Thursday, 29 November, 2001
Today I finished the book Abandon Ship!, by Richard F. Newcomb. Originally written in 1958, the book tells about the loss of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in the last days of World War II. The book was re-released this year with some new material and an Introduction and Afterward by Peter Maas (author of Serpico, among other titles). The book doesn't dwell too much on events in the water (apparently our society's blood lust hadn't yet matured in 1958) except to mention almost in passing the sharks, hunger, thirst, sun, and resulting insanity that claimed so many lives over the next four days. The book does cover in detail the events leading up to the ship's being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, and the resulting court martial of the ship's Captain. Even in 1946 most people considered the Captain's court martial a miscarriage of justice. In the light of previously secret documents that have been released since 1958, it's plainly obvious that the Captain was hardly more than a scapegoat.
Of the approximately 1,200 men on the Indianapolis, it's estimated that between 800 and 900 survived the initial attack and the ship's sinking. Of those, only about 300 survived four days in the water. It's a chilling story. Can you imagine spending four days in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no water, no food, no shelter, and a life jacket that has a 48-hour rating? That any of the men not on rafts survived is a wonder.