One Story of thousands that are told on Veterans Day: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis
We all have that story that is told as the kids grow up to keep our family history alive.In my family we have several, like the time that my Uncle ran away to Atlantic Beach, NC and my Dad had to go get him which required getting a job to take of them both until he decided he was ready to go home. Or the time when I was 8 that I missed getting on a bus on a visit to NY City and stood there crying as I watched my grandmother being driven away. Usually these reminiscences and more take place around the holidays.
Since today is Veterans Day, I thought I would share another bit of history that is often discussed in hushed tones because it is a terrible part of not only my family’s history but of America’s.
On July 30, 1945 a torpedo blew away the bow of the USS Indianapolis CA-35, the second torpedo struck the starboard side near mid-ship. It was fourteen minutes past midnight when the course of the lives of 1.196 men was changed forever. 900 men made it into the waters between Guam and Leyte. One of these men was my great-uncle Dick, Richard B. Redmayne, who was onboard as the Chief Engineer.
The USS Indianapolis had dropped the first ever operational atomic bomb at Tinian Island, four days prior to its sinking and had been ordered to return to the Philippines to await the imminent assault on Japan. The USS Indianapolis’ mission was veiled in a cloak of secrecy due to its nature. There are many controversies surrounding the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. According to court documents, released in 1990, naval authorities sent Captain Charles B.McVay III and his crew, into harm’s way with knowledge that there were two submarines in the area, one was the I-58 that targeted the USS Indianapolis.
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis, to this day is considered the largest shark attack in history.. Of the 900 men that were in the water only 316 survived. They would await rescue for over four days protected by their lifejackets and a few lifeboats. As my Aunt Trudy described what happened when my Uncle Dick found himself standing in water on the deck, “He just walked into the water”.
The days leading up to their rescue were horrific which I don’t wish to detail here so I included links below if you would like to learn more about these brave men.. It is a testament to each man’s bravery and courage that there were any survivors of this disaster. The personal tales are gripping.
As a result of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis a court- martial was called against Captain McVay. The charges were culpable inefficiency in the performance of his duties and negligently endangering the lives of others. One of the reasons that the charges were made was that the Navy insisted that Capt. McVay had failed to give orders to abandon ship. Many of the survivors that attended the court martial said the orders were given.He was also accused of not following “a zigzag pattern” as the ship crossed the water, which is a decision usually made at the captains discretion depending on weather conditions and other factors. His crew again testified on his behalf, stating that the visibility was low and therefore it was not necessary to order that the ship follow a zigzag pattern. Regardless of their testimony Capt. McVay was found guilty of the charges damaging his future in the US Navy and humiliating him for the remainder of his life. Capt. McVay committed suicide in 1968 due to mental problems. Survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis fought diligently to have his charges exonerated and they were successful. In 2001, the United States Congress posthumously exonerated Captain McVay, thirty three years after his tragic death.
There are so many fascinating stories within the tragic events. For instance, the survivors were accidentally spotted by LT.(jg) Wilbur C. Gwinn, who was on a routine antisubmarine patrol aboard a PV-1 Ventura Bomber. The pilot alerted his base that there were “many, many men in the water”, LT. R. Adrian Marks, piloting a seaplane headed to the site. He informed the USS Cecil Doyle of the situation and the Doyle headed towards the site. As Marks dropped life vests and supplies into the
water surrounding the survivors, he observed victims being attacked by sharks. He landed his plane in the water, disregarding standing orders. He saved 56 men. The USS Cecil Doyle arrived during the night and began to shine a spotlight in the air to guide other ships to the rescue. That decision was made by their captain at risk to their own safety.
When LT. Marks landed he found out from survivors that they were from the USS Indianapolis and he sent word back to base. Due to a “faulty directive” the ship’s failure to arrive as scheduled had gone unnoticed for four days. The US Navy also made the decision to not make the news public for almost two weeks after the incident ensuring that the story would be overshadowed by the news of the Japanese surrender.
I choose to listen to the voices of the survivors as they tell their stories because my uncle was unable to talk about the events other than a few discussions with his wife, his father, my grandfather and a very few select others. It was terribly painful for him to relive these events. It is sixty-nine years since the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and many of the survivors have since passed on but I feel that their story is timeless and needs to be told.
This is the story that I think of on Veterans Day, it reminds me of the sacrifices that our servicemen and women make to protect our freedoms.
I want to thank every one of the Veterans who have given so much. God bless.
Survivors of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) are removed from ambulances and placed on a dock in Peleliu, Palau….HD Stock Footage
Survivors of USS Indianapolis floating in rubber rafts at sea and being rescued by crew of the USS Register….HD Stock Footage
The final crew of the USS Indianapolis The USS Indianapolis Survivor’s Organization
USS Indianapolis Survivor Recalls Shipwreck & Shark Attacks- Verlin “Buzz” Fortin
USS Indianapolis Survivor Interview with Adolfo Celaya
Edgar Harrell, USS Indianapolis Survivor
Dick Thelen Interview – U.S.S. Indianapolis Survivor
Some of the books about the USS Indianapolis:
Hunter Scott was eleven years old when he saw the scene in “Jaws” that referred to the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. His research into the tragedy led to the truth being brought to light about the disaster and ultimately to Capt. McVay’s exoneration
Films, Television and Plays about the USS Indianapolis:
Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis Discovery Channel
A play that focuses on the drama surrounding the court martial of Capt. McVAy.
History — U.S.S. Indianapolis Resurfaced History Channel DVD