Billionaire Ocean Explorer, Philanthropist Paul Allen Dies

October 15, 2018 10:41 PM - Updated: October 16, 2018 9:34 AM
Paul Allen

Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, billionaire philanthropist and ocean explorer who helped find several lost World War II warships, died on Monday.

Allen, 65, died following a fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was first diagnosed in 2009. In an announcement two weeks ago, Allen said his cancer had returned and he had vowed to seek treatment for the disease.

Allen co-founded software giant Microsoft in 1975 with Bill Gates and helped it grow until his departure from the company in 1983.

After Microsoft, the Seattle native was a fixture in the Pacific Northwest as he pursued an array of business and philanthropic causes. Along with mega purchases of yachts and sports teams, he funded research and exploration including robotic sensors and probes to help oceanographers and climate scientists understand the deep ocean.

Allen’s insatiable curiosity and quest to understand more about the world’s vast and unexplored undersea led him, most recently, to locate some of the Navy’s most important battle wrecks, warships sunken in combat that remain the final resting place for hundreds if not several thousand of World War II sailors.

“These discoveries and others like them have helped to connect today’s sailors with their past, and serve as reminders of what might be asked of us in the defense of our nation,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told USNI News in a Monday statement.
“We will miss him.”

Prop from USS Juneau (CL-52) discovered by R/V Petrel

In March, expedition teams with Allen’s research vessel Petrel located the wreck of the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52) on March 17, on the ocean floor about 2 1/2 miles deep. Juneau was sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal, and among the 687 men lost with the ship were the five Sullivan brothers, whose service the Navy has memorialized with a warship bearing their name, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68).

That month, expedition teams also located the missing wreck of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2). The carrier was attacked on May 8, 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea and sunk two miles to the bottom of the Coral Sea, about 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia. More than 200 sailors perished.

Allen’s expedition found the light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50), which had survived several torpedo attacks during the war until she was torpedoed and sunk on July 5, 1943, in the Solomon Sea. Perhaps the most notable find is that of the World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35), which sunk in the South Pacific on July 30, 1945, during a secret mission in the war’s final days.

Indianapolis had delivered components of the atomic bomb Little Boy – later dropped over Hiroshima – to the remote island of Tinian just days earlier. But as the ship traveled from Guam to Leyte, Philippines, the cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine I-58 and sunk 12 minutes later. Two weeks passed before the Navy announced the fate of the ship and crew. More than 900 sailors died, many left to struggle in the water and lifeboats in the shark-infested waters for days, and carried away in the currents, before the U.S. launched a rescue effort after a passing warplane spotted survivors in the ocean below.

Even then, and throughout the years of occasional retelling of Indianapolis survivors’ harrowing experiences, the location of the cruiser remained a mystery to the Navy.

Until Aug. 19, 2017 – and thanks to a tweet by Allen:

“We’ve located wreckage of USS Indianapolis in Philippine Sea at 5500m below the sea. ’35’ on hull 1st confirmation.”

USS Helena. Paul Allen Photo

“To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” he said. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”

Allen’s persistence and excitement at the deep-sea search for the Indianapolis came despite some initial skepticism.

Members of Allen’s Vulcan team contacted retired Capt. William J. “Bill” Toti in March 2017, who told him they were going to look for Indianapolis.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Join the club.’ Many have tried before you, all of them failed,” recalled Toti, who was the former commanding officer of the submarine USS Indianapolis (SSN-697) and had joined in the push to exonerate McVay.

“What I failed to contemplate was Paul’s level of dedication, commitment, and the degree to which he was willing to pour his personal resources into the effort,” Toti told USNI News. “He spent many millions of his own dollars on this effort, for which he received no personal gain, just a contribution to naval history and to the heroes who served on that great ship.”

“When I was notified on August 19, 2017, of the discovery, I realized only Paul Allen could have pulled this off,” he said. “The family of the World War II cruiser Indianapolis has lost a great friend in Paul Allen. His contributions are immense, and he will be greatly missed.”


Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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