Based on a true story, five brothers in one family grow up together and join the Navy after Pearl Harbor, insisting they must be on the same ship.
Tom Sullivan (Thomas Mitchell) and his wife (Selena Royle) have five sons and a girl. The little boys get a mongrel dog and fight other boys. Al is the youngest and gets a black eye. Mrs. Sullivan sends them to confess to the priest. The boys fix up an old boat, but it leaks and sinks. Mrs. Sullivan makes them promise not to get in a boat again until they are grown up. Mr. Sullivan catches them smoking corn silk and gives each of the boys a cigar to smoke; they all get sick. The boys get lumber on credit and saw open the kitchen wall for a wood box, but George withdraws. They damage a water pipe, and George fights with Frank. Mr. Sullivan comes home and is angry at George, fighting with him. Mrs. Sullivan tells her husband not to hit them while he is angry. Mr. Sullivan goes to get a plumber. George is gone and comes back the next day. Mrs. Sullivan tells him to apologize, and Mr. Sullivan says he is sorry too.
In 1939 George Sullivan (James Cardwell) has a motorcycle and wins a race. Al Sullivan (Edward Ryan) goes out with Katherine Mary and kisses her. Al makes his brothers pay their sister Genevieve (Trudy Marshall) for pressing their pants. Al wants a job, but George tells him to finish school. Al shows Genevieve the ring he bought. Al brings Katherine Mary home for dinner. His brothers had read a copy of his letter and say he uses these lines to get girls. Katherine Mary leaves, and Al runs after her; but she gives the ring back. Matt Sullivan (John Alvin) is appointed to take a punch from Al, who walks past him. Mrs. Sullivan tells the brothers to explain, and all except Al go to Katherine Mary. They bring her back to Al, and they are married.
Ten months later Katherine Mary is pregnant. Al tells his brothers he was fired, and they loan him money. Katherine Mary has a boy. They all hear the news of Pearl Harbor, and the four brothers decide to join the navy. Katherine Mary tells Al that he can go too. The five Sullivans tell the Lt. Commander (Ward Bond) they will not enlist unless they will all be together. He will not guarantee it, and they walk out. Later they bring back a letter from the Navy Department authorizing their request. Mr. Sullivan adds up all their debts and says he will mortgage the house to pay them. They all say goodbye. Mrs. Sullivan and Katherine Mary get letters from George and Al. In a battle off the Solomon Islands a fire nears the magazines as they are abandoning ship. George is in sick bay, and his brothers go to carry him as the ship explodes. The Lt. Commander tells Mr. Sullivan, Mrs. Sullivan, Genevieve, and Katherine Mary that all five were killed. Mr. Sullivan goes late to work for the first time. A destroyer called The Sullivans is to be launched, and Mrs. Sullivan christens it.
This moving film reminded people of the many sacrifices
made in the war and caused the Navy to make a policy of not putting
brothers on the same ship.