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.”