USS Indianapolis

This web page is dedicated to my friend and neighbor Richard Thelen,
WWII survivor of CA-35. It is an honor to know him.

There have been four US military ships named after the city of Indianapolis, IN.
All are the USS Indianapolis, but each has a unique hull classification and number.

ID-3865
(1918-1919)

CARGO SHIP - Served in the US Navy from December 1918 to July 1919. Attached to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, she carried cargo between the US and England, the Netherlands, and France.

There are no known photos of ID-3865. Her sister ship was the USS Daniel Webster, so we believe the first USS Indianapolis looked much like the photo above.

CA-35
(1932-1945)

HEAVY CRUISER - Commissioned in 1932; sunk in combat in 1945. She earned ten WWII Battle Stars.

In July 1945, she had just delivered components of the first atomic bomb (known as "Little Boy") to the US Army Air Force base at Tinian Island in the South Pacific. After delivering her top secret cargo, she sailed for the island of Leyte. En route to Leyte, but was torpedoed en route by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. The USS Indianapolis sank in just 12 minutes. Of the 1,196 men aboard, about 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 900 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and sharks while floating in the ocean for five days without food or water. Miraculously, the crew of a Navy PV-1 Ventura on a routine mission just happened to notice men floating in the ocean.

Of the 900 who went into the water, only 316 survived. It was the greatest loss of life in the history of the US Navy. Today, only 16 are still alive. They meet each July in Indianapolis to remember and honor their shipmates.

In Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster movie "Jaws," the character Quint, played by actor Robert Shaw, describes in chilling detail what it was like being in the water after the USS Indianapolis sank.

In August 2017, a private search team supported by Paul Allen finally located the wreckage in the Philippine Sea resting 3½ miles below the surface. She had not been seen for 72 years.

SSN-697
(1980-1998)


ATTACK SUBMARINE - Los Angeles-class, commissioned in 1980 with many survivors of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) in attendance. The submarine's home port was Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

As a result of the ending of the Cold War, she was inactivated in 1998. She is currently being dismantled.

LCS-17
(Launched 2018)

LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP - Launched in April 2018 but still under construction in Marinette, WI. She will be a Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS). Jacksonville FL will likely be her home port.


Rather than conventional screw-style propellers, she will have four massive water jets to move her smoothly and quickly in as shallow as 14 feet of water. Her specialty will be hunting enemy submarines in shallow water. (The word littoral means "along the shore.")

She will be longer than a football field and both end-zones (378 feet), have a helicopter flight deck and hangar bay, and carry a crew of 50. She will be equipped with a formidable assortment of missiles, torpedoes, and guns.

LCS-17 will look much like her sister ship USS Freedom (LCS-1).

Dick Thelen
WWII Survivor of CA-35

Richard "Dick" Thelen was only 17 years old in 1944 when he asked his father to sign for him so he could legally join the US Navy. Dick's father John agreed, but only if Dick promised to come home after the war. "That won't be a problem," Dick replied. "The war's almost over!" Little could either imagine that within months, Dick would be fighting for his life, adrift in the ocean with 900 fellow shipmates. And little did Dick know that it was that promise to his father that served as Dick's "reason for living," for not giving up when it would have been so easy to do.

Here are just a few of the many remembrances Dick has shared with me...

  • The night the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by an enemy submarine was a very warm, too warm to sleep comfortably in his bunk below deck. So Dick and many of his shipmates were sleeping above deck, in just their undershorts--- too hot for anything else. This particular night, Dick chose to sleep next to the first forward gun turret on its port side. He had just fallen asleep when the first Japanese torpedo struck the ship, shortly after midnight July 30, 1945. It jolted him awake, but it was the second torpedo that sent him into the air. He says he can't remember if he flew two feet or twenty, but he ended up in the water and became covered with diesel fuel. (Dick says a doctor later told him that the sharks that took hundreds of his shipmates were likely repelled by the smell of the diesel fuel covering his body.)

  • Dick says that after a day or two in the water, the urge to drink some of the saltwater became real. But he knew that if one drinks saltwater, it soon leads to uncontrolled vomiting and dillerium. Indeed, Dick says he saw many of his shipmates succumb to saltwater poisoning after drinking sea water. None who drank survived.

  • When it finally came Dick's turn to be pulled from the water, he and two of his friends were trying to swim to a welcoming life raft. Dick says one of his friends had a heart attack during that short swim; the other was taken by a shark.
It was common back then for sailors in warm-weather deployments not to wear their metal identification tags (known as "dog tags") when not actively engaged in combat. Dog tags could be uncomfortable and noisy, so many sailors stored them in their locker. Such was the case with Dick. Today, his dog tags are still in his locker, somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific.

❮❮   After a good deal of research (I wanted to assure they looked as authentic as possible), I had a replacement set of dog tags made for Dick, and gave them to him in February 2018. I think he was pleased.

❮❮   Each July, Dick and his fellow survivors meet in Indianapolis IN to remember and honor their shipmates. There were only seven survivors able to attend in 2017.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 reunion in Indianapolis. I will be there in 2018.

Dick turned 91 in early 2018. He still gives presentations to small groups who want to hear about being on the USS Indianapolis. Due to his joining the US Navy at such a young age (17), he is understandably younger and perhaps more mobile than many of his fellow survivors.

In April 2018, Dick was invited to participate in the christening and launch of LCS-17, the newest USS Indianapolis. But a major late-winter storm moved in shortly before the big day, preventing Dick from making the trip to Marinette WI where the ship is being built.

Dick often says to me, "People think I'm some kind of hero. I am not! I'm just an ordinary guy who survived an extraordinary event." I understand and appreciate Dick's humility. But to me, there is no greater example of endurance and perseverance. He could easily have given up while floating in the ocean for five days--- no food, no water, 100° during the day, sharks all around, no serious thought of being rescued. But he made that promise to his dad--- and kept it!

❮❮   Dick and his dad John

Survivors
1,196 men onboard the night the USS Indianapolis was sunk
300 went down with the ship (approx)
900 went into the water (approx)
317 were eventually rescued
16 are alive today

This web page (www.CQQL.net/ussindianapolis.htm) is not associated with the US Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any organization involving any of these ships or those who served on them. This website is for informational and educational purposes only. Errors are unintentional. My thanks to any person or organization whose photo I have used here, especially photos by General Dynamics Corporation, Hagley Museum and Library (Wilmington DE), Lockheed Martin, Navigea Ltd (Research Vessel Petrel), and Universal Pictures. If I have missed someone, please let me know. Thank you.

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