USS INDIANAPOLIS/ GWINN
AN EXTRAORDINARY DAY
August 2, 1945 is a day forever etched in the history of the USS Indianapolis CA-35. Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was attacked by a Japanese submarine. The heavy cruiser – which days earlier had secretly delivered the components for the first atomic bomb - sunk in only12 minutes. Its crew of nearly 1200 men were plunged into the dark Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t until August 2, 1945 that the survivors would be spotted. By then, only a few hundred would still be alive. The pilot that got their rescue under way was Lt.(jg) Wilbur C. (Chuck) Gwinn. Years later, he described the events of that fateful day as follows:
“I was one of the Pilot Engineering Officers for the VPB-152 squadron. My duties included inspection and testing of aircraft. On the morning of August 2, 1945, I was testing a new type of trailing antenna on my patrol. We had been having damage to the aircraft with the old type. When I took off about 8 am, the new antenna sock was lost, and I had to return to base for another. On my second take off, the new weight stayed on and we proceeded out on patrol. The weather was warm and clear. The sea was calm and glossy, flying into the sun. We reached cruising altitude for the patrol at approximately 4000 ft. Neither my co-pilot, Warren Colwell, nor I could see any objects on the water. Flying into the sun, we had to depend on our radar and aft observers. We were about 180 miles out when I had the trailing antenna extended. When the wire was reeled out approximately 70 ft, the second test weight broke off.”
“My crew, Bill Hartman (radioman), Joe Johnson (mechanic), and Herb Hickman (ordnanceman) were unable to bring the end of the wire in, and they informed me of the problem. I told my co-pilot I would go back and check the trouble. My mechanic, Joe Johnson and I got the antenna free to reel in. As I was extending my arm out of the tail gunner’s hatch to grasp the wire and pull the end in, I saw we were starting to pass over an oil slick. From this position we were looking away from the sun and the oil slick looked like a submarine had gone under the surface. My mechanic secured the wire while I went forward to the cockpit and informed Colwell we just flew over a sub and we were going after it. This was our first contact and we wanted the sub. Around and down we went, bomb bay doors open, bombs armed and ready to drop. We believed we had finally made a real live contact.”
“As we came in on the spot, almost ready to drop, we saw men waving in the water. What was going on? We had not been informed of any ships at sea in this area. Were these men survivors of a plane crash? Were they ours or the enemy? We had no way of knowing. As it turned out, we would not know for two days who they were.”
“We sent out an emergency message. ‘Sight 30 survivors in water. Send help’, and gave our position. After circling the area, we sent our second message, ‘Approximately 75 men in open sea – circling area’. Then, we sent a third message, ‘150 or more men in water, circling for rescue planes to hone in on’, and gave our position.”
“Our life raft and everything that would float were dropped overboard. We also dropped a sonabuoy hoping to be able to communicate with one of these men (but that didn’t work out). What a feeling! I still remember some of our reactions – surprise – excitement, etc. Our main job now was to provide a homing station over these men for plane and ships to aid in the rescue.”
“The first plane we saw in the area was an army PBM, but for some reason it did not communicate with me and then flew on. To this day, no one knows why or who the pilot was.”
“The first plane that arrived to relieve me was piloted by Commander Richard Atteberry. He was my squadron commander of VPB-152. He surveyed the scene with me and then instructed me to return to base at Peleliu. Our fuel was very low. Cmdr. Atteberry was there when Lt. Adrian Marks arrived on scene.”
“The next few days were hectic…briefings, reports, pictures, reporters and the hospital ship coming into the harbor. There were also open sea searches and sea burials. At the Board of Inquiry held at Guam, I was told that no action had been taken until after my second message was received. Thank the Lord the orders were not delayed any longer than the second message.”
The copies of pages from the Aviators Flight Log Book belonging to the pilot, Lt. (jg) Wilbur C. Gwinn, indicating the date he spotted the Survivors of the USS Indianapolis CA-35 on August 2, 1945. The Flight Log is on display at the Indiana War Memorial Museum.
Gwinn’s life was profoundly changed by the sighting and subsequent rescue of the 316 survivors (of the USS Indianapolis). When the hospital ship came in to Peleliu, he met the survivors in their hospital beds, and developed a “great personal feeling for the men who had gone through such a tragedy”. The men of the USS Indianapolis became a lasting part of his life due to the reunions, which he attended faithfully beginning in 1960 and every reunion thereafter until he passed away in July 1993.
INTERESTED IN APPLYING FOR THIS YEAR'S SCHOLARSHIP?
This is a competitive process and each application will be evaluated thoroughly. The application process is open to any age college student, however, previous award recipients are not eligible. The applications will be reviewed in the spring of 2019 by a committee. Recipients will be notified soon after, and awards will be sent directly to the educational institution in the fall of 2019.
Applicant must be a descendant (includes stepchildren) of a survivor, honorary survivor, lost at sea (LAS) or rescue crew.
Attend or be a prospective full-time attendee of an accredited 2 or 4 year college or university.
Academic performance- including GPA- will be considered. A GPA of 3.0 and above is preferred.