STAR-BULLETIN / NOVEMBER 1997
Hunter Scott helped gain exoneration for USS Indianapolis Capt. Charles Butler McVay III. McVay's son Kimo, left, met Scott here in 1997.
Author collides with youth in USS Indianapolis saga
NORTH BERGEN, N.J. » The story of the USS Indianapolis is dramatic in itself.
A World War II Navy ship secretly sails to the Pacific island of Tinian, unloads important parts of the atomic bomb that would later destroy Hiroshima and while heading toward the Philippines is sunk by a Japanese submarine.
Only 316 of the 1,196 men aboard survive; some are eaten by sharks, as recounted in the movie "Jaws." The ship's captain, Charles Butler McVay III, is court-martialed for not protecting the ship and eventually kills himself.
The next chapter, which occurs five decades later, is the tale of the captain's exoneration. The sticking point is who deserves credit for clearing the skipper.
An 84-year-old author says research in his 1990 book led to McVay's exoneration in 2000, but a college student is gaining glory for his role in pushing the cause to Washington years ago when he was a middle school student in Pensacola, Fla.
That part of the story is allegedly the subject of a movie in the works, about a 12-year-old boy who claims to have researched the case and lobbied Congress for McVay's successful exoneration.
It sounds like a made-for-Hollywood ending.
But it is not true, according to Dan Kurzman, a journalist and author who lives in North Bergen, N.J., and who wrote a book, "Fatal Voyage," about the sinking.
Kurzman, a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post, said student Hunter Scott -- now 21 -- obtained "virtually all pertinent research material" from his book.
"He (Scott) is falsely claiming he did the research," Kurzman said. "He found peripheral stuff, nothing that was really relevant to whether or not the guy was guilty."
Kurzman said he traveled to Japan to interview the captain of the submarine that sunk the ship and dug up memos in the national archives and pages of documents listed in the bibliography of his 397-page book.
But Scott, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he did uncover new information, including details about SOS messages that helped make the case the McVay was not responsible for the sinking. Kurzman's research inspired him to "dig deeper," he said.
"The first book that I ever read was Dan Kurzman's book," he said. "I've given him lots of credit. I don't understand where his comments are coming from."
Kurzman discounts Scott's findings.
"I did the same research and found out new information since 1990 when his book was released," said Scott, who keeps a box of Indianapolis artifacts, including McVay's dog tags, in his parents' garage.
Scott says he has sold the rights to his story for a movie, and Universal studios has been working on a movie for five years. He declined to say how much money he has received.
As Scott understands it, the film will tell the ship's story, intertwined with his pursuit of McVay's exoneration, but he is not clear if the account would be fictional. Scott said his last discussion with producers was about three months ago, and he read a script six months ago.
Scott's Web site says J.J. Abrams, the creator of "Lost" who recently directed "Mission Impossible III," is attached to the project.
Abrams' attorney, Alan Wertheimer, declined to comment on the film. In a January letter to Kurzman, Wertheimer acknowledged that Abrams is "engaged by Universal Studios to develop a screenplay" about the ship and McVay's exoneration.
The captain's exoneration has been the goal for decades of many of the survivors, who say Scott played a key role in advancing the cause. But the attention to him has soured some survivors, according to Paul Murphy, 81, chairman of the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization.
"I give him (Scott) credit for the publicity and the attention he got for our circumstance," he said. "I don't think anyone can deny that. But he also has capitalized on it."
Kurzman said he has no financial interest in the movie and only wants credit for his work. He said he was paid $400,000 for the rights to "Fatal Voyage," but no movie based on it is in the works.
"All I want is credit for doing what I did," he said. "How can you be jealous of a 12-year-old kid?"
McVay's son, Kimo Wilder McVay, a Hawaii entertainment promoter who introduced the world to Don Ho, died in June 2001, still waiting for the Navy to follow the congressional legislation absolving his father of any wrongdoing.
On July 11, 2001, two weeks after the younger McVay's death, a directive from England ordered a document exonerating the elder McVay of the sinking to be placed in his file.