USS Indianapolis WWII survivors witness the call for new vessel: “Man our ship and bring her to life!”

WNLP photos and story by Mike Kellems (scroll down for story)

First to be seated on the dais are four of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis.

As per Naval tradition, the ship’s long glass is passed from a former ship to the new ship. At left is Dick Thelan, survivor of the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

Jill Donnelly, the ship’s sponsor, gives the order that brings the ship to life …

… and having been given the order, the ship’s officers and crew run to the ship.

Commander Colin Kane accepts the command of the newly commissioned USS Indianapolis.

Lt. Shawn Brown, district commander for the Department of Natural Resources, looks out over the harbor from the rear deck of the ship during a special tour for law enforcement personnel.

Indiana Conservation Officers based out of the District 10 headquarters in Michigan City were given the responsibility of security for the ship while in port. The officers patrolled the harbor area 24 hours a day, which started when the ship arrived. They remained on the detail until the ship departed on Sunday. Here Conservation Officer Alex Toth, who hails from La Porte, is pictured with the USS Indianapolis in the background.

A crew member shows off the port side just above the ship’s name.

It’s difficult to photograph a ship that is the length of a football field! I was fortunate to catch a ride on a DNR boat as it patrolled the port where the ship is docked.

“It’s a great day to be a Hoosier … it’s a great day to be an American.” Those were my thoughts as I sat through the commissioning ceremony for the USS Indianapolis Saturday morning, Oct. 26, 2019. I was fortunate to be an invited guest at the ceremony held at the Port of Indiana in Burns Harbor. An estimated 11,000 people were in attendance.

The ship came into the harbor earlier in the week, sailing down the lake from Marinette, Wisconsin, where she was built. On Tuesday I was able to hitch a ride with the DNR as they patrolled the harbor and I got to take photographs from the water side of the ship where she was docked. Fellow photo guy Bob Wellinski was part of the media junket that toured the ship Thursday, and as he always does, Bob captured some great shots inside and around the ship.

I arrived early Saturday morning and quickly found my assigned section. My invitation came courtesy of Jill Donnelly, the wife of former U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly. Jill is the ship’s sponsor, which I’m told, is akin to being the ship’s “mother.”

The commissioning of a ship, bringing the vessel into service with the United States Navy, is a time-honored tradition filled with ceremony. Purdue’s Varsity Glee Club sang the National Anthem; the U.S. Navy Band performed “Anchors Aweigh”; and a 19-cannon salute was performed to honor Governor Eric Holcomb, himself a Navy veteran, who was on hand to welcome everyone. All part of the pomp and pageantry that goes with the rich history of the United States Navy.

The audience heard from numerous dignitaries who paid tribute to those who have served and also spoke a lot about the three ships that previously carried the name “USS Indianapolis”: No. 1 was a support ship that served during World War 1, No. 2 was a Portland-class heavy cruiser that served during World War II, and No. 3 was a Los Angeles class attack submarine that was decommissioned in 1998.

Many offered remarks on the tragedy that befell the USS Indianapolis in 1945 after the ship delivered components for “Little Boy,” the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat. I’ll have more on this horrific event in my last paragraph.

One of the highlights of the morning, as Commander Colin Kane assumed the mantle of command, was when Jill Donnelly gave the order “man our ship and bring her to life.” The ship’s crew, who were standing among the audience, sprang into action, ran to the ship and up the gang planks. Gray smoke, matching the cloud cover, bellowed from the top of the ship as the engines were fired up and the ship literally came to life.

The commissioning ceremony will certainly make my top ten highlight reel for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I was able to be a part of something so historic. That being said, I have to share with our loyal readers what absolutely was, for me, the highlight of the day. Among those in attendance were four survivors from the USS Indianapolis, the ship that was sunk by a Japanese sub on July 30, 1945. Forgive the history lesson, however it is worth repeating: The ship sank in 12 minutes just after midnight. There were 1,195 on board. More than 300 men went down with the ship and 890 went into the water. The survivors spent the next four days dying from their injuries, saltwater poisoning, exposure, dehydration, and being attacked by sharks. Of the 890, only 316 survived. It is the greatest single loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the U.S. Navy. Today, only 12 survivors remain and of the 12, four attended the commissioning. Those four World War II heroes received the best, loudest and longest applause from the crowd, and deservedly so. I simply cannot imagine the hell that they must have gone through. And yet, 74 years later, a third of those who remain came to see the torch being passed. My heart was filled with pride as each of these gentlemen were recognized.

I’ve been blessed to see some spectacular things, but none more significant or rewarding as being in the presence of four of our country’s great men.

2 Responses to “USS Indianapolis WWII survivors witness the call for new vessel: “Man our ship and bring her to life!””

  1. SuzQuz

    Oct 28. 2019

    Mike, your photos and writing made the event come alive for those who were not there. Thank you.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Bob W

    Oct 29. 2019

    Awesome coverage, Mike.

    Reply to this comment

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