By lex, on November 1st, 2008
When the submarine USS Ohio surfaced at sea and Machinist Mate 1st Class Jason Witty emerged from the hatch to look around, he saw calm, blue water under a peaceful sky — perfect for the solemn task he was about to perform.
On the map, the Ohio was afloat in just another indistinguishable expanse of the Pacific Ocean. As Witty stood on deck holding a silver pitcher, the vessel was alone.
Just like the ill-fated USS Indianapolis, 63 years earlier.
The pitcher contained the ashes of Witty’s grandfather, Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Eugene Morgan, who had survived the sinking of the Indianapolis — one of the worst tragedies for the U.S. Navy in World War II.
Morgan had died of a heart attack in June at age 87, just before Witty went to sea, and among his last wishes was the desire to be rejoined with his shipmates at roughly the same spot in the Pacific where the Indianapolis went down.
Indianapolis was a Portland-class cruiser returning from delivering critical components of the first atomic bomb to Tinian. While making a return passage through the Philippine Sea, she was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine just after midnight on 30 July 1945.
Out of 1196 crewmen on board, about 300 are believed to have died in the initial attack, while nearly nine hundred went over the side. Through a grotesque combination of incompetence, ineptitude and mischance, her sinking went unreported, and the survivors waited four days before a patrol plane stumbled over their position.
Nearly 600 of those that had survived the initial attack succumbed to dehydration, exposure or – most horribly – shark attacks. The first PBY to arrive at the scene saw men being eaten alive by the sharks, and – defying standing orders – landed in the sea to rescue those they could. Four destroyers and two auxiliaries raced to the scene to recover the rest.
Three hundred and twenty-one were recovered alive from the sea, but four died shortly thereafter. It was the single greatest loss of life at sea in the history of the US Navy. Japan surrendered two weeks later.
But the Indianapolis was not yet done: Her captain, convicted by court martial of hazarding his ship by failing to zig-zag, had that conviction set aside by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. Nevertheless consumed by guilt, and constantly aware of his status as the only Navy captain to be court martialed in World War II, Captain Charles Butler McVay III committed suicide in 1968.
And now Indianapolis has claimed another sailor.
Rest in peace, BM2.
** 08-28-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.