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Texas | Features | World War II

Seaman First Class - U.S.S. Indianapolis

Born: Sidney, Texas (Comanche County)
Resides: Comanche, Texas

L.D. Cox's Account of
The Sinking of The Indianapolis

Reprinted with permission from
The Lone Star Gazette, Dublin, Texas
Laura Kestner, Publisher / Editor
Editor's note:
The heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis, was torpedoed in the final few days of the war. It was on its return trip from delivering the first atomic bomb to the air base at Tinian Island for delivery to Hiroshima. The Japanese submarine commander admitted after the war that his boat, the I-58 was a new submarine and eager to make a kill, knowing the war was in its final stages. For those reasons he deliberately used more torpedoes than were necessary to sink the ship. The sinking was compounded by the mistakes made by the U.S. Naval Command in the Philippines. No rescue was sent and many of the survivors drowned after their waterlogged life jackets pulled them under. Sharks ate hundreds while their helpless friends watched and it remains the most horrific incident of a war filled with horror. Seaman First Class Cox was on the bridge when the torpedoes struck. He was one of only 316 survivors from the ship's crew of 1,196.

The following excerpts are courtesy Laura Kestner, who interviewed Mr. Cox for the Lone Star Gazette. We've added headings to various parts of the story, it is continuous in its original printed form. - Editor

USS Indianapolis
The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway at sea on 27 September 1939.

"My wife is Sara Lou. We have one son, Lowell Dean Cox, a daughter-in-law, Terry Cox and a grandson, Jeff. My great, great uncle, W.D. Cox was the first schoolteacher in Sidney in 1882. He was also a sheriff in the late 1800s. He donated land for a community cemetery there. My grandfather had 11 children and for awhile nearly all of them lived in the Sidney Community."

L.D. Cox's narrative of the sinking of the Indianapolis:

"The Indianapolis had been hit by a Kamikaze at Okinawa and it knocked off two propellers. We came back to the United States to be repaired. Right after repairs were made, we were supposed to begin gunnery practice. But instead, they put a big box on board and we headed for Tinian. We made it in nine steaming days and that's still the record for a surface vessel. We didn't know what was in the box."

"They also brought another, smaller metal container on board, and carried it up to the Captain's quarters and welded it to the deck. That wasn't common knowledge with the crew at the time, but we knew about it later after we took off. We think that was the uranium part of the bomb."

According to Cox, "scuttlebutt", or ship's gossip, concerning the contents of the box ran rampant. "My favorite story was that it was a big box of scented toilet paper for General McArthur," Cox laughs. "Of course we had no way of knowing how serious it was."

"After we left the bomb at Tinian we came back to Guam, and took on supplies, " Cox says. We were told to join the battleship U.S.S. Idaho, in the Philippines for gunnery practice. Our ship carried no SONAR equipment, so we depended on escorts, like destroyers. We asked for an escort, but were told that there was none available. The Captain was assured that the route was safe. What he wasn't told was that one of our ships, the U.S.S. Underhill, had been sunk by a submarine about five days earlier, on the same route."

The last few minutes of the Indianapolis

Just after Midnight, July 30th 1945

"My duties on the bridge were either to steer the ship, to be on the telephone with the engine room, or to be lookout. On this night my assignment was to communicate with the engine room. I took the headphones and about five or ten minutes later there was an explosion - we had been hit by a torpedo. I was blown up into the air about five feet and landed on my stomach. As I started to get to my feet, I looked up and there was debris, water, flames and everything up above me. And the bridge was 81 feet from the waterline - so that shows you how powerful an explosion it was. I started on up and we were hit by another torpedo. This one hit the ammunition magazine.

"We didn't know for sure it was a torpedo; we didn't know anything. The explosions knocked the Captain out of his bunk and he came up and took charge. I was told to get him a lifejacket and so I got one and helped him into it. All power was out."

The Fire Control Officer reported that they were sinking. "By this time we were laying down on our right side at such a degree that you could nearly walk down the smoke stack. The Captain said to pass the word to abandon ship. I took him at his word. I had heard how a ship when it sinks can suck you down and under. And I had also heard that a lot of times that a captain will go down with his ship - and I was with Captain McVay, so when he said "Abandon Ship", I left him."

The Ordeal Begins

"I ran to the port side, the uphill side. I had to reach over and grab a hook and then swing out over the main deck and hit the deck and then the water. It was about 40 feet from where I swung out. I had swallowed a bunch of oil and water and I began to vomit. I swam as fast as I could to get away from the ship; I was still worried about the suction. When I looked back I saw the ship had already laid completely over on her side and the stern was coming up and it just went straight down. You could see the propellers still slowly turning and men still jumping off. It only took 12 minutes for the ship to sink and it was 610 feet long."

"I swam out a little further and I ran into this sailor, all by himself, and he was one of my best buddies. He had been flashburned and somebody had put a lifejacket on him and put him overboard. - His name was Clifford Josey and he only survived an hour or two. I've been told there were rafts, but I never saw any. When the moon came out, I found a little group of about 30 men and we stayed together. When daylight came we were cold and shivering. We figured we'd be found pretty quick, that people would be looking for us - so all that day we had pretty high hopes."

As the day wore on, the sun began to take its toll. "It got so hot on us - that the sun was just blistering," Cox says. "Oh, it was so hot. We prayed for darkness. When darkness came we got chilled and began to shake. The water was so cold. Then we prayed for the sun. We had oil all over us. Some people say that the oil helped us, and I guess it did, but when the sun would beat down on you like that, you nearly fried. It was a terrible ordeal." Unfortunately, there were bigger ordeals to come.

The Sharks
We saw sharks from day one," Cox says, "but after a short while they became aggressive." With their legs dangling in the water, the men were easy targets. "We'd hear them scream," Cox says, "and then the water would turn red - they were getting us. A shark got one of my buddies who was just a couple of feet from me - the shark's tail and the water just covered me up, I was that close. If a shark took a leg, or just bit them, then sometimes they would float back up - some did and some didn't. Of course they were all dead. We'd take their life-jackets and their dog tags."

Hallucinations and Dementia

After a couple of days with no food or water, the men began to hallucinate. Several men attempted to drink the salt water and died. A potato floated by, Cox says, but I was so afraid it had salt water in it that I decided not to eat it."

After seeing a man undo his life preserver and slip beneath the water "to return to the ship for a drink of water" Cox tied several hard knots in his own life preserver.

"Men also started saying they knew where there was an island," Cox says, and they'd swim off. After a while you really didn't know whether they were off or you were off and there really was an island. but I decided to stay put." According to Cox, none of those men were seen again.

Finally after five nights and four days, a pilot saw them - Cox describes this as the happiest day of his life.

"The hair on my head stood straight up, I was so happy." The men still faced hours in the water and some died before they could be rescued. "Later that night there was this bright light shining - it was like a light from heaven," Cox says. One of the rescue vessels had turned on their flood lights to give us hope."

Cox apparently lost consciousness for awhile. "The next thing I remember was a bright light shining in my face," he says, "and a strong arm pulling me into a little boat and taking me to the USS Bassett. I still had enough strength, with a little help, to climb a rope ladder. I got on the deck, took two steps and fell on my face. Someone picked me up and carried me to a bunk - a canvas covered bunk. They laid me face down, with my hands under me and I fell asleep. I don't know how long it was before I woke up, but when I did I realized that my hands were stuck to the canvas. When I rolled over it nearly pulled my hide off."

Two sailors from the Bassett took me and washed me down and tried to get the oil of me. I had sores all over me, they looked just like burns and the hide was coming off." They took tweezers and took strips of skin off my shoulders from where my life jacket had been. I lost all my body hair and I lost my fingernails and toenails. I had basically been pickled in salt water."

While still in the hospital the men received word of the atomic bomb. "They brought this newsletter," Cox says, "and this is what you men were carrying and it's been dropped by the Enola Gay." The men also learned that of the original 1,196 men on the Indianapolis, only 316 had survived.


The story of the Indianapolis doesn't end there. Rather than blame the sailors and officers back in the Philippines for numerous blunders and incompetence, the Navy decided to court-martial Captain McVay. Despite the support of his crew and even the favorable testimony of the Japanese submarine captain who was flown to Washington for the trial, McVay was found to be at fault. The only Captain to be court-martialed of the 700 US ships sunk during WWII, he received hate mail from the families of dead crew members for years and finally became a suicide in 1968.

The Indianapolis Memorial in Indianapolis, Indiana is a 1.3 million-dollar monument built with donations collected by the survivors. Captain McVay was finally exonerated of wrongdoing after a long drawn out battle to get his name cleared. The survivors want it made clear that no tax dollars were used for the project. The survivors have a reunion at the memorial every other year.

Last summer The Discovery Channel took several survivors, including L.D. Cox back to the Pacific in an attempt to locate the Indianapolis. The men were able to sink a granite marker to remember their former shipmates, but the Expedition failed to locate the Indianapolis.

June, 2001 Guest column
Our special thanks to Laura Kestner, Editor and Publisher of the Lone Star Gazette of Dublin, Texas for allowing us to republish this entry from her series "Our Veterans".

The Gazette is a newspaper telling the stories and histories of the five counties of Comanche, Erath, Hamilton, Hood and Somervell. The Gazette can be reached at 254-445-2654.

My Uncle was killed while serving on the U.S.S. Indianapolis. I have since been to the memorial in Indianapolis, it is beautiful. Thanks to all those who made it a reality. If anyone reading this has any knowledge or information of my Uncle, Everett E. Keith, I would greatly appreciate it. My address is 5930 Church Hill Road Zanesville, Oh 43701 Email : justice1313@hotmail.com - Connie G. Ford, 6/May/2002

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