Was there not a recent movie about the ordeal of the USS Indianapolis' survivors up to their rescue? And in that movie, wasn't the museum
battleship USS Alabama used as a stand-in for the cruiser in one of the opening scenes?
World War II vet recalls how he and fellow sailors survived at sea after attack
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, September 27, 2009
Joshua Hull, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
MEMPHIS, Texas - The first torpedo hit after midnight.
Cleatus LeBow, a long way from his home in landlocked Abernathy, Texas, jumped out of his bunk at the rear of his ship and threw on some clothes before running on deck.
By then the second Japanese torpedo had struck, shearing off the bow of the USS Indianapolis and ensuring that the 600-foot-long cruiser would soon rest on the ocean floor.
As the boat came loose, it slid down and crushed several men, forcing the survivors to jump in the water.
"No one knew we were missing," LeBow said. "We were out about halfway between Guam and the Philippine Islands, out in the middle of the ocean, and no one knew we were lost or sunk."
The date was July 30, 1945.
There were almost 1,200 men serving aboard the Indy, 900 of whom would make it into the water. Nearly five days without food or water, floating alone in lifeboats and unprotected from sharks, only 316 would be pulled from the ocean alive.
Now 85 and one of the few living survivors of the U.S. Navy's worst disaster at sea, LeBow enjoys the slow pace of life in the Panhandle with his wife.
By sunrise after the sinking of the Indianapolis, it was obvious that the helpless men were in trouble. Shark fins were visible in the distance.
Without drinking water for hydration, many of the men experienced delusions. Those who couldn't bear the thirst any longer would drink the sea water, which LeBow said almost immediately sealed their fates.
"All we could do was just sit there and talk about things we'd done and things we were going to do," he said.
Some men swam away from the group, shouting about nearby islands or other inventions of the imagination.
"They wouldn't get very far," LeBow said. "You'd see a fin come along, take them under the water, and they'd be gone."
He said his faith in God, his belief that he would either go home to his family or go home with Jesus, carried him through. By the fourth day his own delirium had set in, and if it weren't for a caring friend he probably would have been eaten as well after he swam away from the floating net.
On Aug. 2, the men were seen when a patrol flight found the survivors. LeBow doesn't remember the rescue.
After the war, LeBow worked for a telephone company, moving across the state. He was living in Plano until 12 years ago, when his wife's mother became ill and they moved to Memphis to care for her.
Through time, LeBow said he has learned to forgive the Japanese for the war and for sinking his ship. He said he realizes they were following orders, just like he was.
"They were doing for their country what we were doing for ours," he said. "I wish the war had never happened."