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USS Juneau propeller
The propeller of the USS Juneau rests on the South Pacific seafloor. (Navigea via PaulAllen.com)

The latest chapter of an Irish-American family tragedy played out on St. Patrick’s Day when an expedition team backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen discovered the shipwreck of the USS Juneau in the South Pacific.

The Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo during the Battle of Guadalcanal on Nov. 13, 1942, leading to the deaths of 687 sailors — including the five Sullivan Brothers.

The Sullivans insisted so forcefully on serving together that naval officers bent their rules against having brothers serving on the same ship during wartime.

The Iowa family’s tragic story rallied the nation during World War II, inspired a movie titled “The Fighting Sullivans” and led to the christening of two Navy ships in honor of the Sullivans.

Allen’s expedition team is on a mission to find and explore historic warships and other important undersea artifacts. Over the past year, team members on the 250-foot R/V Petrel have used state-of-the-art subsea equipment to locate wreckage from several U.S. warships — including the Lexington, the Indianapolis and the Ward.

A side-scan sonar instrument on the R/V Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle first picked up signs of the Juneau’s wreckage on Saturday, sitting about 2.6 miles deep off the coast of the Solomon Islands.

“We certainly didn’t plan to find the Juneau on St. Patrick’s Day. The variables of these searches are just too great,” Robert Kraft, Allen’s director of subsea operations, said today in a news release. “But finding the USS Juneau on Saint Patrick’s Day is an unexpected coincidence to the Sullivan brothers and all the service members who were lost 76 years ago.”

The team followed up on the sonar readings by deploying the Petrel’s remotely operated vehicle a day later. Video views verified the shipwreck’s identity.

The U.S. Navy hailed the discovery.

“As the fifth commanding officer of USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), a ship named after five brothers, I am excited to hear that Allen and his team were able to locate the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) that sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal,” Vice Adm. Rich Brown, commander of Naval Surface Forces, said in a statement. “The story of the USS Juneau crew and Sullivan brothers epitomize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s greatest generation.”

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