USS Indianapolis Survivor Visits Pocahontas High School
Dunmore, WV – Timmy Dean, a student in Maria Busicks special education class at Pocahontas County HS has long had an interest in World War II history. Busick says that interest was immediately apparent. She discovered his fellow classmates were very interested too.
That interest led Dean and fellow students Ashley Hayes, Curtis Good, Brian Dean, Dan Hoover and William Feury to put together a project to enter in the annual Social Studies fair. The project made it all the way to the state competition, winning second place in the US History, Division Three Group category, an accomplishment for which the students are justifiably proud. They did their project on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during WW II, considered to be the worst naval disaster in US history.
One of the sources for their project is one of the few remaining survivors of that disaster, Signalman 3rd Class Petty Officer Paul McGinnis. McGinnis, along with his wife Marcella, paid a visit to Pocahontas County HS last week to talk to several classes about his service on the USS Indianapolis.
The USS Indianapolis had just delivered the first operational atomic bomb to the island of Tinian in the South Pacific on July 26th, 1945. Just four days later, underway to the Philippines, the ship was hit by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine. It sank in about 12 minutes, taking almost 300 of the 1196 crewman with it. Of the 900 crewmen that went into water, only about 317 survived to be rescued after enduring almost 5 days of unrelenting thirst, burning sun and shark attacks.
McGinnis says the combination of fuel from the ship and salt water was especially hard on their eyes. It drove him and a buddy to come up with a unique solution. They literally licked each other’s eyes out to remove the accumulated salt, oil and grit. McGinnis says with no escape from the sun, thirst became torturous.
“You can do without food, but water is something else that desire to drink water is very strong” says McGinnis. “and some of the Sailors drank the salt water.”
Many of those who drank the salt water died. McGinnis says he was fortunate to have been rescued after only four days. One student asked how he felt knowing his ship carried the Atomic bomb destined to be dropped on Hiroshima. McGinnis is uncompromisingly proud of the role the USS Indianapolis played in this particular chapter of the war.
He says they were elated to carry the bomb, noting that many Japanese were working in factories to produce bombs, kamikaze aircraft and other weapons for the express purpose of killing American servicemen.
Survivors of the USS Indianapolis are a quickly vanishing breed. Only 58 are still alive, and McGinnis is one of only four from West Virginia. But while he can he will continue to tell the story of, and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.