In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton

After my previous foray into World War II storytelling with “Flags of Our Fathers”, I was advised to try reading this book….As a Navy veteran it was so funny to hear alot of the exact same slang that I used in the mid-to-late 90’s was the same as that used in the 40’s….I guess some things never change…..

Well you didn’t click on this review to hear about my Navy stuff…..

Before I get much further into this, let me say one thing; Captain McVay got screwed. Yep, that’s right. He got the serious shaft and because of it, ended up committing suicide. I think that people can only take so much hatred and animosity aimed towards them before it’s just too much. Although his men fought to clear his name (and still do to this day), he died by his own hand too soon, because life dealt him a bad hand of cards the last 20 years of his life. It’s a true shame because according to the interviews with the surviving crew of the USS Indianapolis, he was a stand-up guy and an excellent Captain.

The USS Indianapolis was a ship that lost 75% of its officers and 80% of its enlisted men over the course of several days….They were torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-58 on July 30th, 1945 and within 12 minutes were at the bottom of the ocean…..Things go from bad to worse….Originally about 300 of the crew died within minutes of the submarine strike and the other 900some ended up in the water, coated with oil from the sinking ship….Out of these 900 men, they floated in various groups seperated several miles from one another….These groups, at the beginning, when they were in a completely sane (sane but frightened) state of mind, tied themselves together so as to not drift too far apart….Well after a couple days of shark attacks (average was 50 men a day being sucked under by sharks) and dehydration (some finally succumbed to drinking the salty sea water, only to be pacified for a short time. Due to the saltiness and the fact they were so dehydrated, they “imploded” violently within a couple of hours), they started to hallucinate and see Japanese enemies all around them (their shipmates that were tied to them)…..There is a tale in the book of several sailors holding another under the water because he whipped out his knife and began killing all the “Japs” around him….These men cried screams of agony as they drowned their shipmate but it was the only way to get him to stop killing, he was irrational…..

The book starts from the time the ship left port, carrying “Little Boy”, (the bomb used in Hiroshima) all the way up to the court martial and Captain McVay’s suicide 20 years later….The book discusses all the different parties involved in the ship’s tragedy and lays no blame anywhere, just presenting the facts….It is obvious that the author feels for Captain McVay though, shoot I do too…..

I enjoyed this book, I really did….I was on the verge of tears last night while reading the final chapter (I haven’t cried in a book in quite some time), because it was just so hard….Very few of us have ever faced those kind of odds, those types of tragedies…..The only caveat, as I was explaining to a coworker, was the author seemed to end every section with a dramatic statement….The book was dramatic enough without an extra little jab in the side every couple pages (“Then the sharks came and fed.” / “But the nightmare was only beginning.” / “Little did he know that his words were truer than he could have ever known.”)

Anyway, DEFINITELY worth a read….I didn’t know anything about the Indianapolis and for that I feel that I have lived my life as a lesser person….Knowing about it now, and possible future research, means that I have a little bit more in my life and my knowledge base has increased by just a thread….READ THIS BOOK….

posted Fri, 10-22-04


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