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Wednesday, October 11, 2000

55 years later,
McVay to be cleared in
Indianapolis tragedy

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The persistence of a Florida schoolboy and the support of a loyal Navy crew may finally pay off this week as Congress votes whether to exonerate the skipper of a World War II cruiser that was the victim of the worst sea disaster in U.S. Navy history.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said a compromise House and Senate defense authorization bill , which passed the House today, contains language he authored to clear the name of Capt. Charles Butler McVay III. McVay was court-martialed after his ship -- the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis -- was sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945.

The defense bill also exonerates Adm. Husband Kimmel, Pacific Fleet commander, and Lt. Gen Walter Short, U.S. Army Hawaii commander, of any blame for the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Both Hawaii representatives, Abercrombie and Patsy Mink, voted for the defense bill. It still needs Senate approval.

Hunter Scott, a sophomore at Pensacola High School, took up the cause of the Indianapolis five years ago as a fifth-grade project.

"I thought he (McVay) had been made a scapegoat," said Scott, who hopes to have a career as a naval aviator.

Of the 156 Indianapolis survivors, Scott said he talked to "almost all" of the 130 still living today.

Yesterday, island promoter Kimo Wilder McVay said, "Finally, after all these years."

Kimo McVay, who has spent more than five decades trying to clear his father's name, credited Scott for bringing national attention to the cause and other survivors for their support.

Although 900 of the ship's crew of 1,196 survived the sinking, only 316 sailors were found alive after floating for 4-1/2 days. The other sailors perished from wounds, drowning, shark attacks, lack of food and water, and exposure.

Charles McVay survived and was court-martialed for failing to zigzag to evade submarine detection.

The defense authorization bill not only exonerates Charles McVay, who had won the Silver Star during the Solomon Islands campaign in the Pacific, but also recommends that the secretary of the Navy award a unit citation to the crew of the Indianapolis.

Abercrombie said he believes the Navy officer was "the victim of a grave injustice. ... The Navy's investigation should have focused on the failure to warn him of the presence of enemy submarines and the failure to launch a search as soon as the ship was overdue."

On June 16, 1945, the Indianapolis was dispatched from San Francisco with a secret cargo. After refueling in Hawaii, it steamed to Tinian where it unloaded its cargo: uranium and major components of the atom bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima.

Without destroyer escort, the Indianapolis left Tinian for Guam. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Indianapolis was struck by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine and sank in 12 minutes.

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