USS Indianapolis (CA-35)

There is a picture that hung in Ansel Head’s grandfather’s camp house in Eutaw of a group of happy deer hunters standing in front of their bountiful kill. The inscription on the photo said “Bull Pen Hunting Club, Nov. 1938.”

One day his grandfather pointed to a young, blond headed fellow with a broad grin on his face. He was standing next to Head’s grandfather and great uncle with his feet spread wide apart as if to lower himself to the same height as these shorter men. “Who is this?” his grandfather asked.

“I don’t know,” replied the boy.

“It’s your Uncle Page.”

Head’s Uncle Page, like his father, had volunteered immediately after Pearl Harbor. He was given a commission in the Navy and sent to Harvard for communication’s school where he graduated at the top of his class. Also like his father, he spent most of the War away from his wife and baby.

USS Indianapolis (CA-35)

There is a framed newspaper hanging in the stairwell leading to the guest bed rooms in Ansel Larry’s house. The headline proclaims that Japan had surrendered, the Second World War was over. In another article at the bottom left of the page, the title says ”Indianapolis Sunk, Most Feared Lost”. His grandfather’s only son, Page, was aboard the heavy cruiser, USS Indianapolis.

During their time together in San Francisco while the ship was loading the uranium for the atomic bombs for transport to Tinian, Page had told Head’s grandfather that the Indianapolis was extremely top heavy with all of the new radar and communications equipment; it would quickly capsize if torpedoed. That is what happened just a few days before the War ended.

Air Transport Command

Upon hearing of the ship’s sinking, Head’s father, by then a Lt. Colonel in the Air Transport Command, hopped a flight from somewhere in the South Pacific to the Philippines where the ship’s survivors were brought. There was much confusion and he wanted to determine first hand if his brother-in-law had survived. He had not.

From his interviews with the survivors, Head’s father may have discovered the details of his brother-in-law’s last moments. He may have learned whether the young Lieutenant had gone down with the ship or been attacked by sharks in the water for the five days it took the Navy to find them. He may have even confronted the ship’s captain who had decided to steer a straight course instead of employing the zigzag turns dictated by the Navy to avoid torpedoes. But because his father had decided that whatever knowledge he had attained was an unnecessary part of his son’s education, he never discussed it.

After his grandfather died, Head discovered a book about the controversial sinking of the cruiser in his grandfather’s dresser drawer buried beneath little used clothes. The inside flap of the book’s jacket marked a page. That page described how the Communications Officer, Lt. Nelson Page Hill Jr., was seen heading into the radio room to broadcast that the ship had just been torpedoed and would surely sink. The three stations that received his distress calls ignored them. At one station, its communications officer was drunk.

Officers & Crew of the USS Indianapolis

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