Saturday, August 4, 2007

1945 - The Last Few Days, The Next Few Days, In History...

... were the days that encompassed the worst U.S. Naval disaster for loss of life at sea in history. Of course I am talking about the torpedoing and sinking of the USS Indianapolis by Japanese submarine I-58 on July 30, 1945. On that day, about 300 of the 1,196 man crew perished in the actual attack and sinking. That left almost 900 survivors who went into the water. Despite two distress calls made by the crew before the Indianapolis sank, despite those calls apparently being received by the U.S. Navy, despite her being days overdue at port, she was never reported missing - due both to sad circumstances: Navy protocol at the time, and the fact that she had been returning from one of the most top secret missions of WWII.

For about 4 days and 5 nights, the crew of the USS Indianapolis suffered the perils of being stranded at sea. These included exposure to the sun, exposure to the salt water, lack of fresh drinking water, lack of food, greed expressed by hoarding of meager supplies by some crew mates, the drinking of sea water, the insanity that followed, violence inflicted upon one another due to panic. Yet many of the men were truly heroes, who despite their own exposure to the exact same things, protected other crew mates, cared for the wounded, kept spirits high, fended off shark attack, and prayed beyond hope for rescue.

On August 2 some of the survivors were accidentally spotted by a US air crew of a Lockheed PV-1 Ventura on a routine patrol. The immediately dropped of what little they had in the way of survival gear; and they radioed a message " in the water...". Soon help was on the way; and the first to arrive on scene to commence rescue operations was the crew of a Catalina PB-Y Flying Boat. That crew had orders to drop survival gear and also had very explicit orders not to land. Despite those orders they landed and started to rescue crew members of the Indianapolis. In all they rescued 56 men.

On August 3, the USS Cecil Doyle, a destroyer, was the first ship to arrive on the scene after her captain had received the distress message relayed on August 2 from the crew of the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura. Without awaiting orders, he took it upon himself to steam full speed ahead to the area. Upon arrival, during the night, the captain ordered a searchlight be pointed upward at low cloud cover, thereby illuminating both the sky and the sea, and of course placing his own ship at great peril. The light was used to spot survivors and to act as a beacon to other search ships.

Between August 2 and August 8 (the last day of search operations), 317 living men were pulled from the waters. Most of the men who perished died due to exposure to the elements, or due to lack of food and water, not to shark attack; but many were indeed attacked by sharks, and many corpses were scavenged by sharks.

Between those two dates, on August 6, 1945, another terrible event of WWII took place. The top secret mission the Indianapolis had just completed days before her sinking was the delivery of the major components of 'Little Boy' to Tinian Island. 'Little Boy' was flown off of Tinian on August 6, 1945 by the B-29 Enola Gay. This aircraft had been named after the mother of its pilot. 'Little Boy' was then dropped on Hiroshima, the first atomic bomb ever used against an enemy in warfare. All of this taking place while the search and rescue operations were still underway for the crew of the Indianapolis. One day after the search and rescue operation for the crew of the Indianapolis ended, the second and (so far) the last, atomic bomb ever detonated in warfare, was dropped over Nagasaki. Oddly enough this one was code named Fat Man.

I think it ironic that the bomb, for which components had been delivered by the USS Indianapolis, was code named Little Boy. Why, well because the aircraft that dropped it, the Enola Gay, was named after the pilot's mother. I imagine his mother never imagined an aircraft named after her, her namesake, figuratively giving birth to a 'Little Boy', especially one capable of such utter destruction. Nor do I think she ever envisioned her real little boy, delivering the Little Boy born of her namesake. Nor would she ever even have hinted to herself that her little boy would take part in what resulted in the loss of so many lives, from both sides, under such terrible circumstances, many of them not much more than little boys.

Though estimates vary, it is fairly safe to say, the Japanese lost an estimated 70,000 plus people as a direct result of each of the bombings (140,000 plus people with both bombings combined), and lost many more due to the after effects of these atomic attacks. The war with Japan, in effect, ended on August 15, 1945 when Japan announced her surrender; but the official end of the war with Japan was September 2, 1945 with the signing of surrender papers.

We probably did not have a 100% need to drop either of those bombs on those two Japanese cities. Japan would have surrendered eventually; but the dropping of the bombs did end the war much more quickly than likely would have been otherwise, and I believe that thousands if not tens of thousands of American, and other allied, lives were spared because we dropped the bombs. Yet, it is scary to think that this could happen again as several more countries now have nuclear weapons or are very close to developing them. Let's hope it never becomes necessary to kill as many people in one fell swoop as we did with Little Boy, and then did again with Fat Man; and let us hope no one else ever thinks it necessary either. Of course while I hope it never comes down to it, if we are ever threatened with our own ultimate destruction by those such as current terrorists or current rogue nations as we were by Japan during WWII, I am all for our survival. So if it comes right down to it as a necessity, I can only say: Nuke em till they glow. For now though, I prefer to think about and memorialize those who lost their lives directly or indirectly related to the above events; and I sincerely hope history does not repeat itself.

All the best,
Glenn B