Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Memorial Day Warm Up

I was flipping channels, an old term for channel surfing when there actually was a knob with numbers on it, and found the Military History Channel’s documentary on the sinking of the Indianapolis. There are many WWII events which could be mentioned as we mark with respect the cost of freedom; this particular tragedy wasn’t on the front page of the newspapers because it happened at the same time the Japan surrendered.

I have an old desk, a hand me down from my folks when they moved. One of the drawers has a collection of old newspapers; the day John F. Kennedy was shot, the day Challenger blew apart, the first landing on the moon and other import dates in history. Down at the bottom of the stack are the WWII editions, Victory in Europe and the Japanese surrender.

After watching the documentary on the sinking of the Indianapolis and the terrible ordeal and suffering by those surviving the original torpedo attack I wanted to read the newspaper account which I knew was within my grasp. Sure enough it was on the second page, almost a footnote compared with all the hoopla with Japan’s surrender.

The television documentary had interviews with some of the surviving crew members, their vivid memories along with photographs of their buddies, sometimes choked off with an overflow of emotions as they recalled shipmates who’d perished. The initial destruction of the ship happened just after midnight when two torpedoes devastated the vessel; about 12 minutes from impact to the ship going under. Those who made it overboard faced the elements as they floated in heavy seas for several days without fresh water, exhaustion and the added element of being in shark infested waters.

As you read the newspaper article, (click on it to enlarge), you will see a decided lack of information regarding the actual sinking; mostly references to a previous skirmish in which a Kamikaze suicide plane tore into the ship and several crew members were killed or injured. Times have changed in the way information from the war zones are reported; back then the public accepted the fact that some information should be held back until such time as was appropriate to release it.

Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us; rather than remembering the loss of the heavy cruiser Indianapolis or its historical mission of delivering major components of the atomic bomb which brought an end to the war, I'll be thinking of the individual accounts given by those interviewed on the documentary. I’ll try to hold my own emotions in check as I listen, in my mind, over and over, how these once young men had to endure under the most trying of circumstances, all the while watching life slip away and there was little they could do except pray to hold on a little longer.

May we live our lives in such a way as to honor the sacrifices made along the way, men who’ve paid in so many ways for our chance to be free from tyranny and oppression. War is a ghastly business which should be avoided; however, there are times when it is the only way to confront those who have no respect for our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy. There seems to be an endless supply of tyrants and hopefully, enough men of courage to stand up to them. Consider these thoughts as we bask in the light of freedom this Memorial Day.

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