Charles B. McVay III

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Captain Charles Butler McVay III
McVay conference after sink.jpg
McVay talks to War Correspondents about the sinking of his ship in Guam, August 1945
Born (1898-07-30)July 30, 1898
Ephrata, Pennsylvania
Died November 6, 1968(1968-11-06) (aged 70)
Litchfield, Connecticut
Place of burial Bayou Liberty, Louisiana
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1916–1920 (USNA)
1920–1949 (US Navy)
Rank Rear Admiral
Commands held USS Indianapolis (CA-35)
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards Silver Star
Purple Heart
Navy Unit Commendation

Rear Admiral Charles Butler McVay III (July 30, 1898 – November 6, 1968) was the Commanding Officer of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) when it was lost in action in 1945, resulting in massive loss of life. Of all the captains in the history of the U.S. Navy, he was the only one to have been subjected to court-martial because his ship was sunk by an act of war. [1] After years of mental health problems, he committed suicide. Following years of efforts by some survivors and others to clear his name, Captain McVay was posthumously exonerated by the 106th United States Congress and President Bill Clinton on October 30, 2000.

In 1978, the events surrounding McVay's court-martial were dramatized in The Failure to ZigZag by playwright John B. Ferzacca. Actor Stacy Keach portrayed McVay in the 1991 made-for-television movie Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which depicted the ordeal of the men of the Indianapolis during her last voyage.

Education and career[edit]

Charles Butler McVay III was born in Ephrata, Pennsylvania on July 30, 1898 to a Navy family. His father, Charles Butler McVay Jr., had commanded the tender Yankton during the cruise of the Great White Fleet (1907–1909), was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War I, and served as Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet the early 1930s. Charles III was a 1920 graduate of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Before taking command of the Indianapolis in November 1944, Captain McVay was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., the Allies' highest intelligence unit. Earlier in World War II, he was awarded the Silver Star for displaying courage under fire.

Captain McVay led the ship through the invasion of Iwo Jima, then the bombardment of Okinawa in the spring of 1945, during which Indianapolis anti-aircraft guns shot down seven enemy planes before the ship was struck by a kamikaze on March 31, inflicting heavy casualties, including 13 dead, and penetrating the ship's hull. McVay returned the ship safely to Mare Island in California for repairs.

Sinking of the Indianapolis[edit]

Later that year, Indianapolis received orders to carry parts and nuclear material to be used in the atomic bombs which were soon to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Tinian. After delivering her top secret cargo, the ship was en route to report for further duty off Okinawa.

Early in the morning of July 30, 1945, she was attacked by the Japanese submarine I-58 under Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto. Commander Hashimoto launched six torpedoes and hit the Indianapolis twice, the first removing over forty feet of her bow, the second hitting the starboard side at frame forty (below the bridge). The Indianapolis immediately took a fifteen degree list, capsized and sank within 12 minutes. Of the crew of 1,196 men, 879 men died. It was the worst disaster at sea during the entire war for the US Navy.

Delayed rescue[edit]

About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the initial attack. The rest of the crew, more than 880 men, were left floating in the water without lifeboats until the rescue was completed four days (100 hours) later. Because of Navy protocol regarding secret missions, the ship was not reported "overdue" and the rescue only came after survivors were spotted by pilot Lieutenant Wilber (Chuck) Gwinn and co-pilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell on a routine patrol flight. It has been part of folklore that most of the casualties of the survivors in the water were due to shark attacks; however, most died from injuries sustained aboard the ship, dehydration, exhaustion, and the result of drinking salt water.[citation needed] The seas had been moderate, but visibility was not good. Indianapolis had been steaming at 15.7 knots (29 km/h). When the ship did not reach Leyte on the 31st, as scheduled, no report was made that she was overdue. This omission was officially recorded later as "due to a misunderstanding of the Movement Report System".

Many years later the tale was introduced to a new generation by way of the 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws, in which the character of Quint is portrayed as a survivor of the incident.

Controversy[edit]

McVay was wounded but survived and was among those rescued. He repeatedly asked the Navy why it took five days to rescue his men, and he never received an answer. The Navy long claimed that SOS messages were never received because the ship was operating under a policy of radio silence; declassified records show that three SOS messages were received separately, but none were acted upon because it was thought by one commander to be a Japanese ruse, another had given orders not to be disturbed, and a third was drunk.[citation needed]

There was much controversy over the incident. In November 1945, McVay was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag." Hashimoto, the Japanese submarine commander who had sunk the Indianapolis, was on record as describing visibility at the time as fair (which is corroborated by the fact that he was able to target and sink the Indianapolis in the first place). American submarine experts testified that "zigzagging" was a technique of negligible value in eluding enemy submarines. Hashimoto also testified to this effect.[2] Despite that testimony, the official ruling was that visibility was good, and the court held McVay responsible for failing to zigzag.

An additional point of controversy is evidence that the admirals in the United States Navy were primarily responsible for placing the ship in harm's way. For instance, Captain McVay requested a destroyer escort for the Indianapolis,[3] but his request was denied because the priority for destroyers at the time was escorting transports to Okinawa, and picking up downed pilots in B-29 raids on Japan. Also, naval command assumed McVay's route would be safe at that point in the war.[2] Many ships, including most destroyers, were equipped with submarine detection equipment, but the Indianapolis was not so equipped, which casts the decision to deny McVay's request for an escort as a tragic mistake.

On 24 July 1945, just six days prior to the sinking of the Indianapolis, the destroyer Underhill had been attacked and sunk in the area by Japanese submarines. Yet McVay was never informed of this event, and several others, in part due to issues of classified intelligence.[2] McVay was warned of the potential presence of Japanese subs, but not of the actual confirmed activity.

After the torpedo attack, no rescue was initiated, because the Navy did not track the Indianapolis.[4]

Although about 380 ships of the U.S. Navy were lost in combat in World War II,[5] McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship.[6]

It was widely felt[by whom?] that he had been a fall guy for the Navy.[7] Despite McVay's promotion to rear admiral when he retired in 1949, the conviction effectively ended McVay's career.

On 6 November 1968, McVay committed suicide by shooting himself with his service revolver at his home in Litchfield, Connecticut, holding in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father.[8] He was found just outside of his back porch by his gardener.[9] Though a note was not left, McVay was known by those close to him to have suffered from loneliness, particularly after losing his wife to cancer.[10] McVay also struggled throughout his life from vicious letters and phone calls he periodically received from grief-stricken relatives of dead crewmen aboard the Indianapolis.[10]

Exoneration[edit]

USS Indianapolis survivors organized, and many spent years attempting to clear their skipper's name. Many people, from son Charles McVay IV (1925-2012), to author Dan Kurzman, who chronicled the Indianapolis incident in Fatal Voyage, to members of Congress, long believed Captain McVay was unfairly convicted. Paul Murphy, president of the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization, said: "Capt. McVay's court-martial was simply to divert attention from the terrible loss of life caused by procedural mistakes which never alerted anyone that we were missing."

Over fifty years after the incident, a 12-year-old schoolboy in Pensacola, Florida, Hunter Scott, was instrumental in raising awareness of the miscarriage of justice carried out at the captain's court-martial. As part of a school project for the National History Day program, the young man interviewed nearly 150 survivors of the Indianapolis sinking and reviewed 800 documents. His testimony before the US Congress brought national attention to the situation.[11][12][13]

In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should reflect that "he is exonerated for the loss of the USS Indianapolis." President Clinton also signed the resolution.[14]

In July 2001, Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England ordered McVay's record cleared of all wrongdoing.[15][16]

Awards & Decorations[edit]

Silver Star
Purple Heart
Navy Unit Commendation
Navy Expeditionary Medal
World War I Victory Medal
China Service Medal
Bronze star
American Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star
American Campaign Medal
Bronze star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars
World War II Victory Medal

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ name=Doug Stanton>Doug Stanton. In Harms Way, The Sinking Of The USS INDIANAPOLIS and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors." Pg. 8] Henry Holt and Company Copyright 2001 by Reed City Productions ' LLC
  2. ^ a b c Stanton, Doug. In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors. ISBN 0-8050-7366-3. 
  3. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23455951
  4. ^ Citation needed
  5. ^ US Warships of World War II. Paul H. Silverstone. pp. 394-408.
  6. ^ Joseph J. Thomas. Leadership Embodied: The Secrets To Success Of The Most Effective Navy And Marine Corps Leaders, Naval Institute Press, May 1, 2005. Pg. 115
  7. ^ LCdr.C.R. Woodward, USMC (1988). "The U.S.S. Indianapolis—Tragedy Amid Triumph". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  8. ^ "Captain McVay". Retrieved 3 June 2009. 
  9. ^ "Main page". USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization. Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  10. ^ a b http://www.ussindianapolis.org/pfinnstory.htm
  11. ^ "Newspaper article". Detroit News. 1998-04-23. 
  12. ^ http://archives.starbulletin.com/97/11/10/news/story3.html
  13. ^ http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/Jun/20/ln/FP606200353.html
  14. ^ "Seeking Justice: A Victory in Congress". USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization. Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  15. ^ Thomas, Joseph (2005). Leadership Embodied. Naval Institute Press. pp. 112–117. ISBN 978-1-59114-860-9. 
  16. ^ Magin, Janis (13 July 2001). "Navy exonerates WWII captain". The Argus-Press. Retrieved 31 July 2011. 

External links[edit]