USS Indianapolis wreckage found, Sarasota vet shares memories of ship

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – A ship that played a vital role in World War II has finally been found after 72 years. The USS Indianapolis was sunk in the worst disaster in US Naval history.

(Naval Archives)

Now that the wreckage has been discovered, one of the survivors has strong feelings over what should be done to honor his lost crewmen.

At 95 years old, Harlan Twible considers himself just lucky to be alive.

“When people get to be 95, there aren’t many left, and I’m just lucky,” said Twible.

But, most others would consider him a hero. In July 1945, Ensign Twible served as a gunnery officer on the USS Indianapolis. The ship had just delivered the atomic bomb and was sailing home when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine.

“Five minutes to 12, and I can vividly recall it,” he said.

“When they fired the torpedo, we didn’t see the torpedo coming. Sometimes you do see it coming, we didn’t see anything coming,” recalled Twible.

“The bow was blown off the ship….Here I was, an Ensign, and I had to give the order to abandon ship,” he remembered.

The Indy completely sunk in 12 minutes. Out on the water, Twible was surrounded by a group of about 300 men. There were no life rafts and no food, just the life jackets on their backs.

Together, they spent four days and five nights drifting in the water.

“We were under secret orders, so nobody knew we were hit,” said Twible.

While floating in the middle of the ocean, they were constantly surrounded by sharks.

“They were all over us, and every time we saw a shark coming in, I would say ‘shark attack!’ and everybody would start screaming,” said Twible.

“I can’t tell you how many men we lost….[The sharks] would just grab the sailor and dive down and take the sailor with them,” he said.

Exposure to the elements was just as deadly. Twible recalls some men went insane, swimming away toward an imaginary island.

“Some of the men swam off thinking they could swim to Pelelieu or some other island that they didn’t know anything about. We saw these guys swim off and normally under normal conditions, we would’ve gone after them, but in these conditions….I didn’t think that I could risk the lives of everybody else going after the ones swimming off,” he said.

Other sailors began fantasizing they could see the Indianapolis underwater. Some dove under and drowned, imagining they could go to the ship to get food or ice cream.

Twible struggled to keep one of his buddies from going under.

“He was forever wanting to swim down and pick up the ship and I had a hard time keeping him alive,” said Twible.

His faith kept him alive during that hellish experience.

“God told me what to do,” he said.

Twible felt lucky that they were swimming among an oil slick. He and his men would frequently cover themselves with the substance.

“That prevented us from being burned to death by the sun,” he said.

Of the 1,200 aboard, only 316 survived. Now, Twible is seeing his old ship for the first time.

Last week, the wreckage was found nearly three and a half miles underwater in the North Pacific Ocean.

It was found by a crew led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

“It’s amazing they found the ship, don’t you think?” asked Twible.

When asked what he believes should be done with the wreck and the artifacts, Twible responded: “Left alone.”

Twible has immense love for his fellow crewmen who lost it all for this country and he feels this ship is hallowed ground.

“I would believe that they probably, they gave their lives with the ship, they’d want to stay with it,” said Twible.

“They have enough stuff about us in the museums…you can overdo this,” said Twible.

Paul Allen and his team are working closely with the US Navy and they are keeping the ship’s location a secret.

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