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Crew Of USS Indianapolis Share Story Of Survival In New Film

Capt. John Woolston ret., pictured in this undated photo, is a survivor of the USS Indianapolis which sank in 1945.
Capt. John Woolston ret., pictured in this undated photo, is a survivor of the USS Indianapolis which sank in 1945.
Trailer: USS Indianapolis: The Legacy
Crew Of USS Indianapolis Share Story Of Survival In New Film
Crew Of USS Indianapolis Share Story Of Survival In New Film GUESTS:Sara Vladic, director, "USS Indianapolis: The Legacy" Capt. John Woolston, survivor, USS Indianapolis

The saga of the USS Indianapolis remains a turf find a bent in history. At the end of July in history. At the end of July 1945 it was torpedoed by the Japanese and sank in the Philippine sea. The survivors spent days waiting for rescue battling exposure, dehydration, and shark attacks. Of the nearly 900 men that were set adrift after the ship capsized only 317 survived. I new film screening at the GI Film Festival documents the tragedy it is called USS Indianapolis: The Legacy . With me is the director Sara Vladic . Welcome. Thank you. One of the surviving crew members of the USS Indianapolis is what does , John Woolston. Welcome. Thank you for having me. It is a pleasure to be here in lovely San Diego and be able to talk about some very bad days. Let me start with you Sara Vladic because one of the survivors that you interviewed says it is something that he never wanted to talk about. Why did you want to tell his story? I have always loved history and felt there was a great importance in people of my age group understanding what the cost of our freedom was. This story caught my attention because I had never heard of before and it was such an incredible story and so many things took place in the water. It was such an incredible ship. It was the flagship and Roosevelt ship a state. About the store needs to be told so that is what sparked it. You spoke with more than one hundred survivors in the making of this film. What did you learn about how the real events differ from the popular cultural version of this event? What really stands out the what I learned the most was that it was not about the sharks. There was so much more to the story and in what took place that these were young men that were assigned to a ship and most of them were very new to a ship. They were facing something at of honor and duty and what you were supposed to do at that time. So it wasn't just about going to war and fighting it. It was doing what was right for the country at the time. That was a different component than just hearing shark attacks. What you remember about being set adrift in the ocean at night after the torpedo attack? The Knights very. You don't have a very comfortable sleep in a lifejacket. You might drift off for a few minutes and then come back. As time went on and people got in worse shape, there was more to do to keep them calm and -- let me tell you about when evening. This was the third evening. People went crazy. There was a large number of people who were swimming around and trying to draw on others. That went on all night long. What I did in what a number of others did was to hear a scream go while in swim in that direction and haul somebody off and calm him down and get his lifejacket squared away and go back for the big dumb and be sure he was in good shape. We did that for six hours or seven hours or eight hours. So I passed out. Sarah, when you spoke with the survivors, they tell the whole story they tell about how is John described people who drink seawater went mad over the course of the four days that they were stranded. It is it -- is it clear why no one was searching for the Indianapolis? There's a multitude of reasons why they weren't looking for the ship. It was really the perfect storm because so many things had to go perfectly wrong in order for this to happen. They all did and so between the SOS delay in the ship sank so quickly it was not able to get a proper signal and a return call back. That was one of the things and then they were in the middle of the Pacific. So so many things and really miscommunications to place that made this possible for them to go unnoticed. What did you think, John, day after day nobody was -- no ships were calming and no boats were coming to save you guys. Recently it was a huge puzzle because most of us had no idea. Obviously, there was time if the ship was operating properly. We expected it -- we do not worry too much for a couple of days. We saw that the planes were very high when they were going over in you that the likelihood of us being cited by a high altitude flight was diddley squat. After the second day as you got into the third day, we figured that the ship should've gotten into [ Indiscernible ]. We began to worry a little bit. We did not know or have anything specific to worry about or know about how the orders were not to scream. We thought and assume that ships would comment. When you saw your friends die and you were so thirsty and so exhausted, did you ever say to yourself I'm going to dial here? No. I never thought I would, no. I don't know why but I just didn't. I was pretty close to the end I think. I for God -- forgot for a while the actual story of my rescue. It wasn't until I read the speeches from a guy who through the [ Indiscernible ] that I remembered what really happened to me. The way he put it it was this guy took off his lifejacket and he was going to miss the life ring and when a my men reached over the side of the plane and pick them up out of the water and threw them over his head. I had been thinking for weeks after and months after thinking why did I get this huge bruise across my chest when I had a lifejacket on. I forgot entirely that I have taken my lifejacket off to swim for a life ring. That memory was wiped out for over 20 years. Sarah, was the sinking and the huge casualties seen as a shameful episode by the U.S. Navy? At the time I think there was a lot going on obviously it was the end of World War II. There was a lot going on and I think a lot of people tried to cover small mistakes that led to when big mistake. So it was more I would say covered up and not talked about until the captain was court-martialed. So a lot of people did not know it was going on. I think there were a few people that made bad choices in the Navy, but the Navy as a whole it was not look to as a mistake. That work Marshall was rescinded and eventually he was exonerated of any wrongdoing, is that right? That is correct but it took more than 50 years for that to happen. Did you learn anything about yourself surviving this terrible ordeal? Well, quite frankly, I think fairly highly of myself. That is a factor. Far beyond that this -- I can laugh. I feel a lot better about myself than I did before. Yes, I did. I want to thank you both. I have been speaking with John Woolston and filmmaker Sara Vladic. The GI Film Festival is cosponsored by KPBS. Thank you both so much. Thank you for having us. Coming up can the convoy district become the next Little Italy? It is 12:23 you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.

Weeks before the end of World War II, on July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank in the Philippine Sea.

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Survivors spent days waiting for rescue. They battled exposure, dehydration and shark attacks. Of the nearly 900 men who were set adrift after the ship capsized, only 317 survived. Nearly 400 more went down with the ship.

A new film screening at San Diego's GI Film Festival, which is co-presented by KPBS, documents the tragedy. The film is called "USS Indianapolis: The Legacy."

Film director Sara Vladic and retired Capt. John Woolston, a survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, join Midday Edition Wednesday to discuss the history of the warship and its survivors.

The USS Indianapolis, which sank in 1945 after being hit by a Japanese torpedo, is pictured in this undated photo.
The USS Indianapolis, which sank in 1945 after being hit by a Japanese torpedo, is pictured in this undated photo.

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