With Veterans Day approaching, retired military sea veterans of the USS Indianapolis Memorial Branch 130 of the Fleet Reserve Association are keeping the history of the famous ship alive.
They meet formally on the first Monday of the month at the Greenwood VFW Post 5864 and informally for breakfast monthly on the second Tuesday at Denny’s Restaurant on the westside of Greenwood.
The FRA branch has a renewed significance with the launch of the new USS Indianapolis, a littoral combat ship, on Oct. 26 at Burns Harbor. The LCS ship keeps critical maritime security, particularly in ports where larger ships are too big to enter.
It is the fourth Indianapolis, including the second ship that was en route from Guam to Leyte when torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine July 30, 1945. The ship’s wreckage was located Aug. 19, 2017.
“We want to tell about the legacy of the crew of the USS Indianapolis; what they went through after the attack and sinking of the ship,” branch secretary-treasurer James Hayes said. “Also, the fact that they were the ones that took one of the atomic bombs over to help end the war.”
Jerry Bennett, who chairs the group’s public relations committee, remarked, “Each of those crewmen has a story to tell because we can find similarities in the lives they lived up to the attack. I read about one quarter-master who grew up in the East close to where I grew up. We’re all just regular folks who served.”
The group was in awe of the survivors of the attack when they were introduced at the summertime reunion downtown.
Bennett, who was sitting next to Hayes at the breakfast table, said, “When the torpedo hit, one-third went down with the ship, one-third died in the ocean waiting to be rescued and one-third was rescued. The atomic bomb hadn’t been dropped, but they had played a big role; they were the link in the chain that ended the war. Had the timing been just a little different, all the crewmembers would have made it home and been honored in person as heroes.”
Whenever a survivor of the U.S.S. Indianapolis dies, the local group has a brief memorial, a two-bell ceremony at the reserve center at White River.
Several branch members joined together and finished a 13-foot model of the USS Indianapolis that is on display at Fort Harrison on the eastside. This is the 10th anniversary of the completion of the model that was displayed at the USS Indianapolis survivors 74th reunion in downtown Indianapolis. The model had been started by Chief Petty Officer Larry Sharpes who died before completing it. Navy veterans and branch members Bob Armstrong, James Church, Hank Jacoby, William Legan, Charles Perry, Harry Powel, James Sattler and Bob Weseli volunteered numerous hours to complete the ship.
Bennett also designed the emblem for the former Hasler Naval Armory near White River on West 30th Street. The design was approved in 1980. It features an eagle from a Naval uniform patch from the War of 1812, the state’s outline to honor Indiana; the ship’s wheel for guidance; and the anchor for stability.
Greg Puckett of Greenwood is president of the FRA branch.
The first Indianapolis was a steamer built for the U.S. Shipping Board (USSB) and commissioned directly into the Navy in 1918. After two runs in Europe, the ship was returned to the USSB.
The third Indianapolis was a Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine that was commissioned Jan. 5, 1980 and taken out of service in 1998.
In northern Indiana late last month, the launch ceremony of the new USS Indianapolis (LCS 17) honored veterans as the long glass (telescope) from survivor/seaman 2nd class Dick Thelen was handed to the navigator of the first watch.
The ship’s motto, “Legacy of War” reflects the three previous ships named Indianapolis.
“The future USS Indianapolis honors more than a city, it pays tribute to the legacy of those who served during the final days of World War II on board USS Indianapolis (CA-35),” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer at the ship’s christening ceremony. “This ship will continue the proud legacy of service embodied in the name Indianapolis and is a testament to the true partnership between the Navy and industry.”
More than 8,000 people attended the commissioning ceremony at Burns Harbor.
The homeport for USS Indianapolis is the Naval Station Mayport, Jacksonville, Florida.
The Fleet Reserve Association branch is open to veterans of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, the sea services. Info: www.fra130indy.org.