Several horrible events happened within only two weeks of the end of World War 2. Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, a Japanese submarine sank the American cruiser, USS Indianapolis, resulting in the deaths of nearly a thousand Navy men.
Before sailing for the Philippines, the Indy had delivered the first atomic bomb to the Pacific island of Tinian. On August 7, an American bomber from that island dropped it on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths.
To most people under age 90 today, this story is about as obscure as Admiral Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar or Captain John Paul Jones win over British ships. However, for me the Indy disaster evokes personal memories of 72 years ago.
Recent news reports that a scientific team found the Indy wreckage about a mile deep in the ocean, several miles off the coast of Leyte in the Philippines. In 1945, I was at the Navy base in the coastal port of Tacloban. When the news of the disaster came in to us, it was five days and nights after the sinking.
Unfortunately for the Indy crew, the torpedo had destroyed all the communications equipment, so no distress call went out, and the ship sank within minutes. Of the 1,200 crewmen aboard, about 300 were killed by the blasts. The others went into the shark-infested water, and by the time of rescue five days later, only 317 survived.
I was among the Navy guys at the Tacloban base who were assigned to help as the survivors were brought to camp on August 5. Many were in advanced states of exposure, sunburn, wounds and exhaustion.
The Hiroshima bomb was dropped on August 7. When the official Japanese offer to surrender came in on August 15, we were all grateful we had survived the war. The horrible irony of the story, of course, is that the Indy was sunk after delivering the bomb that won the war just days later.