This is a copy of an address given by Harlan Twible on the 4th July 2001

Remarks made to First Baptist Church
Sarasota, Florida
July 4, 2001

Today marks the two hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of the founding of our nation. As nations go, we are young but yet so old. We have been called on to do so much and have asked for so little. Just as we as individuals follow the example set for us by our parents, we as a nation have followed the examples set for us by our forefathers, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and all of their compatriots. When the time came for our forefathers to break the tyrannical rule of their oppressors, they not only gave of their material wealth but risked their very lives to gain the freedom that they so desired. Freedom to them was not a word but a cherished dream for which sacrifices had to be made. They cared not what the sacrifice was, whether life or fortune or both, freedom was worth the price that had to be paid. They set the example, in those years so long ago, for those of us who have followed after them. Just as they answered the call of their nation, so too have we. Our fighting men have never shirked their commitment to their nation or to the freedom for which it stands. They have always responded to the call of duty from the bridge at Concord to the Persian Gulf, from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, and from the fields of Normandy to the beaches of Iwo Jima. Our valiant warriors have been the model for the world to follow. They have been fearless in battle and magnanimous in victory. They have always answered freedom’s call.

I would like to take you back to those times in our lives, now faint in our memories, when man thought first of his country and fellow man and not of himself, when man had high ideals and high mores , when man was his noble self. I would like to tell you about my generation. “A generation” that noted author, William Manchester, said “is now growing old and soon to disappear. A generation whose experiences are treated so cavalierly in a society that worships the young”. In the words of Stephen Spielberg, the noted director, “A generation that made it possible for us to walk as free men today.” Or Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation”. I want to remind you of those unselfish men, those 16 million Americans who served, those 1 million who were casualties, and those 559 thousand who died. To better illustrate what these numbers really mean, if sixteen of you in this room were serving your country at that time, one of you would have been a casualty. If you were a casualty, you had a 50% chance of surviving. These people of whom I speak were not common men. These were uncommon men in the extreme. They were selfless. Their concerns were not for themselves but for their nation, their loved ones, and their God. Their nation and the world that they lived in was being threatened and challenged as never before. Their nation called on them to meet that threat. They did so without complaint and without favor. They did so knowing that they were doing the noble thing.

I would like to tell you about 1196 of the casualties in that war. They were my shipmates. 880 died, 315 and I survived. If you were on my ship, the USS Indianapolis, three out of four of you would not be here today. You would have perished fighting an enemy you did not know, in seas that were only names. You would have perished knowing that your cause was just. As you may recall, the war in Europe ended in 1945. We had conquered the despots who had controlled Germany and Italy. We had paid dearly in life and limb. We still had a horrible enemy to defeat in the Pacific before the world was free at last. We were about to repeat on an island by island basis the carnage on Iwo Jima that saw 17, 000 wounded even though the landing force was only 15,000 strong. We saw men wounded not once but twice before the island was secured. We saw valor of a type never before seen in war. We had still more of the same carnage facing us before we could claim victory at last. The Japanese were poised to fight to the last man to stop us. We initiated plans to mount a two stage invasion of Japan. First a landing on Kyushu which Admiral Leahy estimated would yield a quarter of a million casualties and then on to Honshu which would claim another one million. Fortunately for us, those casualties would never occur. Our scientists had developed the atomic bomb. My ship, the USS Indianapolis, was chosen to deliver the components for two atomic bombs to the Army Air Force on Tinian, a little island in the Pacific that was a forward base for bombing Japan. The Air Force would then take the bombs on to Japan. The first was to be dropped on Hiroshima and the second on Nagasaki.

The Indianapolis was chosen to deliver the bombs because it was a sailor’s ship. It was fast and well manned. It was disciplined. It had a worthy captain who had proven himself under fire. It had been Admiral Spruance's flagship when he commanded the 5th Fleet. It had been President Roosevelt’s “Ship of State”. We were fast, and we could run without escort. We could easily sail 30 knots without laboring our ship or crew. We delivered our cargo in record time – a time never again equaled by a man-of-war. We had completed our mission. We sailed on to Guam for provisions and our sailing orders so that we could join our fleet in the Philippines. We were never to get there. Twenty nine hours out of Guam we were sunk by a Japanese submarine.

I was in sky aft, secondary con, that night and due to be relieved at 2400 hours, midnight your time. When our reliefs didn’t show up at twenty minutes before the hour, Lieutenant Clinton, my watchmate, volunteered to roust them out. I was never to see Lt. Clinton again.

The reliefs finally showed up full of apologies. I turned over the watch after briefing them about the condition of our guns, the ship, and the weather. It was a dark and gloomy night. We had dispensed with all zigzagging, a common practice when intelligence told us that there were no enemies in our path and when the weather was heavily overcast.

The rest of my story is etched in my mind so deeply I will never forget it. I need not place it on paper for times such as those leave an indelible impression on anyone who has lived them. Those were times when man lived by faith and faith alone.

Secondary con was what the name implied. In case of disaster and when primary control was lost secondary control would take over. Upon being relieved, I went to the side of the tub and threw my leg up and over to go down the ladder to the deck. Then it happened. At one and the same time I heard the explosion and felt the tear at my side. Then another explosion. Without thinking I reached down to my side and felt wetness. There was no time to think about my problem. I had other responsibilities to tend to. I continued down the ladder and ran forward to the quarterdeck to report to the executive officer. I asked what I should do, and he said to go aft and get the men to the high side of the ship. The ship was canting to starboard now and movement was difficult. I came upon one of the footlockers that had been opened and took out a kapok life jacket to replace the inflatable tube that we always wore. When I had arrived amidships, our starboard side was about one foot above the water and sinking fast. I yelled, “Over the side.” No one moved. No one let go of the lifeline he was holding. Who wanted to go into that forbidding sea? Then I yelled, “Follow me” and jumped into the water. The crew followed. We went off the low side even though this was not the suggested procedure. You are supposed to abandon ship from the high side otherwise the ship might roll over on you. We had no option.

Thus began an odyssey that has refused to die, an odyssey that will be retold when people speak of commitment and courage, when people speak of serving ones country and when people speak of man serving his fellow man. The time 12:01 A.M., Monday , July 30, 1945. Our ship had sunk in 12 Minutes. On hitting the water, I yelled, “Swim away! Swim away!” The men responded. They reacted in fear. To stay close to the ship would have meant sure death. Everyone had to get as far away as possible to avoid being sucked under as the ship went down. Although the crew had never been taught how to abandon a ship nor did they know what they should do once they had, they did know that someone had to call the shots. I was that person.

In a few moments I turned to look back. There was my home going down by the bow. It was just like a movie. No movie this. This was real. To say that there was fear in every man’s heart would be a gross understatement. We were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our home had sunk to its watery grave. Did anyone know that we were sunk? Were any messages gotten off to alert the fleet of our peril? Within minutes chaos erupted. No one was in charge. Being an ensign, I waited for someone of senior rank to come forward. No one did. It was now up to me. We would all die if we didn’t get order. I barked orders right and left. How many nets did we have? How many rafts? Who were wounded the worst and needed the most help? This kept us busy until daybreak. The men had quieted because they felt something was being done.

As dawn broke, I looked around. It wasn’t a pretty sight. We were strung out in chaotic fashion. I decided that we had to get together. I ordered everyone to tie himself to a life net. The nets were joined. We had four rafts. I ordered those cleared so that those with the most serious wounds could be put in them with the people who were holding them. At first there was some grumbling. Then a voice. “You heard the officer. Do what he says.” It was Gunner Horner, a 49 year old warrant gunner, the oldest man on the ship, supporting a 23 year old ensign. A bond had been formed between the old and the young..

What next? I decided that we had to know how many of us there were. “Count off.” Again the Gunner. “One”. We were 325 strong at that point. We had to survive as a unit, or we would surely all die. As dawn went into mid-day, men started to die of their wounds and dead bodies drifted among us. It was a gruesome sight. It was a gruesome thing to have the body of a shipmate brush up against you, to know that this might soon be you. I decided on burial services for those who had died. I said prayers over them and then ordered that the bodies be passed down the line and allowed to drift out to sea. Men became disoriented. The strain of being in the water was frightening enough. Now their wounds were taking their lives.

The men were again starting to wonder about their chances of survival. Why weren’t the rescue ships showing up? Where were the airplanes? As evening approached, the men became restless. It was at this point that I knew that our only hope was in our Lord. He would see us through. Our country had abandoned us, but God was there with us. No separation of church and state here. He would see us through. I then lead the men in prayer asking our Lord to support us during this time of peril. The group became quiet as night came upon us.

It was early in the second day that our next peril showed up. Sharks. They foraged for those who were separated from the group. They would eat the extremities of those they chose and the rest of the body would pop to the surface. When their feeding frenzy was over they backed off. What now? Our crew had to know when the sharks were coming at us. There wasn’t anything that we could do to dissuade those sharks, but the men had to think that they were doing something. I decided that we had to have a shark watch. I instructed the men to kick and scream when sharks were sighted.

For the next three days we were to witness death without knowing whether or not there was any hope of survival. During this time our minds turned to better things, our loved ones and to our dependence on the Lord. We prayed unto Almighty God every time difficulties arose. Each time He made His presence known to us and brought quietness. We now understood the words of the Navy hymn, “Oh hear us when we cry to Thee for those in peril on the sea.” God did hear us. This we knew. Our still being alive told us so.

Typical of the incidents that we faced was the incident with Lieutenant Redmayne. It was on the second day that Lieutenant Dick Redmayne made himself known to me. He came up to me and said simply, “Dick Redmayne.” I said, “Dick, you take over”. He said, “I can’t”. He showed me his hands and arms, and I knew why. He was burned to the bone. I said,” Dick, tie yourself next to me and I will look after you” He did. Later, his pain took over. He lost control of his senses and said that he was going below to start the engines. I reached into my shirt pocket and took out one of the three morphine syrettes that I had taken from a floating medical pack. I injected him with it. He said,” What did you do that for?” I said, “You needed it.” I watched out for Dick for the remainder of our time in the water as he drifted into and out of reality. Finally, on the last day in the water and just before we were picked up, he decided again that he was going to start the engines. I didn’t have any more syrettes and little strength. Just at that moment a hard tack can hit me in the face. (My life jacket was now so waterlogged , my lips were just above the water level.) I grabbed the can and swung as hard as I could. I knocked him colder than a mackerel. With the help of others I hoisted him into the lifeboat that had been dropped from one of the rescue planes. Later, he and I shared a hospital room, and he said to me, “I would like to get my hands on the guy who cracked me on the head.” I reached over and said, “You are touching him. I am the one”. I then told him the story. He said,” I hope that I can keep this knot for the rest of my life to remind me of my good fortune.”

It seemed that every hour would bring new problems. Some men still had their firearms and knives. They were a danger to themselves as well as to the rest of us. I realized that they had to be disarmed. I told them of the danger, of someone wanting their weapons and fighting them for them. They disarmed themselves. Others had booze that they had smuggled onto the ship. I explained the problems of dehydration and told them to destroy it. They destroyed it. Others wanted to drink salt water. I explained the effects of salt water on humans. And on our problems went. Each problem was solved by an explanation, cajoling, or a threat. Whatever seemed appropriate at the time was what was used.

Four days and five nights after our sinking we were sighted by a navy plane on anti-submarine patrol piloted by Chuck Gwinn. At first he thought we were an enemy sub and came in for a bombing run. When one of the men saw that it was people in an oil slick and not a ship in the water, the plane pulled out of its run. The next time they came back they let us know that they had seen us. They stayed as long as they could. Their fuel supply was limited. They notified their base. They didn’t know who we were, friend or foe, but they did know that we were in trouble. A Catalina flying boat was dispatched to hover over us. A boat was dropped with rescue gear from a following plane. True to form, the communications gear did not work. However, there was a signal mirror. I flashed a message identifying us. My Morse code at the Academy was not the speediest, but this time it was. A message came back. “ Slow down. We can not read you.” I did slow down and replied, “We are the crew of the USS Indianapolis.” This made the captain of the flying boat take action. He saw that we were being eaten alive by the sharks. He disobeyed navy regulations and landed the plane in the open sea. It was a treacherous maneuver. One that often led to the death of the occupants of the plane. Those near enough climbed onto the wings of the plane or grabbed whatever they could grab onto. The plane crew tore holes in the fabric covering the wings so that the men could have extra opportunities to get away from that water. Anything and everything was done to get those men out of the reach of the foraging sharks. The crew on that Catalina gave us hope but also some problems. What man who had survived this long wanted to spend another minute in that water? What man wanted to face being eaten alive by those foraging sharks? Everyone wanted to cut loose from the nets and swim to the plane. Now it was time for threats. These men had to be frightened into doing the right thing. I said that I would court martial anyone who broke loose from the nets. This brought order back to our group and made the men act in a rational manner.

The rest of the story has been told many times. About eighteen hours later the USS Bassett picked up my group and ministered to us. We were now 151 strong. We had lost 174 men since entering the water. The crew of the Bassett took us below and gave us small amounts of water. The doctor and the corpsmen looked after our needs. I was fortunate. The shrapnel I had taken went in the front of my body and out the back without damaging a major organ or taking out a major artery. After a blood transfusion and some patching, sleep took me away from our horrible nightmare. After four days and five nights without sleep, water, or food, sleep was the best antidote for my problems. The Bassett took us to the hospital on Samar where we were to spend the next several weeks recuperating.

Our ordeal was over. God had seen us through a disaster that was to go down as the worst in the history of our Navy. In those four days and five nights, our crew had experienced a tragedy beyond dimensions. They had watched their shipmates die tragic deaths because there was no means of patching their wounds or killing their pain. They watched their shipmates give up all hope of life because weakness of body had overtaken strength of mind. They watched as their shipmates were snatched from life by those foraging sharks. They watched as their shipmates expended energy on their wounded friends which they could have marshaled for their own survival. In those four days and five nights, I had seen greatness, greatness that I would never see again in my lifetime.. I saw man’s love for his fellow man. I saw men holding up other men while they themselves were dying. I saw true greatness.

We came out of that water different men than we were when we went in. We would forever think of those who had given their lives, who would never see their loved ones again. We were quiet, stronger and somehow more knowledgeable than we were before and probably ever would be again. We believed in the brotherhood of man because we had seen that brotherhood in action. Questions have always remained with us. When Joel Loy of Inside Edition asked me, “ Why did you live Mr. Twible when other people died.” My answer was that it was God’s will. Why else would any of us have survived except that it was God’s will? What decision would I ever make that would compare with my decision to tell those sailors to “Follow me” into those unknown waters? We didn’t know how or why but we had become different people. We just were.

We are in the twilight of our lives now. I look back at those 56 wonderful years that I have had with my wife and family and realize that my shipmates who perished never had them. We as a crew look back and honor our dead shipmates. We trust that somehow they know that by our having completed our mission in delivering the bombs to Tinian we materially shortened the war. We trust that they know that they helped in saving our forces from the carnage that would have occurred if they had not completed their mission. We trust that they know that by giving their young lives they saved others from giving theirs. We remain the same group that has spent a lifetime honoring our God, our Country, and our Crew. Our motto still remains, “ God, Honor, Country.” We have not forgotten the responsibility cast on us by our shipmates to continue to protect this great nation from enemies from without and from within, enemies who would destroy the very fabric of our nation, the fabric that has made us so great. We are still battling, and our children will battle, to keep this nation the same one for which our valiant shipmates gave their lives. Not to do so would cheapen their sacrifices. We know that it was through God’s grace that those of us who survived did survive. We have tried to fulfill that obligation cast upon us by living a life that honors those who gave theirs. We will never forget, we must never forget. They gave up their places at the table of Life so that we could have ours.

Harlan M. Twible

Books to read:- "In Harms Way"

Pages to view on the Internet.
Frequently asked questions about the USS Indianapolis

Pictures of USS Indianapolis
See Indianapolis Story

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