[July 30, 2021] One of the great ironies of our time, in a world of justice and righting wrongs, is the rejection of our history to learn valuable lessons. Great institutions of learning now politicalize every speck of every act deemed morally irredeemable. Such is the loss of lessons of the USS Indianapolis from WW2.
Today, July 30, is the anniversary of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) sinking, a heavy cruiser of the U.S. Navy. The ship and her crew played a significant role in defeating the Japanese Imperial Navy and land forces. Yet, oddly enough, after the sinking, the Captain was to be the only Navy Captain during the war to be court-martialed for aspects related to the sinking.
Circumstances that lead to the sinking were top-secret and only exposed years after the war. The Indianapolis was on a secret mission to deliver uranium and atomic bomb parts to the U.S. Army Air Force on the island of Tinian. After dropping off this cargo (which it did successfully), the ship was to rendezvous with the battleship Idaho to take part in the invasion of Japan.
Unfortunately for the crew, the Indianapolis was hit with two torpedoes and sank in 12 minutes, trapping about 300 sailors in the ship. Another 900 make it off the ship, not knowing they were in shark-infested waters. Sharks, sun, and dehydration took their toll on the sailors. Only 316 survived. Because they were on a secret mission and serious errors by the Navy, no one missed them. Four days after the sinking, a routine patrol plane spotted them.
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis is the largest U.S. naval loss in American history. Senior naval commanders in the area, responsible for tracking ships on plotting boards, failed to track the Indianapolis. Although she failed to arrive at her planned destination, the ship was recorded as “arrived.”
At Leyte, her destination, it was known immediately that the ship had not arrived, but the reason was not investigated. Other major Navy failures led to a failure to follow up on the whereabouts of the Indianapolis and crew. This ship’s Captain, Charles B. McVay III, was court-martialed on two charges. After additional investigations, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted McVay’s sentence and restored him to active duty. McVay retired in 1949 as a rear admiral.
But that is not the end of the story and the tragic ending of the sinking and lessons of history. McVay, laded with guilt, committed suicide in 1968. In 1996, a sixth-grade student, Hunter Scott, began research on the sinking of the Indianapolis for a class project. Scott’s effort led to national publicity and the attention of retired and current members of Congress. Ultimately, this led to the clearing McVay of all wrongdoing.
Knowing and understanding the history of what is most pertinent to our lives is one of the keys to separating the good from the best leaders and those who are victorious from those who fail. Ultimately, knowing history means that we recognize and apply the past lessons where change remains a common theme. Knowing the relevant history means having an appreciation of this change.1
There is an excellent website dedicated to the USS Indianapolis and its crew. I recommend it.