Our historian Mark Bielski recently interviewed best-selling author, Lynn Vincent, and National Geographic Historian, Sara Vladic, about their new book, Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man, on his History with Mark Bielski Podcast.
For any of you who are traveling on our Iwo Jima: War in the Pacific Tour, as well as anyone interested in learning more about one of the most harrowing tales in WWII history, you will want to pick up a copy of Indianapolis. For the better part of a century, the story of USS Indianapolis has been understood as a sinking tale. The reality, however, is far more complicated—and compelling.
The Story of the USS Indianapolis
The USS Indianapolis was christened and launched as the ship of state for President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. After Pearl Harbor, Indianapolis led the charge to the Pacific Islands, notching an unbroken string of victories in an uncharted theater of war. Then, under orders from President Harry Truman, the ship took aboard a superspy and embarked on her final world-changing mission: delivering the core of the atomic bomb to the Pacific for the strike on Hiroshima.
Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, days after delivering the components of the atomic bomb from California to the Pacific Islands in the most highly classified naval mission of the war, USS Indianapolis was sailing alone in the center of the Philippine Sea when she was struck by two Japanese torpedoes. The ship was instantly transformed into a fiery cauldron and sunk within minutes. Some 300 men went down with the ship. Nearly 900 make it into the water alive. For the next five nights and four days, almost three hundred miles from the nearest land, the men battled injuries, sharks, dehydration, insanity, and eventually each other. Only 316 survived.
About Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History
The book, which was published by Simon & Schuster, is based on a decade of original research and interviews with 107 survivors and eyewitnesses. Vincent and Vladic tell the complete story of the ship, her crew, and their final mission to save one of their own.
Vincent and Vladic provide a visceral, moment-by-moment account of the disaster that unfolded days later after the Japanese torpedo attack, from the chaos on board the sinking ship to the first moments of shock as the crew plunge into the remote waters of the Philippine Sea, to the long days and nights during which terror and hunger morph into delusion and desperation, the men banding together to survive.
Then, for the first time, the authors go beyond the men’s rescue to chronicle Indianapolis’s extraordinary final mission: the survivors’ fifty-year fight for justice on behalf of their skipper, Captain Charles McVay III, who was wrongly court-martialed for the sinking. What follows is a captivating courtroom drama that weaves through generations of American presidents, from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, and forever entwines the lives of three captains—McVay, whose life and career were never the same after the scandal; Mochitsura Hashimoto, the Japanese sub commander who sunk Indianapolis but later joined the battle to exonerate McVay; and William Toti, the captain of the modern-day submarine Indianapolis, who helped the survivors fight to vindicate their captain.
Indianapolis stands as both groundbreaking naval history and spellbinding narrative—and brings the ship and her heroic crew back to full, vivid, unforgettable life. It is the definitive account of one of the most remarkable episodes in American history.
Watch some of the veterans of the USS Indianapolis who were interviewed for the book talk about their experiences in this trailer for Indianapolis.