There is a scene in the Stephen Spielberg movie ‘Jaws’ in which the 3 man crew of the shark hunting boat led by actor Robert Shaw as Captain Quint, are in the galley one night at sea and drinking (what we now call 'bonding') and telling ‘sea stories’ to Richard Dreyfuss as Matt and Roy Scheider as Brody.

As with most stories circulating around booze and men of all ages, they try to outdo each other on ‘scars’ and harrowing stories of their lives when Quint opens up about a historically accurate one; about his having been aboard the USS Indianapolis, the cruiser that ferried the world’s first atomic bomb to Tinian Island, so it could be loaded aboard the B-29 Enola Gay for its famous raid on Japan.

Getty Images

The Speedy USS Indianapolis at Sea in 1939 (USN)

Young Matt (Dreyfuss) is immediately awestruck ‘you were on the Indianapolis?’ he blurts out… at that instant everyone in the galley of the Orca knew that this was the winning story of the night, any night in any place. (See the "Jaws" story telling scene here)

The Indianapolis completed its delivery mission without a hitch, delivering the bomb components to the tiny island, but it was the deadhead or return trip to Hawaii where the historic horror story begins. A Japanese submarine, and this is late in the war mind you, about two weeks before the Japanese surrender on the decks of the USS Missouri, torpedoed the Indianapolis.

The very selection of the Indy was due to her astounding speed capability, designed for a blazing 32 knots with her four propeller shafts pushing 107,000 horsepower she could easily maintain 29 knots in nearly rough seas.

But on the night of July 30th, 1945 in the dark of the Pacific just after midnight local time she could not outrun and likely didn’t even see the Japanese torpedo coming for her hull filled with sleeping sailors.  The enemy captain of the I-58 told of what he saw through his periscope that night, that the torpedo struck and caused a massive explosion, the Indy took on an immediate list, settling by the bow and rolled over in a mere 12 minutes.

In the middle of the night in the middle of the Pacific 1,196 USN crewman, many who no doubt were already dreaming of finally going home as the war was ending found themselves dead and dying.  About 300 crew went down inside the ship with no hope for recovery, the rest of the living and seriously injured only able to launch a couple of lifeboats, and sadly most of them entered the bottomless ocean with only their skivvies and were left by the Japanese to face the open ocean and its perils alone.

Of course, the ocean isn’t actually bottomless but the Pacific waters in that area is filled with deadly and starving predator sharks.

Due to a communications snafu in Hawaii, as the Indianapolis became overdue to return, it was overlooked.  A standard war time order of radio silence was the explanation as to why no one had heard from the overdue ship and no one seemed concerned as days dragged by.

No one sent out a rescue party for four days.

Meanwhile, some 800 sailors drifted in the open ocean.  Their water-treading arms and legs attracting schools of swirling sharks who would come up from the depths and snack on the sailor buffet.  Out of 800 men that went into the water, only 316 ever got out again.

Getty Images

Oceanologist Matt Hooper and Captain Quint from JAWS 1975

Since that night, through the periscope of the Japanese sub, no man has set eyes on the USS Indianapolis until now as a civilian research team has discovered the Indy’s remains, a war grave, in 18,044 feet of cold Pacific water.

The team was led by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen who said in part: “…To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending WWII is truly humbling.  While our search for the entire wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”

Bettmann Archive

USS Orleck a WWII Destroyer is Docked on North Enterprise Blvd, Lake Charles

If you’d ever like to get a feel of what a WWII era warship looks like up close, you can always visit the USS Orleck ship and military museum docked at the north end of Enterprise Blvd right here in Lake Charles.  Tours are available as well as instructional opportunities for kids of all ages. USSORLECK.ORG