By Navy Personnel Command Public Affairs
The United States Navy has officially changed the status of 13 Sailors lost when the USS Indianapolis (CA 35) was sunk in 1945 from “unaccounted for” to “buried at sea,” Navy Casualty announced May 27.
The change in status is the result of extensive research between Naval History and Heritage Command, Navy Casualty Office, the USS Indianapolis Survivors Association, the USS Indianapolis Legacy Organization, and The Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation.
The announcement helps bring closure to the families of these Sailors who lost their lives at the end of a secret mission that helped end World War II.
(What happened on board the USS Indianapolis? What happened to the survivors? Find out here, courtesy of the Infographics Show and YouTube.)
USS Indianapolis (CL/CA-35) was a Portland-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy, named for the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. Launched in 1931, the vessel served as the flagship for the commander of Scouting Force 1 for eight years, then as flagship for Admiral Raymond Spruance in 1943 and 1944 while he commanded the Fifth Fleet in battles across the Central Pacific during World War II.
In July 1945, Indianapolis completed a top-secret high-speed trip to deliver parts of Little Boy, the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat, to the United States Army Air Force Base on the island of Tinian and subsequently departed for the Philippines on training duty.
At 0015 on 30 July, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58 in shark-infested waters and sank in 12 minutes. Of 1,195 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship.
The remaining 890 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while stranded in the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol.
Only 316 survived. The sinking of Indianapolis resulted in the greatest loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy.
On 19 August 2017, a search team financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen located the wreckage of the sunken cruiser in the Philippine Sea lying at a depth of approximately 18,000 ft (5,500 m). On 20 December 2018, the crew of the Indianapolis was collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
(Learn More about the crucial role played by the USS Indianapolis in World War II before being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Its wreckage was finally found after 72 years, and TODAY shares an exclusive first look at the underwater site. Courtesy of TODAY and YouTube.)
The Sailors whose status changed have been changed to “buried at sea” are as follows:
Seaman 1st Class George Stanley Abbott, of Bedford, Kentucky
Seaman 2nd Class Eugene Clifford Batson, of Kansas City, Kansas
Gunner’s Mate 1st Class William Alexander Haynes, of Homedale, Idaho
Seaman 2nd Class Albert Raymond Kelly, of Cleveland, Ohio
Seaman 1st Class Albert Davis Lundgren, of Washington, D.C.
Fireman 1st Class Ollie McHone, of Mars Hill, Arkansas
Seaman 2nd Class George David Payne, of Grand Rapids, Michigan
Storekeeper 3rd Class Alvin Wilder Rahn, of Hamlet, North Carolina
Ship’s Cook 3rd Class Jose Antonio Saenz, of Edinburg, Texas
Coxswain Charles Byrd Sparks, of Birmingham, Alabama
Radioman 2nd Class Joseph Mason Strain, of Creston, Iowa
SSML3 Angelo Anthony Sudano, of Niles, Ohio
Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Floyd Ralph Wolfe, of Turner, Oregon
(It was a feeding frenzy after a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945 during World War II. Some 900 American sailors were stranded in shark-infested waters, where an estimated 50 men a day were ripped apart by the sharks. It was the largest shark attack in US history. Courtesy of the New York Post and YouTube.)
Approximately 300 of the ship’s 1,195 Sailors went down with the ship, and some 900 men were set adrift. Only 316 survived.
Due to administrative errors, many Sailors who were recovered from the ocean and buried at sea from responding vessels were misclassified as “missing in action “or “unaccounted for.”
Rick Stone, who previously served at NHHC, says he initiated the USS Indianapolis Burial at Sea Project to determine if any Indianapolis casualties met this criteria.
Following his retirement from government service, he established the Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation to continue the project and located documentation proving the 13 Sailors were misclassified.
(Learn More about the in the official trailer for ‘USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.’ Courtesy of Movieclips Trailers.)
“Recovering a lost Sailor, giving their loved ones and family closure is the greatest gift we can imagine and the greatest way to celebrate and thank the Sailors who lost their lives aboard the USS Indianapolis,” says the foundation’s USS Indianapolis Burial at Sea Project web page
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Poor is the nation that has no heroes but shameful is the nation who, having heroes, forgets them,’” Stone said.
“Our foundation will never forget the heroes of the USS Indianapolis and are proud of our role in helping thirteen families learn that the Navy went to great lengths to honor them soon after their deaths.”
Capt. Robert McMahon, director of the Navy Casualty Office, said bringing closure to families of those lost at sea is a “solemn duty and obligation” he takes to heart.
“Nothing is more important to me than giving families that knowledge when the unthinkable happens,” he said.
“No amount of time lessens the loss, however, if we can bring some certainty to loved ones, even seven decades later, we are keeping faith with those we lost.”
One of those family members, William Baxter, nephew of Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Wolfe, was notified on April 26th of the change in status. Sailors from Naval Medical Readiness and Training Command Beaufort, South Carolina, arrived at his door with a certificate and flag to recognize Wolfe’s sacrifice.
Baxter, an Okatie, South Carolina, native, said while he did not know his uncle, “it’s nice to finally have some closure to what actually happened to [him]. Thank you all for going above and beyond for me and my family. I wasn’t expecting all of this, but thank you.”
“It was an absolute honor and a privilege to be a part of informing Mr. Baxter and his family of his uncle’s status change, and also being a part of history,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Naomi Hall, one of the Sailors from NMRTC Beaufort involved in making notifications.
Navy Casualty’s mission is to provide timely and first-class casualty assistance to Navy families when a Sailor is seriously ill or injured, is placed in a duty status whereabouts unknown (DUSTWUN) or is declared missing and/or Prisoner of War or dies.
To Learn More about Navy Casualty, please visit https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/Support-Services/Casualty/.
With more than 90 percent of all trade traveling by sea, and 95 percent of the world’s international phone and internet traffic carried through fiber optic cables lying on the ocean floor, Navy officials continue to emphasize that the prosperity and security of the United States is directly linked to a strong and ready Navy.
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