29 July, 2012

29 July 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 513 % Postmaster, N.Y.
29 July, 1945      1000
Wilma, darling –

Right now I am already chez moi having been down to the Dispensary and cleaned up sick-call. Yes – this is Sunday again and we’re supposed to relax even more today than during the rest of the week. This is a nice place in which to relax but as usual – something comes along to disturb things. We were told yesterday we’d have to vacate soon and return the house to the French – as part of an overall policy of returning private homes etc. back to the French government. That would mean we’d have to move to the Kaserne (barracks) ["Kaserne" is the German word for “barracks”] where our C.P., batteries, aid station etc. are. They are old stone buildings, large, heavy, gray and cold. It will be nothing like this – but what the hell – we’ve had a little of everything so far and we’ll be able to stand that. At any rate – we’ll be right in the center of town.

Caserne Thiry, Nancy France - Post Card

Yesterday was quiet. Right after lunch we thought we’d play a little Bridge. We started at 1300 and finished in time for chow at 1800. There’s nothing doing on a Saturday afternoon anyway – and it helped kill some more time for us.

Gee, darling, the mail situation is just plain rotten and I’ll be darned if I see why now. We’re permanently located, the war’s over and there are plenty of ships coming this way. We haven’t had any mail for 3 or 4 days now and there’s no excuse for it that I can see from here.

It’s so odd, sweetheart. I know you so well and haven’t had the pleasure of having my arm get sore from sitting next to you in a movie when they’re showing a chiller-diller. I’ll love that, I assure you, dear. And in addition to that – there’s always “kneesies!” This business of becoming faint when you see blood is something else again – but I guess you’ll get over that. And anyway – there’s not much need of your having to see very much of it. And yes – sweetheart – I still want to marry you!!

Say, by the way, dear – how is Old Orchard Beach? Is the Pier still functioning and the crowd just as mixed? I never liked the place either – but I’ve spent part of a day there on half-a-dozen occasions. A long time ago I knew a girl whose family used to go there and I went up to visit her from time to time. There are a dozen other places along the Maine Coast that are far better. Kennebunkport is one of them. We’ll be able to visit up there, too, because a very good friend of mine practiced there before he joined the Navy and presumably he’ll go back because he was doing very well. He has a swell wife and I know you’ll like them – Ken and Mary Cuneo.

Well – here it is Sunday morning and I haven’t told you I loved you dearly, miss you terribly, think of you constantly – or anything. What a heck of a fiancé I turned out to be. But I do, darling – I do all of those things and words just aren’t going to show you enough – how I feel. I’ll have to be near you, kiss you with my arms tightly around you – and then finally all these words of the past will take on a subjective as well as objective meaning. Until then, though, I’ll go on telling you how much I love and want you, darling, and that’s more than I want anything else in the world.

All for now, sweetheart. Be well. My best love to the folks – and

All my love is yours for always


about The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis

U.S.S. Indianapolis on 10 July 1945

The world's first operational atomic bomb was delivered by the Indianapolis, (CA-35) to the island of Tinian on 26 July 1945. The Indianapolis then reported to CINCPAC (Commander-In-Chief, Pacific) Headquarters at Guam for further orders. She was directed to join the battleship USS Idaho (BB-42) at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The Indianapolis, which was not equipped with sonar or hydrophones and which was not provided with a destroyer escort, departed Guam on a course of 262 degrees making about 17 knots.

At 23:00 on 29 July 1945 Japanese submarine I-58 surfaced 250 miles north of Palau and headed south. Shortly afterwards the navigation officer Lt. Tanaka spotted the Indianapolis (CA-35). I-58 submerged and prepared to attack with Type 95 torpedoes. After maneuvering into position, at 23:26 the submarine fired a spread of six torpedoes at 2-second intervals. The ship was hit by two torpedoes out of the six fired. The first blew away the bow, the second struck near midship on the starboard side adjacent to a fuel tank and a powder magazine. The resulting explosion split the ship to the keel, knocking out all electric power. Within minutes she went down rapidly by the bow, rolling to starboard.

Twelve minutes later, Indianapolis rolled completely over, then her stern rose into the air, and down she plunged. About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the sinking. The rest of the crew, 880 men, with few lifeboats and many without lifejackets, floated in the water awaiting rescue. They waited and waited and waited. Battered by a savage sea, they struggled to survive, fighting off hyperthermia, sharks, physical and mental exhaustion, and, finally, hallucinatory dementia. By the time their rescue – which was purely accidental – occurred, all but 321 men had lost their lives; 4 more would die in military hospitals shortly thereafter.

Failure to Learn of the Sinking

The positions of all vessels of which the headquarters was concerned were plotted on plotting boards kept at the Headquarters of Commander Marianas on Guam and of the Commander Philippine Sea Frontier on Leyte. However, for ships as large as the Indianapolis, it was assumed that they would reach their destinations on time, unless reported otherwise. Therefore, their positions were based on predictions, and not on reports. On 31 July, when she should have arrived at Leyte, Indianapolis was removed from the board in the headquarters of Commander Marianas. She was also recorded as having arrived at Leyte by the headquarters of Commander Philippine Sea Frontier. Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson, the Operations Officer under the Port Director, Tacloban, was the officer responsible for tracking the movements of Indianapolis. The non-arrival of that vessel on schedule was known at once to Lieutenant Gibson who failed to investigate the matter and made no immediate report of the fact to his superiors.

The Indianapolis sent distress calls before sinking. Three stations received the signals; however, none acted upon the call. One commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese prank. (For a long time the Navy denied that a distress call had been sent. The receipt of the call came to light only after the release of declassified records.)

It wasn't until shortly after 11:00 A.M. of the fourth day that the survivors were accidentally discovered by Lt. (jg) Wilbur C. Gwinn, piloting his PV-1 Ventura Bomber on routine anti-submarine patrol. Lieutenant Gwinn had lost the weight from his navigational antenna trailing behind the plane. While crawling back through the fuselage of his plane to repair the thrashing antenna, Gwinn happened to glance down at the sea and noticed a long oil slick. Back in the cockpit, Gwinn dropped down to investigate and spotted men floating in the sea. Radioing his base at Peleiu, he alerted, "many men in the water". A PBY (seaplane) under the command of LT. R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend assistance and report. Enroute to the scene, Marks overflew the destroyer USS Cecil Doyle (DD-368), and alerted her captain, of the emergency. The captain of the Doyle, on his own authority, decided to divert to the scene.

Arriving hours ahead of the Doyle, Marks' crew began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. While so engaged, they observed men being attacked by sharks. Disregarding standing orders not to land at sea, Marks landed and began taxiing to pick up the stragglers and lone swimmers who were at greatest risk of shark attack. Learning the men were the crew of the Indianapolis, he radioed the news, requesting immediate assistance. The Doyle responded she was enroute.

As complete darkness fell, Marks waited for help to arrive, all the while continuing to seek out and pull nearly dead men from the water. When the plane's fuselage was full, survivors were tied to the wing with parachute cord. Marks and his crew rescued 56 men that day. The Cecil Doyle was the first vessel on the scene. Homing on Marks' PBY in total darkness, the Doyle halted to avoid killing or further injuring survivors, and began taking Marks' survivors aboard.

Disregarding the safety of his own vessel, the Doyle's captain pointed his largest searchlight into the night sky to serve as a beacon for other rescue vessels. This beacon was the first indication to most survivors, that their prayers had been answered. Help had at last arrived.

The Navy Finds a Scapegoat

Immediately prior to the attack, the seas had been moderate, the visibility fluctuating but poor in general, and Indianapolis had been steaming at 17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h). Captain Charles B. McVay III, who had commanded Indianapolis since November 1944, survived the sinking, and was with those rescued days later. In November 1945, he was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag."

Rear Admiral Charles Butler McVay III

Several things about the court-martial were controversial. There was evidence that the Navy itself had placed the ship in harm's way, in that McVay's orders were to "zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting." Poor visibility would call zigzagging off. Further, Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of I-58, testified that zigzagging would have made no difference. In addition,

Captain McVay was not told that shortly before his departure from Guam a Japanese submarine within range of his path had sunk a destroyer escort, the USS Underhill. Further, over 350 Navy warships had been lost in combat during World War II, but none of their captains had been court-martialed.

In 1946, at the behest of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become Chief of Naval Operations, Secretary Forrestal remitted McVay's sentence and restored him to duty. McVay served out his time in the New Orleans Naval District and retired in 1949 with the rank of Rear Admiral. While many of Indianapolis's survivors said McVay was not to blame for the sinking, the families of some of the men who died did ("Merry Christmas! Our family's holiday would be a lot merrier if you hadn't killed my son." - read one piece of hate mail). The guilt that was placed on his shoulders mounted until he committed suicide in 1968, using his Navy-issue revolver. McVay was discovered with a toy sailor in one hand on his front lawn.

In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should state that "he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis." President Bill Clinton signed the resolution. The resolution noted that although several hundred ships of the U.S. Navy were lost in combat in World War II, McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the sinking of his ship. In July 2001, the Secretary of the Navy ordered McVay's record cleared of all wrongdoing.

Click here to read one survivor's story.

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