Jim Sullivan: Unsinkable


SPL Seaside Series: weekly open-air events in Small Cove Park every Wednesday in July and August

From 12.00 pm until 1.00 pm

James Sullivan grew up listening to his great uncle, Frank Gallagher, tell the story of visiting his brother John on the USS Plunkett before he was lost in the Second World War, but, like many of his generation, Gallagher  gave few details about what life was really like as a young soldier. Haunted by the untold sides of this family story, Sullivan set out to investigate for himself what happened to his lost great uncle, and countless men like him. The  result, compiled from war diaries, action reports, letters, memoirs, and dozens of interviews, is Unsinkable:  Five Men and the Indomitable Run of the USS Plunkett. A thrilling and  vividly rendered account of the Navy destroyer that endured the most harrowing attack of WWII, and the men who  served and made their home on the ship, this illuminating history transcends appreciation of a single battle to tell  the timeless story of young men stepping up to the defining experience of their lives. 

Unsinkable traces the individual journeys of five men who served on the USS Plunkett during World  War II: Jim Feltz, a water tender third class still living today outside St. Louis, MO; Ken Brown, lieutenant and gunnery officer whose entrance into the Naval Academy was aided by politicians in his hometown of Chicago; Ed  Burke, commander, captain of the Plunkett, who would receive the Navy Cross for his actions in the battle at Anzio;  John Simpson, the first lieutenant who led the ship’s damage control parties; and of course, John Gallagher, a  Boston native who would never return from war but whose story would inspire his great nephew years later to  investigate what life was really like on the Plunkett, both in and out of battle.  

As we follow the ship through its five most notable battles – in Casablanca, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio – where it  was nearly destroyed in the most prolonged, savage attack on a destroyer committed by German forces during the  war – and finally, to its reappearance at Omaha Beach on D-Day, we see these everyday men forced by  circumstance into acts of bravery and heroism, even as they try to hold onto who they were before they embarked  on the shipped. The Plunkett and its crew played an integral and dramatic role in the European theater of WWII,  and Unsinkable seeks to honor that legacy, and is a vital addition to the canon of wartime literature. 

James Sullivan was born and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts and has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has written for the New York Times and National Geographic Traveler, the magazine. He lives with his family outside Portland, Maine, 3.4 miles from the birthplace of film director John Ford, who steamed into Omaha Beach on the Plunkett.

SPL's Seaside Series is free and open to all. We encourage participants to bring their own seating—a camp chair or even just a blanket—plus enough sunscreen and bug spray to keep them happy. In case of rain, the event will be moved indoors to SPL.

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