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USS Indianapolis

29 Jul 1945 – A Japanese sub sank the American cruiser Indianapolis, killing 883 seamen in the worst loss in the history of the US navy. In preparation for a proposed invasion of the Japan, scheduled for 1 Nov, US forces bombed the Japanese home islands. The end was near for Imperial Japan, but it was determined to go down fighting. Just before midnight of the 29th, the cruiser Indianapolis, the flagship of the Fifth Fleet, was on its way, unescorted, to Guam, then Okinawa. It never made it. There were 1,196 crewmen onboard; over 350 died upon impact of the torpedo or went down with the ship. More than 800 fell into the Pacific. Of those, about 50 died that first night in the water from injuries; those remaining were left to flounder in the Pacific, fend off sharks, drink sea water (which drove some insane), and wait to be rescued. Because there was no time for a distress signal before the Indianapolis went down, it was 84 hours before help arrived. This was despite the fact that US30 naval headquarters had intercepted a message on 30 July from the Japanese sub captain describing the type of ship sunk and its location. (The Americans assumed it was an exaggerated boast and didn’t follow up.) Only 318 survived; the rest were eaten by sharks or drowned. The Indianapolis’s commander, Captain Charles McVay, was the only officer ever to be court-martialed for the loss of a ship during wartime in the Navy’s history. Had the attack happened only 3 days earlier, the Indianapolis would have been sunk carrying special cargo–the atom bomb, which it delivered to Tinian Island, northeast of Guam, for scientists to assemble. We, Americans, owe these brave men, living and dead, a great deal. How many of us, today, would sacrifice for our nation as they did?

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