USS Indianapolis Crew Awarded Congressional Gold Medal on 75th Anniversary of Sinking

July 29, 2020 5:29 PM
House of Representatives Image

The survivors of one of World War II’s worst naval disasters were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in a ceremony last Friday.

In the virtual ceremony, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presented the medal to the survivors from the crew of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) ahead of the 75th anniversary of the July 30,1945, sinking of the heavy cruiser by a Japanese submarine in the closing months of the war.

“On behalf of the 1,195 Sailors and Marines who served aboard USS Indianapolis, it is an honor to receive a Congressional Gold Medal,” Harold Bray, 93, the youngest remaining survivor and chair of the USS Indianapolis CA-35 Survivors Organization, said in a Wednesday statement provided to USNI News.
“Eight survivors remain today, and we are proud to represent our shipmates who are no longer with us. We are very grateful to Congress for this special recognition.”

The House will stream last Friday’s ceremony on YouTube on Thursday at 11 a.m. EDT.

The award was part of legislation recognizing the crew of the cruiser that was signed into law in 2018 by President Donald Trump after Indiana Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) introduced the legislation in 2017. The law recognizes not only the survivors but also the sailors and Marines who died in the sinking and while waiting up to five days for rescue.

Almost 900 survived the initial attack by a Japanese submarine shortly after Indianapolis had dropped off components for the Little Boy atomic bomb on the Pacific island of Tinian.

During the Friday presentation ceremony, retired Navy Capt. Bill Toti spoke on behalf of the eight survivors of Indianapolis.

Toti was the former commander of the nuclear attack submarine USS Indianapolis (SSN-697) and was instrumental in the survivors’ fight to clear the name of Capt. Charles McVay, the commander of the cruiser who was court-martialed by the Navy after the loss of the ship.

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

“The survivors of the sinking of the World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis struggled for almost five days in the water just to survive,” Toti said during the ceremony.
“Then for the next five decades, they continued to fight. They did not fight for recognition for themselves, they did not fight for restitution from the Navy for the awful fact that they were forgotten in the water and left to die — they fought to clear their captain’s name.”

McVay’s conviction was overturned by an act of Congress in 2001.

The awardees were presented with a specially cast gold medal created by the U.S. Mint.

Capt. Charles McVay

On one side, the medal shows Indianapolis underway with its dates of service and its 10 battle stars. The other side shows the discovery of the survivors by the PBY-5A Catalina flown by Lt. Cmdr. Adrian Marks and the arrival of USS Cecil J. Doyle (DR-368), the first of seven rescue ships that recovered the crew, along with the inscription, “1195 sailors; 316 survived.”

The location of the lost cruiser was discovered in 2017 by an exploration led by the late billionaire Paul Allen.

On Wednesday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday asked sailors to remember the crew in a period of reflection.

“Remember their courage and devotion to each other in the face of the most severe adversity. Remember their valor in combat and the role they played in ending the most devastating war in history. Honor their memory and draw strength from their legacy,” he said in a statement.
“Those brave Sailors and Marines endured impossible hardships by banding together. And we must do the same today.”

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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