Review of Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man

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The incredible amount of research on this latest book to come out about the loss of USS Indianapolis (CA-35), builds on and eclipses those previous. Navy veteran Lynn Vincent and filmmaker Sara Vladic do an amazing job re-telling the by now well-known tragic story in Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man. 

Having conducted interviews with over 100 of Indy’s survivors going back nearly 20 years, the authors mine some new, gruesome revelations, told by men now in their nineties. These stories only add to the horror most of us can only imagine. The details do not titillate, but rather add to the unfortunate fate these men found themselves in. The reader is able to share in the anger at the huge loss of life, especially after learning word of a distress call was sent out, but those who received it did nothing to expedite a rescue. The potential to save even more lives was therefore wasted.

Delving into the history of the storied cruisers exploits before and after the sinking, the story then shifts to the aftermath of the loss, focusing on the Navy’s court-martial and trial of Indy’s commanding officer, Captain Charles B. McVay III. The reader then learns about the decades-long efforts of her survivors to see their captain exonerated. By the 1990s, they enlisted the help of U.S. Navy Captain William Toti, skipper of the submarine USS Indianapolis (SSN-697). A young school kid researching a project on Indianapolis’ sinking, then helps lead the charge to have McVay’s named cleared. The results of all of their hard work and success on taking on Big Navy makes for an exhilarating read. The Navy should have known that the survivors of a tragedy on the scale of Indianapolis would never give up.

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USS Indianapolis (CA-35).

Having personally conducted research into USS Indianapolis for work, concerning the attempts by a non-governmental group to have a military medal awarded to Father Thomas Conway for his actions in the water before he passed on the third day, I have read several accounts from men serving aboard the rescue ships. These ships searched a wide area to pick up any survivors still possibly in the ocean. I thought the authors may pass over these first-hand eyewitness accounts, as the sailors discovering these bodies related nightmarish stories of dead men being eaten by sharks, or bodies falling apart while being brought onboard. Again, I feel the authors did a great job in not being exploitative or unnecessarily ghoulish, while also not sparing the reader the awful truths associated with the reality of the men’s situation.

As disheartening as it is to read the tragic tale of the crew of Indianapolis and their exploits in the sea after her sinking, it is almost as equally appalling to learn of the Navy’s brass towing the same party line for five decades. Indianapolis is a touching and lasting tribute to all the men, living and dead, who suffered so much in the service of their country during the Second World War.

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Indianapolis survivors onboard the Hollandia, headed for home.

 

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