by HB Auld, Jr.
Two Navy ship disasters’ anniversaries in two days: Yesterday it was the USS FORRESTAL (CV 59) and today it is the heavy cruiser USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA 35). I knew this one was coming; it’s been on my calendar all year.
On this day 77 years ago, July 30, 1945, USS INDIANAPOLIS is sunk by Japanese torpedoes. The few survivors would float in the ocean for days before they were found.
Of the nearly 1,200 men on board the ship, about 900 men survived the initial explosion and went overboard into the water. The ship sank 12 minutes later, taking 300 to their watery graves. Almost 600 Sailors died in the water of dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and the worst of all: shark attacks while stranded in the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. Those surviving in the water would not be rescued for days. The Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Of the 1200 original crew, only 316 Sailors survived the tragedy.
There was just one silver lining, if there was one, to the tragedy. INDIANAPOLIS had already performed the most critical part of its mission: It had successfully carried parts for the “Little Boy” atomic bomb across the Pacific before it was sunk. American bombers would soon carry “Little Boy” toward Hiroshima. Along with the bomb “Fat Man” dropped on Nagasaki, “Little Boy” would ultimately force an end to World War II.
My landlord was one of those 316….
Several years ago, my landlord was one of those 316 INDIANAPOLIS survivors. During World War II, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Charles McKissick served in INDIANAPOLIS and survived the sinking. We used to sit and talk in McKinney, TX, about our times in the Navy and he would talk about the hellish days and nights he spent in the water after the sinking before being rescued. Every year, Charles would travel to Indianapolis, IN, each July 30 for the ship’s reunion. When he returned, he would tell me that many more of his shipmates were missing that year. The numbers continued to dwindle down at each annual reunion after that. This was in the early 1990s. LTJG Charles McKissick is also gone now. Rest In Peace, Sir. You and your Shipmates earned your reward. “Rest your oars, Lieutenant. We have the Watch, now.” God bless these brave men and God bless America.
After 77 years, only two confirmed survivors of the sinking of the USS INDIANAPOLIS now remain: Cleatus Lebow, who at 98 is the oldest survivor, and Harold Bray, Jr., who is 95 years old.