Saturday, June 11, 2005

In Harm's Way

After an exhausting 7 hours at the mall to celebrate Victoria's birthday, we sat down for a nice late dinner at a local Tex-Mex restaurant just down the road from my house. As we got up to leave I noticed a really elderly man sitting at a table with his family with an oxygen tank. I noticed he was wearing one of the blue baseball caps that a lot of naval veterans wear, but I was so tired I didn't really take any more note of it.

As I stood at the register waiting on my change, it was like a bell went off in my head and I turned and took a closer look at the gentleman, who was facing me. The cap said CA-35 USS Indianapolis. I stood there stunned for a minute and told Marissa and Victoria I'd be outside in a few minutes.

I walked over and said "excuse me, sir?" He looked up at me and smiled.

"You were on the Indianapolis," I asked?

"Yes sir," he said.

"Were you on her when she went down?"

"Yes sir," he nodded. His eyes got this faraway look that I've seen when talking to some war veterans before.

"It's a real honor to me you," I said, extending my hand. "I read the book about the Indianapolis a while back. I never thought I'd actually meet someone who was on her."

"Well, thank you very much," he said while giving a surprisingly firm handshake for someone that old.

His eyes looked like they were about to tear up, and I know mine were, so I nodded to him and his family and left.

If you don't know about the USS Indianapolis, the short story is that she was sailing from Guam shortly after delivering the atomic bomb to the island of Tinian. On July 30, 1945 she was hit by two torpedos from a Japanese submarine and rolled over and sank 12 minutes later. Out of 1,196 men on board about 900 made it into the water before she sank. They spent almost 5 days in the water, watching each other get eaten by tiger sharks. Only 317 were rescued.

I've read about the Indianapolis since I was a kid. I think the first time I heard about it was when I was reading the novel Jaws in second grade, which made me go look up the whole story at the library. I never imagined I'd actually meet one of the survivors. Only 317 of them made it out of the water almost 60 years ago, so the youngest of them would be 77 years old at a minimum. It's not every day you get to meet a hero, but tonight I'm thankful I was able to.

If you're never read the book "In Harm's Way", you should. I need to pick up another copy of it myself. I wish I had gotten the gentleman's name tonight, but I was too nervous to remember to ask.


Big Bill said...

Thats pretty cool Hatch I bet you made that guys night. Seriously thats cool that you talked to him and gave him the respect he deserves. Peace brotha!

Paul said...

Ditto to what Big Bill said. I'd love to hear some of that old guy's stories.

Paul said...

of course, I guess he never uses the remark "eat me".

dkgoodman said...

I would have liked to have met him, too.