FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- AUGUST 19, 2017
USS Indianapolis Survivors React to the Discovery of their Sunken Ship in the Philippine Sea
On August 18th, the Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel identified the final resting place of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) more than three miles below the surface of the Philippine Sea, bringing up bittersweet feelings for those affected by the ship's sinking in the final days of World War II.
The wreck site is the final resting place for more than half of the final sailing crew assigned to the WWII heavy cruiser, according to official Naval records.
With the assistance of the US Navy and NOAA, the Vulcan team, backed by Microsoft cofounder, Paul Allen, led the expedition aboard R/V Petrel.
USS Indianapolis Survivor, and Vice-chairman of the Survivors' organization, Dick Thelen, 90, was absolutely surprised by the news that his ship had been located. "I never thought I'd see this day come!. I'm glad it was found."
Coxswain Louis "Kayo" Erwin, survivor of the Indianapolis who served aboard the ship for 2 and a half years prior to the sinking, was happy to hear the good news. "I saw a lot of action on that ship", having been part of most of the 10 battle stars she earned throughout WWII. "I'm very very proud of my service, and I'm happy to hear she's finally been found. This is wonderful news!
The ship's dentist, Lt. Cmdr. Earl Henry, was lost during the sinking. His son, Earl Henry Jr. is "grateful that Paul Allen has gone to such great lengths to locate the USS Indianapolis, which our family regards as my father's burial site," and that "My wife and I were not expecting the emotional reaction we experienced this morning when we received the news that the Indianapolis had been found."
The Indianapolis served President Roosevelt as ship of state, and Admiral Spruance as the 5th Fleet flagship in WWII. She fought gallantly through many campaigns, earning ten battle stars. Her final top secret mission was to carry parts of the first atomic bomb used in combat to a U.S. air base on Tinian. Just a few nights later, on July 30th,1945 she fell prey to a Japanese submarine. In the next twelve minutes of fire and chaos, about 330 of her crew would be lost with the ship, and the rest--some 880 men--would be left alone in the Pacific in the middle of the night. For the next 5 days, without food or water, the crew battled the elements, dodged shark attacks, and clung to life as best they could.
Her sinking led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy. Of the 1,196 sailors and marines on board, only 317 survived. There are 19 remaining survivors alive today.
Amongst a large debris field, the crew of the R/V Petrel has discovered a portion of the bow, and has used a remotely operated vehicle to collect video of several identifying features, confirming the identity of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35). They will continue to survey the site, which they are treating with respect as a war grave.
This is the latest wreck discovery for Paul Allen's team. "We try to do these both as really exciting examples of underwater archaeology, and as tributes to the brave men that went down with the ships."
The discovery of the USS Indianapolis closes a chapter in US Naval History that has remained open for decades, finally giving resolution to the surviving crew, and to more than 800 families who lost loved ones aboard the fated cruiser. According to Earl Henry, "There will be a lot of crying today among families of the lost-at-sea but hopefully it will eventually lead to some closure."
Of the 1,196 men who served aboard the ship, 39 men formed the Marine Detachment. Only 9 survived the sinking, and one still lives today. Edgar Harrell, the sole remaining Marine survivor was elated to hear the news. “Praise the Lord! Tomorrow is my anniversary and this is the best anniversary present I could have received!"
For more information regarding the USS Indianapolis, or to speak with members of the Survivors Organization, contact:
Captain Bill Toti, USN (Ret)
Honorary USS Indianapolis Survivor
USS Indianapolis Historian and Honorary Survivor
USS Indianapolis Honorary Survivor
Daughter of Survivor, Donald McCall & Survivor's Org. Secretary