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United/Manatt’s recruits tattoo artist to honor WWII hero family

united-manattsA new tribute to World War II fallen heroes the Sullivan brothers is rolling through their hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. A United Concrete ready mix truck proudly displays a freehand image of the five brothers and the U.S. Navy destroyer named after them on its drum. Serving the Waterloo and Cedar Falls markets, the ready mixed producer is a division of Manatt’s Inc, Brooklyn, Iowa.

The misfortune of the five Sullivan brothers was one of the most publicized stories of World War II. The Waterloo natives enlisted in the Navy with one condition—they stick together. Although the recognized Navy policy was to separate family members, their request was granted and the brothers were assigned to the USS Juneau. However, tragedy struck on Nov. 13, 1942, with the sinking of their ship during a Japanese torpedo attack in the South Pacific. All five brothers—George Thomas (27), Francis Henry (26), Joseph Eugene (24), Madison Abel (23) and Albert Leo (20)—lost their lives.

The Sullivans’ death became a rallying point for the war effort and tributes to the five brothers have been numerous throughout the years. The Navy has named two destroyers, USS The Sullivans. The first destroyer, DD-537, the one depicted on the United Concrete mixer, was christened by the brothers’ mother and was the first Navy ship to be named after more than one person. The second, DDG-68, was launched in August 1995, sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan.

The 1944 movie The Sullivans, later renamed The Fighting Sullivans, brought their story to the silver screen and even earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story. In their hometown of Waterloo, the Sullivan name graces the convention center (The Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center) and a veteran museum (Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veteran Museum).

The Sullivans tribute is part of Manatt’s Inc.’s "Military Mixers." To boost community morale during tough economic times, Ready Mix Division Manager Adam Manatt chose to pay tribute to the military, past and present. The company at first chose to do a series of trucks representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. However, according to Manatt, “There was significant interest from United in participating in the project. The initial thinking was that a tribute to the five Sullivan brothers would be a nice tie in to the Manatt’s tribute, while striking a chord with the local community. United services the Cedar Valley area only, so such a targeted tribute seemed appropriate.”

In the past, Manatt’s would place such graphics on the drums of brand new vehicles prior to placing them into service. Instead, the company chose five in-service mixers and sent them to Housby Mack in Des Moines. The initial plan was to place giant decals of the military branch emblems on the drums. However, Housby had a different idea—hand airbrushed images by local tattoo artist Dave Conner of Mid Air and Ink, a suggestion that created some hesitation. The 6- x 12-ft. “canvas” was already a daunting project for any artist, even more so for a tattoo artist. Plus, the canvas was a curved mixer drum. Still, Manatt’s agreed to go forward with this new approach, and the results were more than they could have hoped for.

From the project's beginning, Conner enlisted assistance from Robert Allison of Allison Originals. The artists worked together after-hours at the Housby shop to transfer the images from a small design to each mixer drum, with detailed airbrush strokes. For the Sullivan truck, Manatt asked the artists to create a design using an image of the DD-537 in the forefront, the brothers in the background, and the ship’s logo and motto, “We Stick Together,” prominently featured. Once the artwork was completed—it’s estimated that it took about 40 hours to finish the Sullivan truck—a clear coat was applied to the drum to preserve the image. Including the Sullivan Brothers mixer, Conner and Allison also completed the other four trucks. Of special note, the Marine truck honored Brooklyn, Iowa native Harold “Pie” Keller, who was part of the flag rising at Iwo Jima.

Manatt’s plan to boost the community morale seems to have been a great success. The trucks were unveiled at the Iowa Speedway prior to the pre-race for the 2010 Goodyear Dealers of Iowa 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series Event. Kelly Sullivan Loughren was very excited and appreciative of the Sullivan tribute mixer, and the response from the community has been equally grateful. Adam stated that the mixer gets a lot of looks and thankful gestures while it’s on the road. Based out of Manatt’s Elk Run plant, the Sullivan truck has appeared in Evansdale and Gilbertville, Iowa parades and at Camp Dodge in Des Moines for the 2010 Memorial Day (planned for 2011 as well). The mixer was also onsite for the rededication of the Sullivan memorial at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Waterloo. Moreover, dispatchers receive requests to send the truck to sites on an almost daily basis.  

— By Josephine Smith; Information provided by Mannatt’s Inc. and Naval Historical Center, with additional information and images are available at