As the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, this old Navy vet still has vivid memories of one of history’s most dramatic two weeks. Consider the combination of ironic coincidence, horrible casualties and everything else representing the insanity of war.
A movie about one of the most tragic events of the time, entitled “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage” is now being filmed, with release date expected in 2016. The producer is Nicolas Cage and director Mario Van Peebles.
The two-week drama began on July 30, 1945, just days before the Japanese surrender ending World War II. The official ceremony, conducted by General Douglas MacArthur, was held August 14 aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Days earlier, at midnight on that late July date, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine off the island of Leyte. She took just 12 minutes to disappear into the Philippine Sea. Of the 1,196 Navy and Marine crew, 300 died from onboard explosions and drowning.
Although distress signals had gone out from the doomed ship in her final moments, no help came for four days. The results were that another 600 died in the water from exposure and shark attacks.
On August 3, a Navy aircraft carrier bomber pilot reported seeing the survivors, and they were picked up by ships and boats sent out from the Philippine island of Leyte. When rescue finally arrived, there were only 317 of the crew still alive.
At the time, I was a sailor with an advance Navy unit at the Leyte port of Tacloban. We were rushed to Army and Navy medical units to unload stretchers and help the survivors in every way we could.
Afterword: Ironically, when it was sunk, the USS Indianapolis was returning from the island of Tinian. It had just delivered the atomic bomb components for the Air Force B-29s. Their mission killed at least 200,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, when they devastated Hiroshima on August 6, and Nagasaki on August 9. My 20th birthday was August 8.
After the war, the captain of the USS Indianapolis was court-martialed for failing to follow wartime safety regulations. He was reprimanded and retired from the Navy. Never forgiven by families of the lost crewmen, he committed suicide several years later.