On July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis CA-35 – a 610-foot-long, heavy cruiser –  was struck by two Japanese torpedoes that sent the ship 18,000 feet down to her watery grave. The ship sank in 12 minutes, but it took 72 years before a group of researchers led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen located it this past August.

This sad, poignant moment of discovery drew attention to one of the most deadly maritime disasters in United States naval history.

Remembering the fallen

As the relative of a survivor, this discovery is of particular interest. My great-uncle Dick was one of 317 survivors of the 1,196-man crew that left Tinian Island after delivering the first ever atomic bomb. A thick veil of secrecy covered the mission, such that the men onboard had no idea what they were carrying.

900 seamen made it into the water after the attack on the USS Indianapolis. The vessel sank with little time for the crew to prepare. The sailors’ situation was complicated by the fact that one of the torpedoes knocked out the ship’s communication center. This caused a shortage of life vests and lifeboats. The men, some seriously injured, faced five days in the ocean before their rescue. During that time, nearly 600 men fell victim to drowning and shark attacks. It was a horrific scene.

Recovering the lost

The few living survivors had a range of emotions when they found out Allen’s crew had recovered the USS Indianapolis. For some this brought closure, but for others, it opened old wounds.

Many have tried to find the USS Indianapolis in the past, but Richard Hulver, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, was recently able to pinpoint the last recorded position of the ship before it was targeted by the Japanese submarine. Allen’s research ship, known as Petrel, used the coordinates recorded by the naval landing craft to locate the lost ship.

Complying with the United States law that protects war graves, they did a cursory examination of the ship. They soon found a number ‘35’ on the side. At that moment, they knew this was the famed USS Indianapolis. I can only imagine the thoughts racing through the minds of Allen’s crew, as they realized they were hovering above the graves of so many brave men.

Explorers have already planned another excursion to the site. I hope a new generation of Americans will understand the sacrifice these men played in helping end World War II.

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