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Politics

Recovering the USS Indianapolis, and the heroism of those who served on her

By Rex Huppke, Tribune Content Agency on

Lost in coverage of the eclipse and the day-to-day deluge of politics and partisanship was a remarkable discovery, one that should, at the very least, offer some perspective.

On Saturday, naval researchers announced that wreckage from the USS Indianapolis -- a World War II cruiser sunk by a Japanese submarine in 1945 -- had been found more than three miles deep in the Philippine Sea.

Near the end of the war, the Indianapolis ran a top secret mission to an island in the Pacific Ocean, delivering parts that would be used in the atomic bomb that was eventually dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

Returning to the Philippines, the ship was torpedoed and sank swiftly. There were 1,196 sailors and Marines on board. About 800 survived the initial strikes and sinking, but after four days adrift in shark-infested waters, some on rafts, some floating with life preservers, only 317 survived. It was and has remained the Navy's worst disaster at sea.

There have been searches for the wreckage off and on since the Indianapolis went down, to no avail. But finally, a team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen found her, including a piece of the hull with a white "35" still visible, after scouring a 600-square-mile area of open sea.

Allen's website quotes Capt. William Toti, spokesman for the survivors of the Indianapolis: "For more than two decades I've been working with the survivors. To a man, they have longed for the day when their ship would be found, solving their final mystery."

I spoke with Edgar Harrell, a 92-year-old survivor of the Indianapolis who now lives in Tennessee, and he said he got a call from Toti not long after the discovery was made: "I said, 'Praise the lord.' And then from there I've been inundated with calls and emails."

Harrell is one of only 19 living survivors, and like many of them, he has worked hard to keep the story of the Indianapolis and its crew alive, even authoring a book about the tragedy titled "Out of the Depths."

I think that's how the mission continued for many of these sailors and Marines. They survived unimaginable conditions at sea, watched their brothers in arms pulled under by sharks or die of dehydration, and were finally rescued after a bomber pilot on patrol spotted them.

The war ended soon after, and the sinking of the Indianapolis was somewhat lost in all the stories of World War II. But people like Harrell never gave up hope that the ship would be found.

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