After the deaths of the five Sullivan brothers, the United States Navy named two ships after them. They were the Fletcher class destroyer, USS The Sullivans (DD-537) and the Arleigh Burke class destroyer, USS The Sullivans (DDG-68). The former was the first American navy vessel ever to be named after more than one person. Each of the two vessels shared the same motto which was the Sullivan brothers motto: "We Stick Together."
The movie implies that the five brothers died at the same time. In reality, USS Juneau survivors reported that Joe, Matt and Frank died when the torpedo struck the ship, Al died of drowning the next day whilst George actually lived for four to five days after the attack.
As a direct result of the five Sullivan brothers fatalities, the United States War Department developed and initiated the Sole Survivor Policy. It is a myth that following the five Sullivan brothers deaths, the US Government enacted the "Sullivan Act", an act made to prevent siblings serving together on the same boat. At the time of the Second World War, the US Navy did have a policy of separating siblings. This policy was not enforced by the book though.
According to the book 'The Films of World War II' by Joe Morella, Edward Z. Epstein and John Griggs (1973), this film " . . . had undergone a title change between its initial New York release and subsequent bookings. Originally it was entitled 'The Sullivans' but proved to be a disappointment at the box office until the new title was appended, whereupon it became an unqualified success."
Like the characters they portrayed, two of the actors playing the brothers died at a far younger than average age: James Cardwell who played George died at age 32 in 1954 and George Offerman Jr. who played Joe died at age 45 in 1963.
The meaning and relevance of this movie's title, The Fighting Sullivans, is that they were five Irish-American brothers who died about the same time whilst serving on the American light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52) during World War II. This vessel was torpedoed and sunk in the South Pacific on 13 November 1942 during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The names of the brothers, the Fighting Sullivans, were Frank, Joe, Matt, Al and George.
This movie features the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal is situated in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean, north-east of Australia. Its local name is Isatabu and contains the country's capital, Honiara. The island is humid and mostly made up of jungle with a surface area of 2,047 square miles or 5,302 km². It was named after Pedro De Ortega's home town Guadalcanal in Andalusia, Spain. De Ortega worked under Álvaro De Mendaña who charted the island in 1568.