| Features | World
LOEL DENE "L.D."
Born: Sidney, Texas
Seaman First Class - U.S.S. Indianapolis
The Sinking of The Indianapolis
The Lone Star Gazette, Dublin, Texas
Laura Kestner, Publisher / Editor
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.
| The U.S. Navy
heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway at sea on 27 September
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."
Cox's narrative of the sinking of the Indianapolis:
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
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
"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."
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.
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."
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.
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
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 : firstname.lastname@example.org - Connie G. Ford, 6/May/2002