World War II
A great wartime propaganda film from 1944, The Fighting Lady. The film was made aboard the USS Yorktown, but for wartime security considerations it was designated The Fighting Lady in the film. Hollywood star Robert Taylor, then serving in the Navy as a flight instructor, supplied the narration. I do not mean to disparage the film when I call it propaganda: it is also grittily realistic. At the end the film pays tribute to the men who appeared in the film who have died in combat.
A fascinating video detailing the paths of Japanese and US merchant shipping during World War II. Beginning in 1943 the US is increasingly dominant with the Japanese shipping clinging to the Asian coast down to the oil in the Dutch East Indies. 1944 shows the obliteration of those Japanese routes and by the surrender in 1945 Japanese merchant shipping is virtually non-existent. A stark reminder of just what madness it was for the Japan to start a war it could not win with the US.
At the end of the epic movie Tora, Tora, Tora, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the head of the combined Japanese fleet, after the successful attack on Pearl Harbor, refuses to join in the elation of his staff, and makes this haunting observation: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” The line is almost certainly apocryphal. The director of the film, Elmo Williams, claimed that Larry Forester, the film’s screenwriter, had found the line in a 1943 letter written by Yamamoto. However, he has been unable to produce the letter, and there is no other evidence that such a letter exists.
However, there is no doubt that Yamamoto would fully have endorsed the sentiment that the line contained. He had studied at Harvard in 1919-1921, and served two tours as a naval attache at the Japanese embassy in Washington DC. He spoke fluent English, and his stays in the US had convinced him of that nation’s vast wealth and industrial power. He had also developed a fondness for both America and Americans. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”
The famous “weather prayer” of General Patton was written by a Catholic Chaplain, Colonel James H. O’Neill. Here is his article on the incident written in 1950. Unfortunately the famous weather prayer sequence from the film Patton is not available online. The trailer to this magnificent film biopic is at the top of this post.
If any of you have not seen this masterpiece, you should remedy that as soon as possible.
Patton was an interesting mixture of contradictions in his spiritual life. Foul mouthed even by the standards of an army known for profanity, and much too fond of war for a Christian, he also read the Bible and prayed each day. A firm Episcopalian, yet he also firmly believed in reincarnation. While in command in Sicily he began attending mass, initially largely for political reasons to build a bridge to the Catholic population, but then found that he enjoyed worshipping at mass. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
In a marathon speech before the German Reichstag on December 11, 1941, Chancellor Adolf Hitler declared war on America. The tone of the speech is indicated in its closing paragraphs:
Ever since my last peace proposal of July 1940 was rejected, we have realized that this struggle has to be fought out to its last implications. That the Anglo-Saxon-Jewish-Capitalist World finds itself now in one and the same Front with Bolshevism does not surprise us National Socialists: we have always found them in company. We have concluded the struggle successfully inside Germany and have destroyed our adversaries after 16 years struggle for power. When, 23 years ago, I decided to enter political life and to lift this nation out of its decline, I was a nameless, unknown soldier. Many among you know how difficult were the first few years of this struggle. From the time when the Movement consisted of seven men, until we took over power in January 1933, the path was so miraculous that only Providence itself with its blessing could have made this possible.
Today I am at the head of the strongest Army in the world, the most gigantic Air Force and of a proud Navy. Behind and around me stands the Party with which I became great and which has become great through me. The enemies I see before me are the same enemies as 20 years ago, but the path along which I look forward cannot be compared with that on which I look back. The German people recognizes the decisive hour of its existence millions of soldiers do their duty, millions of German peasants and workers, women and girls, produce bread for the home country and arms for the Front. We are allied with strong peoples, who in the same need are faced with the same enemies. The American President and his Plutocratic clique have mocked us as the Have-nots-that is true, but the Have-nots will see to it that they are not robbed of the little they have.
You, my fellow party members, know my unalterable determination to carry a fight once begun to its successful conclusion. You know my determination in such a struggle to be deterred by nothing, to break every resistance which must be broken. In September 1939 I assured you that neither force nor arms nor time would overcome Germany. I will assure my enemies that neither force of arms nor time nor any internal doubts, can make us waver in the performance of our duty. When we think of the sacrifices of our soldiers, any sacrifice made by the Home Front is completely unimportant. When we think of those who in past centuries have fallen for the Reich, then we realize the greatness of our duty. But anybody who tries to evade this duty has no claim to be regarded in our midst as a fellow German. Just as we were unmercifully hard in our struggle for power we shall be unmercifully hard in the struggle to maintain our nation. At a time when thousands of our best men are dying nobody must expect to live who tries to depreciate the sacrifices made at the Front. Immaterial under what camouflage he tries to disturb this German Front, to undermine the resistance of our people, to weaken the authority of the regime, to sabotage the achievements of the Home Front, he shall die for it! But with the difference that this sacrifice brings the highest honour to the soldier at the Front, whereas the other dies dishonoured and disgraced. Our enemies must not deceive themselves-in the 2,000 years of German history known to us, our people have never been more united than today. The Lord of the Universe has treated us so well in the past years that we bow in gratitude to a providence which has allowed us to be members of such a great nation. We thank Him that we also can be entered with honour into the ever-lasting book of German history!
FDR might have been able to convince Congress to declare War on Germany eventually, but Hitler acting first relieved him of the necessity. Congress declared War on Germany within hours after the news reached the US of the German Declaration of war:
Joint Resolution Declaring That a State of War Exists Between The Government of Germany and the Government and the People of the United States and Making Provisions To Prosecute The Same
Whereas the Government of Germany has formally declared war against the Government and the people of the United States of America:
Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Government of Germany which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Government of Germany; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.
(Signed) Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives
(Signed) H. A. Wallace, Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate
Approved December 11, 1941 3:05 PM E.S.T.
(Signed) Franklin D. Roosevelt →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The US Naval Academy Glee Club singing Eternal Father aboard the USS Arizona Memorial. The dastardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,402 American servicemen and wounded an additional 1247 wounded. About one hundred civilians were killed or wounded.
For most Americans living today the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, seems like ancient history. It does not seem like that to me. As I was growing up in the Sixties I was surrounded by adults who recalled Pearl Harbor. My father, who was 8 years old at the time of the attack, remembered the long lines the next morning in our small town of men waiting outside of the recruiting offices of the Army and Navy to join up. He also conveyed to me the shock of a nation one moment at peace, and the next morning at war. Until September 11, 2001, I really didn’t fully comprehend what my father was talking about. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
An historical oddity. The day before “the date which will live in infamy” President Roosevelt wrote a letter to Emperor Hirohito. Here is the text of the letter:
December 6, 1941
Almost a century ago the President of the United States addressed to the Emperor of Japan a message extending an offer of friendship of the people of the United States to the people of Japan. That offer was accepted, and in the long period of unbroken peace and friendship which has followed, our respective nations, through the virtues of their peoples and the wisdom of their rulers have prospered and have substantially helped humanity.
Only in situations of extraordinary importance to our two countries need I address to Your Majesty messages on matters of state. I feel I should now so address you because of the deep and far-reaching emergency which appears to be in formation.
Developments are occurring in the Pacific area which threaten to deprive each of our nations and all humanity of the beneficial influence of the long peace between our two countries. These developments contain tragic possibilities.
The people of the United States, believing in peace and in the right of nations to live and let live have eagerly watched the conversations between our two Governments during these past months. We have hoped for a termination of the present conflict between Japan and China. We have hoped that a peace of the Pacific could be consummated in such a way that nationalities of many diverse peoples could exist side by side without fear of invasion; that unbearable burdens of armaments could be lifted for them all; and that all peoples would resume commerce without discrimination against or in favor of any nation. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The main theme from The Victory at Sea documentary series. Originally broadcast from 1952-1953 on NBC, the documentary series on World War II at sea was endlessly shown in reruns as I was growing up, and I watched it whenever I could and loved it. The musical score by Richard Rogers made each episode a magical retelling of the great War that ended a dozen years before my birth. The series is in the public domain and is available on You Tube. Below is one of my favorite episodes, which tells the story of the slamming surface battles waged by the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese in the seas around Guadalcanal: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Let not anyone pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
John Stuart Mill, 1867
Hattip to HappyAcres. The story of the murder of Czeslawa Kwoka has been making the rounds of the internet. Just one of the tens of millions of victims of the attempt by Adolph Hitler seventy years ago to bring to reality his nightmarish vision of the future of humanity.
Czesława Kwoka, a 14-year-old Polish Catholic girl (prisoner number 26947) from the small village of Wólka Złojecka is photographed upon her arrival at Auschwitz concentration camp in December 1942. Wilhelm Brasse, an inmate who served as the camp identification photographer, recalled photographing Kwoka:
Before the photograph was taken, the girl dried her tears and the blood from the cut on her lip. To tell you the truth, I felt as if I was being hit myself but I couldn’t interfere. It would have been fatal for me. You could never say anything.”
NEC ASPERA TERRENT
No Fear on Earth-motto of the Wolfhounds
John W. Scannell came into this Vale of Tears on March 28, 1907. Ordained a priest on May 26, 1934 for the Archdiocese of Denver and was assigned to Saint Mary’s in Colorado Springs. Father Scannell relates how he came to join the Army as a chaplain:
It was during July, 1937 that two members of the Colorado Springs Reserve Officer’s Association came to the parish rectory of St. Mary’s stating that they had no chaplain and asked if I would consider joining the Reserve Corps as a chaplain.
I said that I would take steps to join and thanked them. The physical examination was passed successfully. One obstacle had to be overcome. At that time it was required of chaplain candidates to write a thesis on some ethical question, but I was unable to write the thesis because the pastor of the parish became ill. This meant that two priests had to do the work of three.
However, early in March 1939, I saw the war clouds loom over Europe and I hurriedly wrote the necessary document and forwarded same to the War Department. In July I was informed that my physical exam was passe’ and ordered to get another. This I proceeded to do. Finally on Jan 26, 1940, I received my commission in the Army of the United States. I became a First Lt. in the Chaplains’ Corps.
Early in March, 1941, I received orders from the War Dept. directing me to report for duty at Camp Callan, California, which was about four miles north of La Jolla (Torrey Pines). Camp Callan was a brand new camp and I was the first chaplain (later there were eight) to report for duty. It was a Coast Artillery Replacement Center. Every 13 weeks we received 7,000 men. These were given basic training and sent onto various Coast Artillery posts. The C.A.C. is, of course, a defunct corps. Early in 1943 they converted from the role of Coast Artillery to anti—aircraft. I reported for duty at Camp Callan on March 31, 1941.
It would take too long to relate what happened at Camp Callan on “Pearl Harbor Day”. About New Year’s Day, 1942, I wrote to the Chief of Chaplains and requested overseas duty. As usual, orders were slow in coming. Finally, on April 5, 1942, I went north on a train to the Port of Embarkation at Fort Mason, California, and we sailed for the Hawaiian Islands on April 7.
There were 17 ships in the convoy, including the escort vessels, and it took 10 days to reach Honolulu. (A convoy travels as fast as its slowest ship.) It was April 17 and by evening of the same day I was in the field, assigned to the 25th Infantry Division and attached to the 35th Infantry.
I was with the 35th at Ewa Plantation for about three weeks when an Assistant Hawaiian Department Chaplain in charge of Catholic Chaplains unceremoniously bounced many of us around. I was transferred to the 19th Infantry, 24th Division, bumping a chaplain who had come over on the same orders! Our mileau was the north shore of Oahu with 1st Bn. Hq. in the Kahuku area. I remember that one of the First Bn .s duties was to guard Kahuku Air Base.
It was sometime in September that Father Terrence Finnigan, 25th Divison Chaplain contacted me and asked if I was interested in returning to the Division. They were short six chaplains, 3 Protestant and 3 Catholic, and the Division would be pulling out shortly for action. I was glad to volunteer because I had become a little tired of the “Rock” and partly because I was still smarting from the original transfer.
On November 7, 1942, I reported for duty with the 25th Division and was attached to the 27th Infantry Regiment, the Russian Wolfhounds. (There are Irish wolfhounds, you know). We sailed with the second echelon on December 5 and arrived at Guadalcanal on December 30, 1942. As I recall, six days later on January 5, we relieved the First Marine Divison and began our push on Kokumbona. I remember one of the Marines saying that they had not advanced an inch for four weeks. We rolled up the Japanese flank and took their Hq. and landing beach at Kokumbona in about 15 days.
Let the above suffice for personal history for now.
Father Scannell, like most extremely brave men, was reticent to talk about his bravery. He became a legend among the Wolfhounds. Here are his decorations for heroism:
The Legion of Merit
The Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster
The Purple Heart
The Bronze Star →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
World War II in the Pacific was often an improvisational war for the US in the early years, before US war industries came fully on line and the US buried Japan under a wave of ships and planes to seize control of the air and the sea. Before that took place, the US had to fight cagily and make do. No better example of this spirit of improvisation can be found than the PBY Catalina night bomber squadrons that wreaked havoc on Japanese shipping in daring nighttime raids seventy years ago.
The PBY Catalina flying boat, was an amphibious plane and the workhorse plane for the US in the Pacific. Used for everything from anti-submarine patrols, to air-sea rescue and cargo transport, its most unusual incarnation was as a night bomber against Japanese shipping. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
(In honor of the World War II vets taking the Iwo Jima memorial today, read about it here, I am reposting this from 2009.)
Iwo Jima probably has the sad distinction of being the most expensive piece of worthless real estate in the history of the globe. Expensive not in something as minor as money, but costly in something as all important as human lives. In 1943 the island had a civilian population of 1018 who scratched a precarious living from sulfur mining, some sugar cane farming and fishing. All rice and consumer goods had to be imported from the Home Islands of Japan. Economic prospects for the island were dismal. Eight square miles, almost all flat and sandy, the dominant feature is Mount Suribachi on the southern tip of the island, 546 feet high, the caldera of the dormant volcano that created the island. Iwo Jima prior to World War II truly was “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”.
The advent of World War II changed all of that. A cursory look at a map shows that Iwo Jima is located 660 miles south of Tokyo, well within the range of American bombers and fighter escorts, a fact obvious to both the militaries of the US and Imperial Japan. The Japanese forcibly evacuated the civilian population of Iwo Jima in July of 1944. Awaiting the invading Marines was a garrison of approximately 23,000 Japanese troops, skillfully deployed by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in hidden fortified positions throughout the island, connected in many cases by 11 miles of tunnels. The Japanese commander was under no illusions that the island could be held, but he was determined to make the Americans pay a high cost in blood for Iwo.
On February 18th, 1945 Navy Lieutenant, (the Marine Corps, although Marines are often loathe to admit it, is a component of the Department of the Navy, and the Navy supplies all the chaplains that serve with it) Charles Suver, Society of Jesus, was part of the 5th Marine Division and anxiously awaiting the end of the bombardment and the beginning of the invasion the next day. Chaplain Suver was one of 19 Catholic priests participating in the invasion as a chaplain.
Father Suver had been born in Ellensburg, Washington in 1907. Graduating from Seattle College in 1924, he was ordained as a priest in 1937, having taught at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Prior to the war, while teaching at Seattle Prep, he rigorously enforced the no running rules in the hall, even going so far as to tackle one errant student! Father Suver was remembered as a strict disciplinarian but also a fine teacher. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy as a chaplain.
On February 18th, 1945, Chaplain Suver was discussing the upcoming invasion with other Marine officers. A lieutenant told him that he intended to take an American flag onto the top of Mount Suribachi. Suver responded that if he did that, he would say mass under it.
At 5:30 AM the next morning Father Suver said mass for the Marines aboard his ship, LST 684. (The official meaning of LST was Landing Ship, Tank; the troops designated them Large Slow Target.) After mass, nervous Marines, more than a few of whom had not much longer to live, bombarded the chaplain with questions, especially questions about courage. He responded, ” A courageous man goes on fulfilling his duty despite the fear gnawing away inside. Many men are fearless, for many different reasons, but fewer are courageous.” →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week – I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:
And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.
Winston Churchill, conclusion of speech condemning the Munich Agreement, October 5, 1938
Well, well, well, appeasement is back in fashion judging from a stunningly wrongheaded article at Slate by Nick Baumann defending the Munich agreement of 1938, on its 75th anniversary, by which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sold Czechoslovakia into Nazi slavery for a worthless promise from Hitler of “peace in our time”. “Our time” turned out to be very short with the Nazis commencing World War II with the invasion of Poland less than a year later in September 1939. Go here to read the article.
Baumann defends Chamberlain on the following grounds. I will respond to each in turn.
1. Britain Militarily Unready-First, a look at the military situation. Most historians agree that the British army was not ready for war with Germany in September 1938. If war had broken out over the Czechoslovak crisis, Britain would only have been able to send two divisions to the continent—and ill-equipped divisions, at that. Between 1919 and March 1932, Britain had based its military planning on a “10-year rule,” which assumed Britain would face no major war in the next decade. Rearmament only began in 1934—and only on a limited basis. The British army, as it existed in September 1938, was simply not intended for continental warfare. Nor was the rearmament of the Navy or the Royal Air Force complete. British naval rearmament had recommenced in 1936 as part of a five-year program. And although Hitler’s Luftwaffe had repeatedly doubled in size in the late 1930s, it wasn’t until April 1938 that the British government decided that its air force could purchase as many aircraft as could be produced.
Response: Britain was certainly in a sorry state for war in September 1938. Churchill had been sounding the tocsin that Britain was militarily unprepared throughout most of the decade. The dominant faction in his own party, the Conservatives, bitterly fought his calls for rearmament in the face of the rising Nazi threat, and preferred to engage in wishful thinking that the Nazis were bluffing and that deals to preserve the peace could be cut with Hitler. Chamberlain’s appeasement policy arose out of a desire to avoid the cost of rearmament and an inexcusable misreading of what Hitler was all about, inexcusable since Hitler had made his ambitions for conquest quite clear in Mein Kampf.
Selling out Czechoslovakia made Great Britain much more militarily weak when war came. It deprived the Allies of the well trained and equipped Czechoslovakian army, allowed Hitler to strengthen his forces with Czech armaments, especially their superb light 35(t) tanks, and gave him control of the huge Skoda armament factories which were a mainstay of German arms production throughout the War. Militarily the Munich agreement was a disaster for the Allies. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The score from the movie Twelve O’clock High (1949). A film shorn of any Hollywood glamor or heroics, it tells the story of the fictional 918th bomb group as it pioneers daylight precision bombing in the early days of the Eighth Air Force in England and suffers harrowing losses as a result. Veterans of the Eighth Air Force applauded the film for its stark realism and its demonstration of the impact of war on the men called upon to fight it. Anyone who has not seen this masterpiece should do so as quickly as possible.
Here is the opening of the film:
Construimus, Batuimus (We Build, We Fight)
Something for the weekend. Judy Garland singing The Song of the Seabees seems appropriate for a Labor Day weekend.
At the outset of World War II, the Navy faced a task of unbelievable difficulty. Around the globe, and especially in the Pacific, the Navy would be fighting in regions practically untouched by the modern world. Everything to support military operations would have to be built from scratch: bases, ports, airstrips, and an endless parade of other facilities. The task was daunting, perhaps impossible. However, the Navy had a secret weapon: the American worker. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
The 74th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet agreement. Two of the three great mass murderers of the last century, Mao would complete the trio, the marriage of convenience of Hitler and Stalin signaled the onset of World War II. Communists who had been calling for a common front with democrats to oppose Hitler immediately turned on a dime and denounced any involvement in an “imperialist war” against Hitler. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, communists around the globe turned on a dime again and called for all out war of all free peoples against the Hitlerian threat.
Orwell had the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the quick double flips that Communists did in response to it, and the later invasion by Germany of the Soviet Union, when he wrote this passage in 1984:
At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
The frightening thing, he reflected for the ten thousandth time as he forced his shoulders painfully backward (with hands on hips, they were gyrating their bodies from the waist, an exercise that was supposed to be good for the back muscles) — the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
My family and I are back again from our much needed vacation. As usual, Gen Con was a great deal of fun, and I did not get thrown in the Klingon jail, thanks to my daughter blowing her money on a fake fur “hoody” with fox ears! (Actually it looks quite good on her, weird, but good!)
Indianapolis is a great city for a historian, filled with monuments. My favorite is the huge Civil War memorial in down town Indianapolis dedicated to “Indiana’s Silent Victors”:
You can climb to the top of the Civil War memorial, all 331 steps. I did several years ago. My kids did it with ease. I thought halfway through that it would probably be difficult to remove my corpse from the cramped stairwell and I struggled somehow to the top, although I rode the elevator down.
Indiana also has the national memorial to the USS Indianapolis, immortalized in popular culture by the Jaws video clip at the beginning of this post. The cruiser delivered Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Tinian on July 26, 1945. On July 30, 1945 it was sunk by Japanese sub I-58. 900 of the crew made it into the water. SOS signals, contrary to the Jaws video clip, were sent off. Three Navy stations received the SOS signal. At the first station the commander was drunk. At the second station the commander had left orders not to be disturbed. The third station wrote off the SOS signal as a Japanese prank. The Navy denied that the SOS signals had been received for years, and only the release of declassified material revealed the criminal negligence involved. When the ship failed to dock at Leyte as expected on July 31, 1944, the port operations director Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson inexplicably failed to report that the Indianapolis had gone missing.
This resulted in the men of the Indianapolis being in the water for 3 and a half days until they were spotted by a routine air patrol. Heroic efforts were then undertaken to rescue the survivors. 321 men were rescued, four of whom died soon thereafter. Most of the almost 600 men who escaped the ship and died in the water had been killed by hundreds of sharks who swarmed about the survivors. Among the dead was Lieutenant Thomas Conway, the ship’s Catholic chaplain. He spent his time in the water swimming from group to group, praying with the men, encouraging them, and reasoning with men driven to despair. When Father Conway died on August 2, 1945, he was the last American chaplain killed in World War II.
Captain Charles B. McVay III, the skipper of the Indianapolis, had been wounded in the sinking and was among those who survived to be rescued. He repeatedly asked why it took so long for the Navy to rescue his men, a question the Navy did not answer. Instead McVay was courtmartialed, a scapegoat for an episode that had tarnished the image of the Navy. He was convicted for not zigzagging, which was farcical since he had been told to use his discretion in regard to zigzagging, and with high-speed torpedoes and improved aiming devices aboard subs, zigzagging was not an effective technique for a ship to avoid being torpedoed by the end of World War II. Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recognizing the fundamental injustice of the courtmartial, restored McVay to duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949. Although most of the surviving crewmen of the Indianapolis regarded him as a hero, McVay was eaten away by guilt over the deaths of his crewmen, guilt that was exacerbated by hate mail and hate phone calls he periodically revealed from a few of the families of some of the men who died in the sinking and its aftermath.
After the death of his wife in 1966, McVay took his own life, clutching in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father. In 1996 a twelve year old school boy, Hunter Scott launched a campaign to clear McVay’s name. The campaign to clear McVay was supported by former Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who had commanded the I-58 and who noted in a letter that zigzagging would have had no impact on his torpedo attack. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading