3 USS Indianapolis survivors recount ship's sinking

New USS Indianapolis to be based at Mayport; new documentary to air on PBS

MAYPORT, Fla. – A new ship, the USS Indianapolis, will be coming to Naval Station Mayport later this year, but it isn't just any ship. 

It’s special because the original USS Indianapolis sank in 12 minutes on July 30, 1945, after it was torpedoed by a Japanese Navy submarine during World War II -- the greatest single loss of life at sea in U.S. Navy history, with only about 300 of the 1,200 crew members surviving. 

A documentary about the sinking and the discovery of the wreckage in 2017 in the Philippine Sea was played Monday for a few survivors before it airs Tuesday night.

Three survivors, each in their 90s, talked about what they remember. 

"You can’t really comprehend the feeling when you’re going four days, five nights without food and water," USS Indianapolis survivor Dick Thelen said. "You’re pretty damn weak."

"It brings back the fact that I know that I have some 880 of my shipmates that did not make it," USS Indianapolis survivor Edgar Harrell said.

"I never thought about dying out there," USS Indianapolis survivor Harold Bray said. "I was 18 years old. Who's going to die at 18?"

They were each 18 or 19 at the time, and only three of about 300 who survived. Nearly 900 survived the sinking, but then died from dehydration, saltwater poisoning, shark attacks and more.

The three survivors who News4Jax spoke with on Monday said they were delighted in 2017 when they learned the ship's remains had been found more than seven decades later.

Now, a PBS documentary has been produced by Vulcan Productions. It highlights the discovery, as well as the ship’s dramatic final moments.

Those three survivors and the captain and crew of the future USS Indianapolis, which will soon be based at Mayport, got to see the film before it airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday on PBS. 

"I really hope that it drives this home because it will bring to the forefront the sacrifices that the sailors made back in World War II," said Cmdr. Colin Kane, captain of the USS Indianapolis. 

Kane and the survivors hope the documentary will keep alive the history of the USS Indianapolis and, more importantly, the memory of the 879 sailors who did not survive.

The captain of the ship hopes it will be commissioned and at Mayport by this fall.

Each survivor said different things pulled them through those four days and five nights. One said an older, more experienced sailor give him advice. Another said he kept thinking about a beautiful brunette waiting for him back at home. He said that beautiful brunette is now his wife of 71 years.