Gripping Story Of 'The Indianapolis' Told By Local Authors
Younger generations may have only heard about the fate of the USS Indianapolis from a scene in the movie Jaws. But there are still people alive to tell the story of the sinking of the Indianapolis during World War II and the hours survivors waited for rescue in shark infested waters of one thousand one hundred ninety six crew members only 316 were rescued. Rancho Bernardo native Sarah Vladek has spent more than a decade listening to the remaining survivors and telling their harrowing story first in the documentary and now with co-author Lynne Vincent in a book. INDIANAPOLIS The True Story of the worst sea disaster in U.S. history and the 50 year fight to exonerate an innocent man. Vladek spoke to PBS roundtable host Mark Sauer Sarah Vladek welcome. Thank you. Let's just start and recap the story for us of the Indianapolis briefly and tell us what drew you to become so involved in this story. Well you know the Indianapolis it's known for the sinking and what the men went through but it really is a magnificent ship. It was Sproing says flagship it was Roosevelt ship of state. You know the ship was really one of the main players in the Pacific War. And so she had this majesty to her that most people don't know and that that drew me. I mean initially the sinking and what took place with the Japanese torpedoes after she had carried the atomic bomb was what drew me. But then over the years learning the story of the ship and just what she was involved in the role she played in World War II really fascinated me and the story really got obscured because she dropped off one of the delivered the bomb here and of course soon after the atomic bombings the end of the war and it was obviously the big international story. But this tragedy was that was so horrible and it really got obscured at that time. It did and most people didn't even know that it happened at the time because the day they announced it to the world it was the same day that Japan surrendered. And so in the small print in the back of the paper was a line that said Indianapolis sunk 100 percent casualty. But everyone was celebrating the end of the war. All right and tell us how many men were on the ship. Two torpedoes hit it and went down in 12 minutes. And to give us kind of the box score as it were of this tragedy. Yeah. Well there were eleven hundred ninety five crew members. I was actually for 11 94 crewmembers. One passenger who just happened to hitch a ride on this fated trip and 316 survived. So they were torpedoed the ship sank in 12 minutes and the men were in the water for five nights four days before they were accidentally rescued if you will. And this was warm water in the South Pacific. But that was the least of their problems right. You know they were not in rafts says you know you would guess they were in lifejackets somewhere on float or net some had nothing at all and we were just there to swim and so they had to survive. I mean shark attacks hide dehydration you know all of the elements in order to survive. And only 316 did survive. And it's so striking reading the book The men are in the water as you say five nights four days. You chronicle life saving heroism and valor but also madness assaults even rape and cannibalism. I mean it's it's it really is. Look at a horrific situation for human beings to be. Yeah I mean it is looking at. The human condition under these circumstances that show the best of people and the worst or worst of people and how they react in a situation of survival like what would you do to survive. Right. And again the water was about 80 degrees hypothermia eventually became a problem. But it was the sharks and of course the movie Jaws has a reference to this. This terrible incident with one of the characters. That's probably where most Americans if they know at all about the Indianapolis learned about it. Yes the Quink monologue in Jaws is really what most people know the story about. And then of course Shark Week tends to highlight it every now and then. But really you know the ship was known for so much more. And it's always obscured because of the shark story. And you've been to many of the reunions of the survivors. Tell us what those are like and obviously as time goes on fewer and fewer survivors are yeah that told the story when I started it was 2001 when I went to my first reunion and there were 117 survivors attending at that time. And now there are 14 still living. And you know this is a gathering of men who you know they can share stories. They reconnect. They're the only people in the world that know what happened in those waters and can kind of use that as a form of therapy and that really is what that was once it started. The men started talking that helped them deal with this tragedy more than anything else could because there wasn't PTSD at that time. I mean treatments for it and such. It wasn't identified and nobody else could really understand or comprehend not at all the circumstances they once were and they didn't tell their families either. So you know they were most of the families had no idea their fathers or husbands went through this kind of tragedy. I mean they knew they survived the Indianapolis but not what that meant. What that really meant as a book lays out so beautifully. The subtitle of the book notes it's also about a 50 year fight to exonerate an innocent man. Tell us about that. Well when the men came home you know there was obviously an investigation as to what went wrong and it was a perfect storm that took place. But someone had to be blamed and you know the captain was the one who was targeted. And so Captain MacNair Captain Charles McVeigh the third. He was you know set up for a tremendous career in the Navy. You know he was going to be you know heading for Admiral and he was court martialed. And we talk a lot about that and what was going on behind closed doors and meetings with Admiral King and Nimitz and you know the command in order for him to be the one I guess chosen you know once you become a captain you are ultimately responsible for the fate of the vessel. And so once he was court martialed there was no choice but to find him guilty and you know the crew of the Indianapolis really rallied behind this and it took them 50 years to exonerate their captain's name in a remarkable note the captain of the Japanese submarine that sank the ship actually got involved later on. He did. He wrote a letter to the senators involved encouraging them to pursue the exoneration. And he and he even at the court martial itself had stated that he would have sunk the ship no matter what Captain McVeigh had ordered. So he was and you know it was the perfect scenario for him to hit Indianapolis and sink it. And he did and he said he shouldn't have been found guilty because he couldn't have done anything to prevent it. Well it's interesting reading the book and how you lay it out early on in the story this was a fast ship. It could go at 31 knots in the open sea Pozo submariners which is what 10 12 months at most. Yeah it could easily outrun a submarine. But they had no idea they were in a danger zone. They didn't have an escort. They didn't have an escort. They were told that there was nothing going on in that area. And you know they were not given the information that we did know at the time. There were submarines right there. All right short time left here but I want to get to the writing of the book. As a writer myself it's difficult to collaborate with people. How did you go about that and work it out. I mean was somebody in charge or did you take different roles or how do you do that. It was quite serendipitous to say that you know we worked so well together we're both storytellers and you know we just worked off of each other we each had our strengths in the story. And I'd write Sam and Lynn would write Simon. It was very synergetic where we could you know easily share those. Swap those stories at each others and then we ended up having a voice together that worked really well. Oh that's good and it's difficult to work as I say collaboration is newspaper magazine stories. It's not easy and you did have a documentary also on this. Is that still available. It is on the Indianapolis. Yes it's available on Amazon and iTunes still it's USS Indianapolis the legacy and a hundred and four of the survivors tell the story of the Indianapolis in their own words. OK. And as you say there's one more reunion coming up at least one more. How many folks do expect to be at that there. We know that at least five of the survivors will be attending. It's actually July. It starts next week. So it'll be July 18th to the 22nd. And in Indianapolis. And you know it's open to the public so we hope people will attend. Well it's remarkable I just enjoy the book very much. You guys did a fantastic job on it. It's just a harrowing story. Who would highly recommend anybody to to go forth and see it and I hope you get to a great deal of legs with us and publicity. Americans should know this story. Thank you very much. Thank you for being here sir it. Thank you. That was Indianapolis author Sarah Vladek Speaking to PBS roundtable host Mark Sauer Vladek and co-author Lynne Vincent will be at Warwick's tomorrow night to talk about their book.
As a teenager in Rancho Bernardo, Sara Vladic was always interested in history. When she saw a documentary about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in World War II, she was intrigued.
How could it happen, she wondered, that the U.S. Navy bungled so badly that hundreds of young men died unnecessarily?
The facts are grim. Hit by two torpedoes on July 30, 1945, the cruiser sank in 12 minutes. About 200 sailors and Marines went down with the ship. Those who escaped the wreckage drifted for days in shark-infested waters. Of 1,196 crew members, only 316 were rescued.
In 2001 Vladic first attended the annual reunion of survivors. There were more than 100 then. She became friends with many of them, and they asked her to tell their story. The documentary “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy,” which took several years to make, was the first result.
A book seemed to be in order, so Vladic contacted fellow San Diegan Lynn Vincent, and together they wrote one. Its full title is "Indianapolis: The True Story Of The Worst Sea Disaster In U.S. History And The Fifty-Year Fight To Exonerate An Innocent Man." The book came out July 10.
The annual reunion of Indianapolis survivors is later this month. There are 10 left, but just five survivors are scheduled to attend.
Vladic believes it is likely to be the last one.
She talks with Mark Sauer about her book and her interest in the story of Indianapolis on Midday Edition.
"Indianapolis" authors Sara Vladic and Lynn Vincent will appear for a reading and book-signing
Thursday, July 12, 7:30 p.m.
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