It sank in twelve minutes. Two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine dealt the fatal blows. On July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis had delivered vital components for the atomic bomb that would fall on Hiroshima and was headed back to base. Her secret mission ended with disaster. 1196 sailors and Marines were aboard. Hundreds were killed in the attack but most survived. 900 men went into the waters of the Pacific. Days later a plane spotted a raft and rescue operations finally commenced. Only 316 men were saved. The rest perished because of exposure, dehydration, drowning, and shark attacks.
After 8 years of searching, a team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen found the wreckage at a depth of 18,000 feet. CNN writer Immanuel Grinberg wrote an article about the discovery, quoting a relative of one of those who died: “After 72 years, the Indy might’ve finally been found, but I’m still lost in a sea of tears.”
Only about 20 of the survivors are still alive today. For some of them and the families of those lost, there is gratitude that the ship was finally located. For many others, the news opened wounds long thought closed.
Controversy has swirled about this tragic episode for decades. President Harry Truman was vilified by some, hailed by others. He made the decision to use a weapon that both cost and saved lives. War is indeed hell.
Even amidst the horror of vicious sharks taking men, there were stories of gallantry and sacrifice. A sailor who gave up his life jacket to a wounded man and then slipped below the waves … groups of men uniting to fend of the bloodthirsty predators … sharing the meager supplies of food and water. In the worst of times, the human spirit can soar.
We could use some soaring in our day.