Home » Military Personnel » USS Indianapolis Discovery Spurs Relief, Concern from Survivors and Families

USS Indianapolis Discovery Spurs Relief, Concern from Survivors and Families

Image from the Paul Allen-led expedition that found the wreck of USS Indianapolis.

As news spread over the weekend about the discovery of USS Indianapolis (CA-35), the World War II cruiser lost in the war’s waning days, emotions of anyone associated with the ship ranged from joy, to relief, to consternation.

Closure was brought to the few remaining survivors, and the families of crew members who survived or perished when the ship was torpedoed after completing its secret mission delivering to the Pacific island of Tinian the components of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Their friends and loved ones wouldn’t be recovered, but at least they had a sense of where their final resting place was located.

Image from the Paul Allen-led expedition that found the wreck of USS Indianapolis.

Found on the sea floor, more than 18,000 feet below the Philippine Sea surface, the ship’s location had remained a mystery for 72 years in part because of the speed – 12 minutes – the ship went down and in part due to the secrecy surrounding its mission. Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced Saturday he and his research crew had found the wreckage, with assistance from historians from the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) in Washington, D.C.

“We are elated the ship has been found but it was a long time coming,” survivor Harold Bray said in a statement to USNI News.

Bill Toti, the former commanding officer of the submarine USS Indianapolis (SSN-697), called each of the surviving crew members to inform them their ship had been found.

Capt. Charles McVay

“It was a great honor to spend this morning calling each of the survivors to personally notify them that after 72 years their ship has been found,” Toti, who is active with the CA-35s survivors association and did work to exonerate the ship’s commander Capt. Charles McVay from blame, said in a statement provided to USNI News.
“To a man, they expressed extreme gratitude that this final chapter of their story can be told, and are pleased that Paul Allen and his team are treating the site with the respect and dignity that it deserves. I’ve suffered many sad moments in the more than two decades I’ve been associated with these men. Today has been melancholy, happy that the ship was found, but sad and humbling to view the wreckage.”

Only 19 of the crew members who entered the waters on July 30, 1945 are still alive today. About 800 of the ship’s 1,196 sailors and Marines survived the sinking, but after four to five days in the water, suffering exposure, dehydration, drowning, and shark attacks, only 316 were rescued

But not everyone welcomed the news of Indianapolis’ discovery. Nicki Sedivi Lancaster, the niece of Alfred Sedivi who went down with Indianapolis, has always been against locating the site.

USS Indianapolis in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1937. US Navy Photo

After learning the wreckage was found Saturday morning, Lancaster issued a statement explaining why she thinks Indianapolis’s final resting place should’ve remained unfound.

“It is a tomb of over 300 known seamen who gave their lives in the service of our country 72 years ago; and the surrounding waters a grave for 600 more shipmates,” Lancaster said in a written statement.
“The USS Indianapolis is a national grave site. Let them rest in peace. Let their families have peace. Would you disturb graves at Arlington? [There’s] no difference.”

Image from the Paul Allen-led expedition that found the wreck of USS Indianapolis.

When announcing the discovery, the NHHC issued a statement also stressing Allen’s team was working with the Navy to comply with U.S. law, respecting the sunken ship as a war grave, and not disturbing the site. “USS Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy,” the NHHC statement said.

  • NavySubNuke

    I for one am glad she has been located and her final resting place can be properly marked and recorded.
    I understand the concern by Ms. Lancaster but I don’t agree with her. There is certainly a risk that the Indianapolis won’t be treated with the dignity and respect she deserves but at least she is deep enough that salvage operations shouldn’t be a concern.

    • muzzleloader

      At a depth of over 3 miles, I think she is safe. The Paul Allen expedition is following the maxim known to scuba divers:Take only pictures, leave only bubbles.

  • El_Sid

    The Arlington analogy doesn’t quite hold, as the whole point of Arlington is to act as a national focus for respect of the dead, the whole point of a cemetery is to have somewhere to be visited and show respect. And even Arlington is not left untouched, they still mow the grass, people leave flowers etc – it’s not some version of Yosemite, left to grow wild.

  • MLepay

    So glad a few of the survivors can have some closure now that she has been located. Something very hauntingly beautiful about the pix with the spare parts box, amazing actually that it is still so legible.

    • Ctrot

      That was the first picture i saw when this news was breaking last Thursday. It was so clear and legible that my first reaction was “this is a hoax”.

      • MLepay

        Same here.

  • $25181771

    Captain McVay never fully recovered from the way the Navy treated him after the sinking. His crew always backed him up and felt the institution was totally unfair to him considering how other ships’ captains who lost vessels to enemy action were treated. The poor man eventually donned his naval uniform, sat on the front steps of his home, and put a pistol in his mouth and committed suicide. The Navy should be ashamed.

    • pismopal

      The navy culture is particularly cruel and often unreasonable in the administration of punishment.

      • $25181771

        Two hundred some years of rum, buggery and the lash unhampered by progress.

      • John Burtis

        The US Navy is the cruelest of the armed services and it has the longest memory. Remember what was done to Admiral Husband E. Kimmel of Pearl Harbor among others.

  • Bhess

    I think this is a good thing but I hope they keep the location as secret as they can so scavengers don’t try to get the scrap metal like they have with the Asiatic Fleet ships.

  • John B. Morgen

    Now we need to do, and that is, the wreck needs around a clock protection from scrap pirates.