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USS Indianapolis commemorates 75th anniversary of predecessor’s sinking

Littoral Combat Ship 17, the USS Indianapolis, was commissioned into active service in the U.S. Navy on Saturday, Oct. 26 in Burns Harbor, Ind. and will be home-ported at Naval Station Mayport. [U.S. Navy/Provided]
August 01, 2020

The USS Indianapolis, commissioned at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor last year in the first commissioning of a U.S. Navy ship in Indiana history, laid a wreath at sea to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its predecessor, which was sunk in the Philippine Sea in the closing days of World War II.

The U.S. Navy also placed a wreath at the USS Indianapolis Memorial on the canal in downtown Indianapolis.

Its sinking is considered to be the deadliest naval disaster in American history.

The Portland-class heavy cruiser, which completed a top-secret mission to deliver the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat, was struck by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine a few minutes past midnight on July 30.

“Immediately sailors went into autopilot,” USS Indianapolis Association President Ray Shearer said. “Some ran to battle stations and others ran to damage control. Some began treating the wounded while others were fighting fires, stopping steam leaks or battling flooding. More were dealing with steering, communication and power issues. A few were turning out life saving equipment.”

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Events unfolded quickly after the ship rolled over keel-side up.

“All this began in an instant,” Shearer said. “Soon after, the order was given to abandon ship and spread by word of mouth. Amazingly, nearly 900 of 1,196 crew members made it off the ship. All this in the dark of night in 12 minutes. As the ship slipped beneath the waves at 12:15 a.m., their 4½ day ordeal in the water began. Consider what you do in 12 minutes.”

Sailors floating in the open ocean had to fend off shark attacks, exposure, dehydration and saltwater poisoning over the next few days. They had few life rafts, little food and barely any potable water. Only 316 survived.

The USS Indianapolis Freedom-class littoral combat ship commissioned last year at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is the fourth ship to bear the name of Indiana’s capital city, following a World War I-era cargo ship, a Cold War-era Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine and the ill-fated heavy cruiser that served in many campaigns in the Pacific theater during World War II. It earned 10 battle stars and was credited with shooting down nine enemy planes.

Commissioned in 1932, it served as flagship of the scouting force, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ship of state when he inspected naval forces on the Hudson River, and as Admiral Raymond Spruance’s flagship for the Fifth Fleet.

“The sinking of USS Indianapolis was the single largest loss of life in Navy history,” said Cmdr. Colin Kane at a wreath laying ceremony. “We now remember the sacrifices made by those sailors and marines and their families. One can never imagine the tremendous sense of loss after this event. War is an ugly thing. We hope we never have to engage in war. Defending our nation is what we signed up for though as we joined the Navy.”

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© 2020 The Times