USS Indianapolis Exhibit Opens Saturday

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 7, 2007; 5:32 AM

INDIANAPOLIS -- Sixty-two years after Japanese torpedoes sank the USS Indianapolis in shark-infested waters, an exhibit in the vessel's namesake city documents its tragic end in the final weeks of World War II.

The exhibit at the Indiana War Memorial, opening Saturday, includes letters and telegrams about the cruiser's July 30, 1945, sinking, the ship's bell and even the type of life jacket that kept the oil-drenched servicemen who survived afloat in the ocean for more than four harrowing days.

"We're trying to keep the story alive and the museum would make it permanent. It will make the story live on forever," said 82-year-old Paul Murphy, chairman of the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization.

The opening comes during a three-day reunion of about 40 of 81 men still alive who were among 317 survivors pulled from the Philippine Sea.

Murphy is eager to see the exhibit in downtown Indianapolis, although he and other survivors still dream of a full museum devoted to their ship's story, including its crucial role in the war's closing chapter. With the survivors now ranging in age from 80 to 100, he fears they may never see that day.

The 600-foot-long USS Indianapolis was attacked just days after delivering to a Pacific island the uranium-235 and other components of the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima.

The ship's mission was so secret she sailed alone, unescorted by ships better equipped to detect and fight Japanese submarines.

Two days after leaving Guam, two torpedoes fired by the Japanese submarine I-58 struck the cruiser and it sank in minutes.

Blast injuries, shark attacks, drowning and dehydration killed many of the sailors before the crew of an anti-submarine plane accidentally spotted them on Aug. 2, 1945, and radioed for help.

The Indianapolis' death toll _ 880 members out of a crew of 1,197 died _ is the U.S. Navy's worst single at-sea loss of life.

But reports of the tragedy were buried behind the news of the Japanese surrender, and interest in the ship's story was not revived until the movie "Jaws" featured a character who told of the sinking and the survivors' days of agony.

Indianapolis survivor Jim O'Donnell, 87, said he still vividly recalls the sinking and his days and nights adrift and thirsty in the tropical sea.

O'Donnell, a retired Indianapolis firefighter, hopes the exhibit resonates with the public, particularly young people unaware of World War II's epic battles.

"I hope the young people wake up and realize that the freedom they have today didn't come cheap," he said. "There was an awful price paid for it."

Kenneth McNamara, executive vice president of the USS Indianapolis Museum Inc., said the hundreds of mementos at the Indiana War Memorial exhibit already make it the best show ever on the ship. He hopes survivors and their relatives will donate or loan more items to round out the collection, which he and others hope eventually fills a museum devoted solely to the ship.

"This is an incubator for what we want to continue doing," he said.

The exhibit opens to the public after a parade honoring the survivors, but will then close before reopening to the public in August after additional items are added, he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press