USS Indianapolis

The USS Indianapolis sails during a trial cruise off the Atlantic coast, Jan. 24, 1933.

Seventy-five years ago, just minutes past midnight on July 30, two torpedoes launched from the Imperial Japanese submarine I-58 near the Philippines sped through the dark waters of the Pacific and struck the USS Indianapolis.

In a story well known to Navy veterans and WWII historians and popularized by the 1975 thriller “Jaws,” the ship sank in 12 minutes. Of her 1,195-man crew, 900 made it into the water. But, over the next five days all but 316 of those men perished from their wounds, exposure and exhaustion, dehydration, or most horrifically by repeated shark attacks.

Twelve men from Georgia served on the Indianapolis’s final voyage, but only five survived. One was Marvin Foulk Kirkland from Marietta. The USS Indianapolis’ official website, Navy records, survivor reunion sites online, and books on the sinking of the Indianapolis allow a tiny window into his actions that day.

In September 1945, the ship’s captain, Charles B. McVay III (who would later be court-martialed and then exonerated), recommended the Navy award medals to several members of the crew, including a Bronze Star to Seaman 1st Class Marvin Kirkland. McVay’s request asks for recognition of Kirkland’s “heroic service in connection with operations against the enemy while attached to a United States heavy cruiser which was sunk. Although suffering from exhaustion, exposure and a fractured jaw, he, in the company of another man, supported a survivor who was ill from internal bleeding and exposure for two days, thereby saving his life. His unselfishness and heroic conduct throughout were outstanding and in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.”

Rona Simmons, a Georgia author, compiled the stories of the seven Georgians who perished (see https://tinyurl.com/y3xb4y8l.) They are: Arthur Bishop, Jr. Seaman 2nd Class, from Midville; Thomas Edward Davis, Signalman 2nd Class, Savannah; Felix Hayles, Cook 3rd Class, Wadley; Andrew Jackson Kennedy, Jr. Seaman 2nd Class, Savannah; Alvin Wilder Rahn, Storekeeper 3rd Class, Savannah; Jack Anderson Roland, Pharmacist’s Mate First Class, Crawford; and Leonard T. Woods, Chief Petty Officer/Chief Radio Technician, Wrightsville.

Mmemorials for each of the fallen of the Indianapolis can be read or will soon be available online. The group, working under the auspices of the Stories Behind the Stars project www.storiesbehindthestars.org in partnership with Ancestry.com and its affiliate Fold3.com is the brainchild of Don Milne, a former Utah banker and blogger who has profiled over one thousand of America’s WWII fallen to date in 2020. Milne plans to add a smart phone app to the project through which visitors to US war memorials and cemeteries can scan a fallen’s name and read their story. If you would like to volunteer to help document WWII fallen soldiers’ stories, please contact Don Milne at don@storiesbehindthestars.org.

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