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USS Indianapolis
Sank 70 Years Ago


Baytown man aboard ship that delivered components for A-bomb

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton

July 30 will be a date to remember in World War II-- the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the worst sea disaster in U.S. history. Casualties included a Baytown man, Marvin Baker, after whom Baker Road is named.

Baker was among 300 crew members who died inside the ship while nearly 900 others were hurled into shark-infested waters. Only 316 men survived to tell their harrowing story.

Torpedoes from a Japanese submarine had smashed into the ship shortly after midnight July 30, 1945, in the Philippine Sea north of Manila. Headed for Leyte, the Indianapolis had sailed from the small island of Tinian where the crew made a top-secret delivery. The delivery was composed of components of the atomic bomb that would be dropped Aug. 6 on Hiroshima, setting the stage for the end of the war.

Although a number of books have been written about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, it took a blockbuster movie, "Jaws," to raise public awareness of the tragedy.

Quint's "Indianapolis speech" in the movie, explaining his manic obsession with killing sharks, left movie-goers wanting to know more. Was this a true story told by a fictitious survivor of the Indianapolis?

Of course, it was. Robert Shaw, who portrayed Quint, rewrote the script himself to make sure the graphic details would convey accurately what happened during the shark attacks. Pivotal to his role in the film, the four-minute monologue is considered a classic in film history.

Waiting for help, the men felt abandoned, suffering from dehydration and injuries from the ship explosion, plus the shark attacks. While many died instantly in shark attacks, others lingered in fear and pain, some of them hallucinating and slowly growing mad.

They couldn't understand why they were not being rescued. They were unaware that the Navy was unaware of the disaster.

Actually their presence became known by accident. Pilots on a routine patrol happened to spot them five days later and then, within three hours, the men finally were rescued.

A concluding one-liner from Quint's speech: "Anyway, we delivered the bomb."

The story would continue, however, as a controversy erupted over whether the Indianapolis captain, Charles B. McVay III, had done his duty. Accused of failing to order his ship to zig-zag to avoid the Japanese torpedoes, he was court-martialed. Surviving crew member stood by their captain, saying he should not be blamed. Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of the submarine that torpedoed the ship, even said so. A zig-zag maneuver would not have made any difference, Hashimoto stated.

In McVay's defense, the ship had no submarine detection equipment and the captain's request for a destroyer escort had been denied.

When the ship failed to reach Leyte on July 31, no report was made. The Navy claimed that SOS messages never were received because the ship was operating under a policy of radio silence.

His court martial having ended his career, McVay retired in 1949 and committed suicide in 1968.

Into the 1990s, a 12-year-old boy named Hunter Scott in Pensacola, Fla., began researching the USS Indianapolis for a National History Day project. He had been deeply moved by the Quint speech in "Jaws" and wanted to know more about the ill-fated ship.

During his research, the boy became convinced that McVay was innocent, and he testified before Congress to clear the captain's name. This led to a full investigation, culminating in an exoneration resolution signed by President Clinton, and in orders from Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England for McVay's Navy record to be purged of all wrongdoing.

A 2007 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Scott now serves as naval aviator and MH-60R Seahawk pilot.


Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" August 22, 2015 columns

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