The Navy announcement that updated the status of 13 Sailors lost in WWII from "Unaccounted for" to "Buried at Sea" provided a renewed focus on the events surrounding the sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA 35).
WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
Just after midnight July 30, 1945, torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58 found the heavy cruiser and sent her to the bottom of the Western Pacific within minutes. The speed and surprise of the attack took the lives of an estimated 300 men aboard the ship; the remainder of the ship’s 1,195 Sailors abandoned the sinking cruiser.
The ship and crew, fresh off a 10-day, record-setting run from San Francisco to deliver atomic bomb components to the island of Tinian, continued west on the Convoy Route Peddie, bound for Leyte in the Philippines. What happened next would result in one of the biggest tragedies in American naval history.
Many are familiar with the sinking. Few, however, understand the far-reaching impact of the incident and the tremendous amount of documentation and research conducted in the wake of the incident that continues to impact how the Navy operates today.
The cruiser's failure to arrive in Leyte went unnoticed and unreported, and it wasn't until four days after the sinking that a routine patrol spotted survivors and initiated the rescue effort. Plagued by injuries, dehydration and sharks, just 316 Sailors survived. Some, pulled from water alive, did not recover. Subsequently buried at sea, these Sailors were misclassified as “Unaccounted for” by the responding vessels.
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) is charged with preserving and presenting an accurate history of the U.S. Navy, and its resources often support the efforts of private, commercial and governmental organizations to further this cause.
"We're an organization of historians," said NHHC’s Chief of Staff, John DeLuca. "We don't have the capability to find and recover lost ships. What we can do is provide historical insight and documentation to individuals and organizations who are pursuing our same goal to preserve and maintain our naval heritage."
Organizations with ongoing relationships with NHHC include a multitude of family and survivor organizations and this is not the first time historical documentation was used to answer questions raised by Indianapolis's sinking.
An NHHC historian at the time of publication, Dr. Richard Hulver’s book, “A Grave Misfortune,” highlights NHHC’s historical contribution. It consolidates a rich body of research on the sinking of Indianapolis, including personal insights from the ship's commanding officer, Capt. Charles McVay.
Despite documented coordinates, both from rescue vessels and from the ship’s commanding officer himself, attempts to locate the Indianapolis wreck site came up empty-handed repeatedly.
Fortunately, NHHC was able to provide important insight.
Hulver saw a 2016 online post and found subsequent documentation from a tank landing ship that navigated the same route—on the same day—as CG-35.
Hulver's find helped narrow the search grid. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul Allen’s research team aboard the research vessel R/V Petrel then used the research he published online, and after multiple searches, located the wreck of Indianapolis in August 2017. Found at a depth of just over 19,000 feet, the location showed the survivors had drifted more than 100 miles from the original site of the attack.
"The Navy makes a solemn promise to their families that we will remember them, that we will not forget the sacrifice made by their loved one," said NHHC Director Sam Cox.
Cox, a retired rear admiral, knew the story of USS Indianapolis before he was in kindergarten. His father and grandfather served in the Navy, and he grew up surrounded by ship models, Jane’s Fighting Ships, re-runs of Victory at Sea, and in his words, “just about every book published on the U.S. Navy in World War II.” A one-time resident of Indianapolis, Cox maintains strong ties with the memories of the Indianapolis heroes and their survivor organizations, and in 2018, he became an "Honorary Survivor," a title recognizing the command’s role in remembering their ship.
"It is my duty to ensure that the Navy keeps that promise. And I can assure the survivors and the families of those lost at sea that I will do my utmost to ensure that the sacrifice of the USS Indianapolis and her brave crew is never forgotten."
NHHC, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for preserving, analyzing, and disseminating U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC comprises many activities, including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, 10 museums, USS Constitution restoration facility, and the historic ship Nautilus.
Note to Media: For more information, contact the Naval History and Heritage Command Public Affairs Office at 202-433-7880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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