The 74th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, July 30, 1945
Honoring Those of the USS Indianapolis
This year marks the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the Philippine Sea on July 30, 1945. It carried 1196 dedicated crew members, 300+ trapped inside, 579 lost at sea and 317 survived the shark-infested waters. Making this a tremendous tragedy since Pearl Habor. Upon that ship, only one officer survived the Captian Charles Butler McVay III who served 29 years in the US Navy. Dedicated his life to serving his country.
They were on a secret mission to deliver materials that would assemble an atomic bomb to Tinian, a small island in the Philippines. Which later McVay III found out that it was to make the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The USS Indianapolis was attacked by the Japanese submarine I-58 under the Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto. Two out of six torpedoes struck the USS Indianapolis, sinking her in 12 minutes. Because of Navy protocol, the ship was not reported overdue. Secret missions were not reported due to secrecy.
It took four days to rescue the members of the USS Indianapolis. Only because of a report from USAF pilots Lt. Wilber Gwinn and co-pilot Lt. Warren Colwell on a search and rescue of a downed USAF plane they were found. Capt. McVay III asked repeatedly why they were not rescued sooner when three distress calls were made. He never received answers from the Navy. It was reported that three commanders ignored the SOS calls from the ship. A tragedy for those on the USS Indianapolis.
Captain McVay III was court-martialed for failure to zig-zag the ship. Commander Hashimoto testified at McVay’s court-martial, saying the zig-zagging would have not prevented the ship from the attack. McVay III requested an escort due to prior warnings of potential enemy vessels in the area but was denied. Making McVay III the fall guy for the Navy’s cover-up.
Retiring as a rear admiral in 1949, apparently, he never got over his treatment from the Navy. On, November 6, 1968, McVay III took his own life. After losing his wife to cancer the loneliness became unbearable. Throughout the years he struggled with the loss of his crew, he received several letters and phone calls from grieving family, blaming him for their loss. McVay never recovered from the loss.
As the record shows that McVay III was the only Captain court-martialed out of 380 ships lost during World War II. Many felt that he was unjustly accused and eventually would be posthumously exonerated. On October 25, 2000, the US Congress passed a resolution exonerating McVay III for the loss of the USS Indianapolis. President Clinton signed the resolution. In July 2001, Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England ordered McVay’s official Navy record purged of any wrongdoing.
Although there were many heroes onboard the USS Indianapolis. One stood out among the survivors Chaplin Lt. Thomas Conway. During the time in the shark-infested waters, he swam between the life rafts calming, praying and giving hope of rescue to the men who remained. It took his faith to get them through. It took great strength to swim between the rafts dodging and praying that the sharks would not attack him as well. He gave last rites to those that had not made it and baptized those who wanted to. He past away on the evening of August 2, 1945, due to exhaustion, the day before the rescue.
There has been a great effort in awarding Lt. Conway for his heroism during those days at sea. Due to conflicting stories and lack of officer knowledge of his role in helping keep the men together mentally and physically. According to the Navy, there has to be an officer that witnessed or submitted a letter of accommodation for the Navy Cross.
Now, being that no officer survived the sinking except McVay III had apparently not known of Conway’s actions. Due to him floating in a different part of the sea. McVay III did write accommodation letters on some of his men. At this point, there is no known evidence except the word of the soldiers and marines that were floating with Conway. It saddens many who believe that Conway deserves the recognition of his valor.
Is it the fact that he stepped up with his religion to console fellow officers while in need. Or is it the fact that the Navy wants to bury the embarrassment of abandoning these heroes of the USS Indianapolis. As far as anyone who has served its country honorably in combat, hostage, lost at sea, under extreme distress deserves to be awarded.
In this attempt to give knowledge of this tragedy and the devasting consequences that the Navy brought upon the men aboard the USS Indianapolis and their families. To do the honorable thing and give the Navy Cross to Chaplin Lt. Thomas Conway. The stories that the men gave alone should be enough to award him. There were no surviving officers with the group. And who is to say that McVay III didn’t know about the heroic attempts of Conway due to his own conflicts of distress from his own court-martial, wife’s illness and grieving families.
I know this much a person can only take so much. The effort of so many should be heard for Lt. Thomas Conway. Give this man his just acknowledgment for going above and beyond. We could have lost more if he hadn’t. That would have been even more of a devastation.
To think that if the Navy had given them an escort would the USS Indianapolis been destroyed. If they had listened to the testimony of Commander Hashimoto. Maybe all of this would have been avoidable. It is dishearting to think that this was all in vain. Because the Navy needed a scapegoat from the mistake of three men who just didn’t want to seek out the truth and send help to a downed vessel.
It would be the honorable thing to give the Navy Cross to Lt. Thomas Conway for his valor during those last days of his life and of so many more. We lost more than our men, we lost our integrity to do the right thing towards mankind. The Japanese even thought that it was wrong that we did don’t come to the aid of our fellow man sooner. It stands in history what was and is done for the men of the USS Indianapolis. Make it right!
I dedicate this to those who served the USS Indianapolis on that fateful night in 1945. May you all rest in peace.
Teresa A Blakely