This week has been a relatively quiet week. I did my daily chores. EJ went to work. I cuddled the cats and fed the birds. I also walked Danny twice. I haven’t been able to walk Danny very much since JJ was diagnosed cancer because either we were running here and there, or JJ wasn’t feeling well, or the temperature was below zero with frigid wind chills. But this week life was relatively quiet and temps weren’t that bad so I walked my dog. Danny was filled with joy because he loves walking, and I was filled with joy too because I also love to walk.
Today was the day for JJ’s weekly trip to the lab. We again drove to the lab near the bakery so we could stop in afterwards and buy Challah Bread for Shabbat. We were also going to get a pumpkin roll, but they didn’t have any today. Apparently they don’t have a set time to make pumpkin rolls so we have to just happen to be at the bakery when they just happen to have some available. They offer to make some for us, but we declined because we live too far away.
We had an awesome encounter at the lab. EJ was behind JJ and me as we walked through the parking lot to the lab. He caught up with us said with awe, “Did you see that car back there? The license plate and magnetic ribbons on the car says it belongs to a survivor of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.” I didn’t realize the significance at first because although I, like EJ and JJ, enjoy history, the names and types of ships and planes don’t stick in my mind. But stories do, and as soon as EJ reminded me, I remembered the story.
On July 26, 1945, the world’s first operational atomic bomb was delivered by the Indianapolis to the island of Tinian. The Indianapolis then reported to CINCPAC (Commander-In-Chief, Pacific) Headquarters at Guam for further orders. She was directed to join the battleship USS Idaho (BB-42) at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The Indianapolis departed Guam without escort.
Shortly after midnight on July 30,1945, midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf, the Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. The first torpedo blew away the bow, the second struck near midship on the starboard side adjacent to a fuel tank and a powder magazine. The explosion split the ship to the keel, knocking out all electric power. Of the 1,196 aboard, about 900 made it into the water in the twelve minutes before she sank. Few life rafts were released. Most survivors wore the standard kapok life jacket. After almost five days of constant shark attacks, starvation, terrible thirst, suffering from exposure and their wounds, the men of the Indianapolis were at last rescued from the sea. Only 317 were rescued.
As we entered the lab we saw an old man and his wife were sitting in the waiting room. They looked like all the other people we’ve seen in waiting rooms. But the man had on a hat that said, “U.S.S. Indianapolis Survivor” on it. When the wife’s name was called to go back to the Blood Draw room, EJ helped her up, and he quietly thanked the Survivor for his service to our country.
After we got home, I read that as of August 2013, 38 of the Indianapolis’ 317 survivors are still alive. Now in their 80s and 90s, many are in poor health. We had just met one of these men. It’s incredible what he endured and survived.
This encounter reminded me again that everyone has a story. And you never know what story you might be sitting next to.
If you’d like to read more, here are some links to the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, including eyewitness stories of survivors: