Sunday, October 14, 2018

Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic

Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic was an excellent book subtitled The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man.

Vincent and Vladic tell well the remarkable story of the ship and it's men, with the Indianapolis the flagship of the Pacific fleet and just prior to the sinking, having gone from San Francisco across the Pacific with the core of the atomic bomb that would drop on Hiroshima. The heavy cruiser was then sunk on July 30, 1945 by a Japanese submarine, with some 300 people going down with the ship, nearly 900 making it into the water alive, and 316 surviving until rescue.

The book came out of interviews with 107 survivors and eyewitnesses, with those rescued spending some four days in the water, covered in oil, with sharks attacking, and people going delirious. The authors detail an amazing rescue, both the sheer happenstance that led to people being sighted and then the planes and boats that went to them. An American bomber was flying overhead on routine patrol, with people in it spotting an oil slick thought to be from a Japanese sub, and then following it and seeing in the water the hundreds of American sailors from a ship not even reported as missing. That identification was mid-day August 2nd, and around 5PM that night a plane piloted by Lieutenant Adrian Marks made an extremely dangerous and against regulations open-sea landing to make the first rescues.

Additionally, Commander Graham Claytor of the destroyer USS Cecil J Doyle heard of the hundreds of men in the water and prior to receiving any orders from command, rerouted his ship and pushed it to the limits speeding to the rescue. Then at 10:42PM, about an hour prior to arriving to the many sailors not aboard the now floating rescue plane, Claytor went against all naval regulations and ordered his searchlight pointed at the sky, so that people would know help was coming... something that survivors then in the water later noted as important to their survival. There were countless tales of heroism around the rescue, including Petty Officer William Van Wilpe repeatedly jumping into the waters and dragging people aboard and the final rescue of survivors, including Indianapolis Captain Charles McVay III, occurred August 3rd, with news of the Indy sinking released by the military two weeks later, on the same day Japan's surrender announced and the war over.

Incredibly, McVay was subsequently court-martialed, with he the only captain of a sunken ship from the war to have this occur to him and charges against McVay were for things like not zigzagging, even though his orders fairly standard practice, and little time was allowed for his just-appointed defense to gather evidence. It very much seemed like the captain was set up to take the blame for the mistakes of others that helped lead to the sinking, as well as then extended time prior to rescue efforts. There was no escort provided for the thousand-person ship, nor information passed along to the Indianapolis about Japanese submarine activity in the area of the sinking and after it went down, multiple people took a "not my responsibility" attitude towards the whereabouts of the ship as it was supposedly sailing from one region of operational responsibility to another, all the while at the bottom of the ocean with hundreds of sailors continuing to perish in the water.

The book wraps up with detail around the decades-later exoneration of the now deceased Captain McVay, with efforts around this led by many of the aging surviving sailors as well as William Toti, captain of the submarine USS Indianapolis, an 11 year-old who learned about the ship, sympathetic members of Congress, and even Japanese sub commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who sunk the Indianapolis. The ship remained lost at sea until discovery in 2017 by a team financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Vincent and Vladic do a very effective job of telling the story of it, the men on board, and those who came to their rescue and defense.