USS Indianapolis Survivors Receive Cong. Gold Medal

(U.S. Navy photo illustration by Stan Bailey/Released)

WASHINGTON–It’s been 75 years since the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine. The men who were onboard the Navy ship were given the Congressional Gold Medal in a virtual ceremony Thursday morning.

The ceremony was done virtually because of the coronavirus.

The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest civilian awards in the United States. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presided over the ceremony.

“Today, despite the unprecedented circumstances, we come together as the United States Congress bestows its highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal on the crewmen of the USS Indianapolis,” said Pelosi. “This gold medal will be proudly displayed at the Indiana War Museum, where it will continue to educate and inspire generations of patriotic Americans.”

One of the speakers at the ceremony was the Honorable Kenneth Braithwaite. Braithwaite is the Secretary of the Navy.

“From Pearl Harbor until the final days of World War II, you and your shipmates as part of our greatest generation completed mission after mission taking the fight to the enemy and changing the course of history,” said Braithwaite. “You didn’t know the cargo you carried from San Francisco to the Marianas Islands in July 1945 would change the course of the war. You just knew it had to get through dangerous waters. So you set speed records, braved the contested waters, and delivered the atomic bomb. If it wasn’t for you and your shipmates, history may have turned out very differently. We, all Americans, owe you a forever debt of gratitude.”

On July 30, 1945, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58, and sank in 12 minutes. Of 1,195 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 890 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while stranded in the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Only 316 survived. The sinking of Indianapolis resulted in the greatest single loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy.

Tom O’Donnell’s father, Jimmy, survived the sinking and moved home to Indianapolis where he raised a family. He died a few years ago. O’Donnell said he was happy to see the ceremony happen.

“I think it’s wonderful, but it’s long overdue. Oh well, I don’t want to be negative. I think it’s good,” said O’Donnell. “I love seeing the survivors at the reunions. There is a reunion every year now. This year was canceled because of coronavirus. My mother, Mary Alice O’Donnell, who will be 99 September 18th always goes with us.”

A monument to Jimmy O’Donnell resides at City Market.

Eight survivors remain alive today.