WOODY EUGENE JAMES
SURVIVED SINKING OF USS INDIANAPOLIS
The heavy cruiser USS INDIANAPOLIS delivered to Tinian a secret cargo, the components of the atomic bomb which detonated on Hiroshima, and was next headed to Leyte the night of July 30, 1945. As the ship approached the Philippines, without warning two torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58 exploded against INDIANAPOLIS and in 12-minutes the ship sank. Of the 1,196 crewmembers aboard the ship, about 300 went down with her. Approximately 900 men found themselves in the water where they faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning and shark attacks while floating with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The men watched in horror as their friends were devoured alive by the sharks and witnessed fights as hallucinating sailors turned on one another. They were not found until four days after the sinking.
Woody Eugene James joined the Navy on September 11, 1942, and was assigned to INDIANAPOLIS following recruit training. On the night of the sinking, James was at his battle station inside the first turret when the torpedoes struck. When the order to abandon ship was given, he jumped over the side holding hands with a Navy friend so they would not get lost. James was one of the fortunate sailors to get his hands on a life jacket but after entering the water he gave up the life jacket to a younger sailor who was panicking in the water. James latched on to a floating potato crates and spent the night clinging to it. During an interview following the war, James gave the following remarks concerning his frightening ordeal:
“(Day 1)-There was about 150 people in the group. We were scattered around quite a bit. Well, this isn’t too bad, we thought, we’ll be picked up today. (Day 2)-When the sharks showed up, in fact they showed up in the afternoon, but I don’t know of anybody being bit. … The day wore on and the starks were around. … What a long night. (Day 3)-The sun finally did rise and it got warmed up again. Some of the guys had been drinking salt water by now, and they were going bezerk. … The day wore on and the sharks were around, hundreds of them. You’d hear guys scream, especially late in the afternoon. Seemed like the sharks were the worst late in the afternoon than they were during the day. Then they fed at night too. Everything would be quiet and then you’d hear somebody scream and you knew a shark had got him. (Day 4)-We’re out there in the sun praying for it to go down again, then low and behold there’s a plane. Of course, there had been planes every day since day one. They were real high and some of the floaters that had mirrors tried to attract them, but nothing. Anyway, this one showed up and flew by. … Then we seen him turn and come back and we knew we had been spotted. What a relief that was. … Late in the afternoon before dark there was a PBY on the scene. He dropped his survival gear and dropped a little three-man raft. … Now there’s nine of us on this little raft. It’s just about dark and figure we’ll make it through the night one way or another. About midnight, or a little bit before, there was a light shining off of the bottom of the clouds and we knew that we were saved. That was the spotlight of the USS CECIL J. DOYLE.”
Only 317 crewmembers survived. Woody James was rescued by the DOYLE on the fifth day in the water and was sent to a hospital ship for treatment of the many third degree burns on his body. In a 1999 article written by INDIANAPOLIS survivors he wrote, “I was discharged on the third day of December 1945 and that was the end of my Navy career. I’m glad. I don’t want to do it again but if I had to, I would even at my age. I would gladly serve my country again.” Woody James was tragically killed in an automobile accident on September 19, 2005, and is buried in Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park, Salt Lake City, Utah, where his memorial marker carries the following inscription: COX - US NAVY - PROUD VETERAN OF WORLD WAR II - PURPLE HEART - SURVIVOR OF THE SINKING OF USS INDIANAPOLIS
Submitted by CDR Roy A. Mosteller, USNR (Ret)