firm belief, shared by all of us who survived, is that he
was wrongly court-martialed. We believe there were many mistakes
which contributed to the sinking, but they were not made by
statement submitted at September 1999 Senate hearing by Woody
James, USS Indianapolis survivor
was born Nov. 13 1922 in Gilbertown, AL. He joined the Navy
Sept. 11, 1942. In June of 1943 he was assigned to the USS
Indianapolis, 1st division.
Sunday, the 29th of July was a quiet day. The sea was runnin
five or six feet waves, just a beautiful day out. Didn't do
too much, read a book, did a little tinkerin as usual. Had
the 8:00 to 12:00 watch and just got off at midnight. A guy
relieved me about a quarter to twelve. I went down through
the galley and had a cup of coffee. Then went to my compartment
and got a blanket off my bed and went back up on deck. I slept
under the overhang on the first turret. My battle station
was inside it so in case general quarters sounded, I slept
underneath it. Just got laid down good, using my shoes for
a pillow as usual and the first torpedo hit. I was up and
down between the deck and the overhang of the turret like
Yankee Doodle Dandy. And, I wondered, "what in the hell is
got out of my blanket and started to roll out from underneath
the turret and the other torpedo hit. Another Yankee Doodle
deal, all over the place. I started to walk forward to see
what I could see and what I seen was about sixty-foot of the
bow chopped off, completely gone. Within a minute and a half,
maybe two minutes at the most the bow is startin to do down.
It filled up with water that fast. Everything was open below
deck and the water just flooded in and we were still under
way, just scoopin water. Complete chaos, total and complete
chaos all over the whole ship. Screams like you couldn't believe
and nobody knew what was goin on. The word got passed down,
"ABANDON SHIP"! It was maybe five minutes and we were really
down in the water so we proceeded to abandon ship.
Newhall and I went over the side holding hands. I got tangled
up in the life line long side the ship. I got untangled and
surfaced. I'm all alone so I swam out away from the ship,
probably fifty yards, maybe one hundred yards, I don't know.
I flipped over on my back and looked back and about two thirds
of the ship was in the water, bow first and leanin to the
right, the propellers were still turning. In the silhouette
of the sinking ship I could see guys jumpin off the fantail
like crazy. I went over the side with a life jacket. I pulled
it off and gave it to one of the younger officers that was
screamin his head off that he didn't have one.
there I am layin on my back lookin at that and no life jacket.
I don't hear anybody around me any place so I'm just kind
of floatin and relaxin when low and behold, a potato crate
floats by. Potatoes were packaged in wooded crates then. It
was just an empty potato crate, made a good buoyancy to hold
on to. Works as good as a life jacket I guess. Then pretty
soon I heard some voices. I yelled and who answers me, my
buddy Jim Newhall. So I swam over to where he was and there
was quite a group of them. It's chaos and everybody talkin
and a lot of the guys were wounded, burned and we were trying
to do the best we could.
The next morning we kind of counted heads the best we could.
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. They knew we were out here after all we
were due in the Philippines this morning at 11:00 so when
we don't show they'll know. If they didn't get a message off,
but we're sure they got a message off, they'll still know
where we are so no sweat, we'll be picked up before the days
the day passed, night came and it was cold. IT WAS COLD. The
next mornin the sun come up and warmed things up and then
it got unbearably hot so you start praying for the sun to
go down so you can cool off again.
When the sharks showed up, in fact they showed up the afternoon
before but I don't know of anybody being bit. Maybe one on
the second day but we just know we'll be picked up today.
They've got it all organized by now, they'll be out here pretty
soon and get us, we all thought. The day wore on and the sharks
were around. Come night time and nobody showed up. We had
another night of cold, prayin for the sun to come up. What
a long night.
The sun finally did rise and it got warmed up again. Some
of the guys been drinkin salt water by now, and they were
goin bezerk. They'd tell you big stories about the Indianapolis
is not sunk, its' just right there under the surface. I was
just down there and had a drink of water out of the drinkin
fountain and the Geedunk is still open. The geedunk bein the
commissary where you buy ice cream, cigarettes, candy, what
have you, "it's still open" they'd tell ya. "Come
on we'll go get a drink of water", and then 3 or 4 guys
would believe this story and go with them.
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.
It didn't ever get any cooler in the daytime. In fact, Newhall
asked me, he said, "James, do you think it's' any hotter in
hell than it is here?" I said, "I don't know, Jim, but
if it is, I ain't goin."
were hungry, thirsty, no water, no food, no sleep, getting
dehydrated, water logged and more of the guys were goin bezerk.
There was fights goin on so Jim and I decided to heck with
this, we'll get away from this bunch before we get hurt. So
he and I kind of drifted off by ourselves. We tied our life
jackets together so we'd stay together. Jim was in pretty
good shape to begin with, but he was burned like crazy. His
hand was burned, he couldn't hold on to anything, couldn't
Then the next day arrived. By this time I would have give
my front seat in heaven and walked the rotten log all the
way through hell for just one cool drink of water. My mouth
was so dry it was like cotton. How I got up enough nerve to
take a mouth full of salt water and rinse my mouth out and
spit it out I don't know but I did. Did it a couple of times
before the mornin was over. That's probably why I ended up
with salt-water ulcers in my throat. When we got picked up
my throat was bigger than my head.
we're out there in the sun prayin for it to go down again,
then low and behold there's a plane. Course there had been
planes everyday since day one. They were real high and some
of the floaters had mirrors that tried to attract them, but
nothing. Anyway, this one showed up and flew by and we thought,
"Oh hell, he didn't see us either. He's gone." Then we seen
him turn and come back and we knew we had been spotted. What
a relief that was.
he did, he came back and flew over us. It was a little PV1
Ventura. It was out on submarine patrol and he spotted us.
He radioed back to his base and instead of sending some help
out, the Navy sent one plane out. One PBY that came out and
circled and radioed back to the base that there was a bunch
of people in the water and he needed more assistance and more
survival gear. The pilot ended up landin in the water and
picked up a lot of guys, the single guys, one or two guys
that were together so the afternoon went on. Late in the afternoon
before dark there was another PBY on the scene. He dropped
his survival gear and he dropped a little three-man rubber
raft. Jim and I tried to swim to it. He made it but I didn't.
I was just so wore out from holding him up and hangin on to
him all day and the night before, I just couldn't make it
but he did. About the time he got on it there was two other
guys so there is three of them total in it and that's all
it was made for, three.
the other direction there was two guys in the water and the
two guys in the raft told Jim, "we'll go over there and
pick those two up". Jim said, "No, we're goin go pick
Woody up then we'll go get those two guys." They said "Nope,
we're goin to do it the other way." The raft contained those
little aluminum oars that come in two pieces and Jim put one
of them together and threw the other one over board. "Okay
you guys, I don't want to be mean but we're goin over to get
Woody and you guys are goin to do the paddling by hand. If
you don't things, are goin to happen with this oar that you
ain't agoin to like." So they came over and picked me up and
that's how I owe Jim Newhall my life. If it had not been for
that I wouldn't be here tellin this story.
they picked me up, then we went and got the other two guys.
Now there's six of us on this raft. It's getting pretty crowded
but we run onto three other guys and we picked them up. 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, a little bit before there was a light shining
off of the bottom of the cloud and we knew then we were saved.
That was the spotlight of the Cecil Doyle. The Navy is on
the scene. There's a ship comin. You can't believe how happy
we were, guys screamin and yellin, "We're saved, We're saved."
of the 5th Day
The Doyle arrived on the scene and started pickin survivors
out of the water a little after midnight. It was daylight
the next morning that he came along side us in our little
raft. Boy, what a happy day that was to get my feet on the
got on deck and saluted the officer of the day and asked permission
to come aboard, which was Navy tradition. All I had on was
my boatson pipe hanging around my neck on a lanyard and I
pulled it off and gave it to one of these guys. Why? I don't
know, just happy to give anything I owned for bein rescued,
I guess. Anyway, they gave me one spoonful of sweetened water
and assigned a guy to me to get me cleaned up because we were
all covered with oil. Had been oily for a day, which was a
blessing. Had we not had the oil on us like we did, the sun
would have really ruined us. It was a good thing we had the
I went to the shower and got cleaned up as best as I could.
I asked the guy, "Is this fresh water shower or salt water?"
He said, "Fresh water." I turned my head up to it and opened
my mouth and I tried to drink that shower dry. Got off what
we could, junk off of me and they gave us clothes, dungarees
of course, and found us a bed. All the crew was just the nicest
people in the world. They gave up their beds and everything.
I went to sleep laying on my back. Unbeknownst to me I noticed
when I was showering that my legs were burned. Both legs were
burned in the back, halfway between the thigh and the knee
to halfway between the knee and the ankle. I went to sleep
and didn't see the doctor. They had one doctor aboard and
a couple of quartermen but they had more important things
to do than take care of me. There was a lot of people in worst
shape than I was but they tried to help. I went to sleep,
I don't know how long I slept. I went to sleep with my knees
drawed up in the bed on my back. I waked up and all that burn
had matted together and I couldn't straighten my legs so I
spent the rest of my time until I got aboard the hospital
ship on a stretcher. They wanted to move me around so they
put me on a stretcher.
aboard the hospital ship and three days later, my legs are
still bent and matted together. I remember going aboard the
hospital ship. They hoisted us aboard and I was still on the
stretcher. The doctor was standing on the deck directing traffic,
this one goes to the emergency room and this one goes to the
ward and it got to me and he sent me to the emergency room.
I got in there and they laid me on the operating table on
my stomach and started to give me a shot. I said, "Doc, no
shot, it ain't a goin to hurt any worse than it hurts already
so if you got something to do, you do it." The doc said, "Do
it to you son"?, and the nurse handed me a folded up towel,
a wet towel and said, "You better hang on to this." The doctor
put one hand on my ankle, one hand on my buttocks and straightened
my leg and I thought my head would go through the roof and
as weak as I was I just about twisted that towel in too. Then
he did the same thing to the other leg and they picked all
of the scab off with tweezers, laid gauze on it and put some
kind of ointment on it and it stayed that way. They changed
it every few hours and put stuff on it again. This was in
the mornin before noon. Then we spent the rest of that day
and that night and the next day and the next night aboard
the Tranquility. We got into Guam to a Naval Hospital. They
transferred us off of the ship over to the hospital. We was
there for five weeks or so and they would tweezer my legs
and put gauze and ointment on several times. To this day,
I don't know what they used on it but I have no scars. On
the back of one leg I have a scar that is maybe an inch long.
That's the only thing I have from it.
finally discharged us all from the hospital. They kept us
all in the hospital, the whole crew until everybody was able
to move out. Then they moved us down to what they call the
submarine R & R camp. We thought we'd died and gone to heaven.
This is not the Navy. You go to bed when you want and get
up when you want. You go over to the kitchen and tell the
cook what you want to eat and how you want it fixed, like
downtown a café.
I was discharged on the 3rd day of December 45 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.
granddaddy had a lot of sayings he'd always tell me...
do right by your fellow man.
Treat him as you'd like to be treated
because your chickens will come home to roost.
You reap what you sow.
Sow good things and you reap good things.
must have sowed some good seeds somewhere along the line.
I've sure been harvesting good things. Found and married the
woman I love with a ready-made family. Lot of people don't
get to chose their kids but I did. It's been a joy in my life.
I dearly love each one of them. Today, fifty years later,
there is 32 grandkids and 46 great grandkids. Now that is
a bunch of little rascals. We had a lot of good years together,
had a lot of good times. Some of it wasn't so good. Sometimes
we struggled, sometimes it was better but we've always been
together. Do I know how to plant seed or do I know how to
I live in a house beside the road and I hope I've been a friend
Webmaster's Note: Survivor Woody James left this life on Monday Sept 19, 2005 just shy of his 83rd birthday. He died late in the afternoon in a tragic car accident in Salt Lake City, Utah. Woody was my grandfather, and although this site was built for the entire crew of the Indy, both survivors and the fallen, it was done especially out of love for Woody. He was one great giant of a man, in stature and in action. My grandfather didn't waste a day in his life, and what a life it was. The words that Woody inscribed in a book of mine gives me comfort and seems a fitting goodbye:
"May you have a long and happy life, as I have had. - Love You, Grandpa"
I miss you Grandpa
For additional detail on Woody's experience please read the Discovery Channel's interview transcript:
Other Survivors Storys (Discovery Channel Transcripts):