylvania after classes resumed this fall. In her talk at the seminar, she discussed the Sullivan family, the brothers and how they resolutely wanted to serve their country on the same ship.
Doing his research in advance of the seminar, Kolo wrote to Sullivan telling her how interested people were in her family’s story and the Sullivan brothers had not been forgotten. When Sullivan wrote back, he subsequently invited her to come in to speak.
Kolo also discovered 34 sailors from the tri-state area went down with the Juneau. To find connections and descendants of the lost sailors, he went online and searched www.ancestry.com, www.fold3.com and www.newspapers.com, through which he found Angeline Dietrich.
“One evening, I got a call from Father Kolo asking me if I was Tony’s sister and telling me about the 75th anniversary program,” Dietrich said.
The fourth of five children, Dietrich had two other brothers who joined the Navy. George was already serving when Tony’s ship went down. The youngest brother, Vincent joined in 1944 and later compiled an extensive scrapbook on his brother with a focus on his navy experiences.
Eight months after the sinking of the Juneau, the Navy sent a letter to Dietrich’s parents July 19, 1943, officially confirming the death of their son. A memorial mass was later held in his honor that September in Galeton, Potter County, where the family resided. For his service, the downed sailor received numerous medals, including the Purple Heart.
Two years ago, while on an Alaskan cruise, Dietrich said she found a plaque on the dock in Juneau memorializing the sinking of her brother’s ship, along with a list of names of the fallen sailors. She also discovered a similar memorial in the Manila American Cemetery on a visit to the Philippines.
On the 50th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, she and her husband, Bill, flew over the spot in the Pacific where the Juneau went down and dropped a floral wreath into the water.
“I just had to do something for Tony,” she said.
About 20 other relatives of the Juneau sailors attended the most recent memorial event, as did about eight family members related to Margaret Janos, the fiancée of Joseph Sullivan. Janos wrote to Joseph Sullivan on a dare from a friend, according to Kolo. When the sailor read it, he liked it so much he wrote back.
The couple decided to meet in front of the Seventh Avenue Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh when Joseph came to town, and they later became engaged. When Janos heard the news about the Juneau, she went to Iowa to console the family and later served as bridesmaid at Genevieve Sullivan’s wedding, an occasion where she was given a broach by the Sullivan brothers’ sister. At the Sept. 16 event, Janos’ daughters presented the broach to Kelly Sullivan.
The seminar was open to the public, and much of the audience at the seminar was made up of people interested in history and the gripping story of the Sullivan brothers. Their loss was the greatest suffered in war by a single family in American history. A Hollywood film, “The Fighting Sullivan’s” was later made about their lives, and Alleta Sullivan, the boys’ mother, participated in the launch of the USS The Sullivans, named for her sons.
The Sullivans’ loss of life also led to the Sole Survivor Policy, which protects family members from the draft or combat duty if they already lost a family member in military service.
The USS Juneau seminar was the first in a series of history seminars planned by the Robert M. Rodrigues Fund. For more information about upcoming events, go online to www.robertmrodriguesfund.org or call 412-508-2706.