LANGUAGE OF THE LEGISLATION
Language of the Legislation
Following is the language of the legislation passed by Congress regarding the court-martial and conviction of Captain McVay and signed by President Clinton.
(A) Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Shortly after midnight on the morning of July 30, 1945, during the closing days of World War II, the United States heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarine I-58 in what became the worst sea disaster in the history of the United States Navy.
(2) Although approximately 900 of the ship's crew of 1,196 survived the actual sinking, only 316 of those courageous sailors survived when rescued after four and a half days adrift in the open sea, the remainder having perished from battle wounds, drowning, predatory shark attacks, and lack of food and potable water.
(3) Rescue for the remaining 316 sailors came only when they were spotted by chance by a routine naval air patrol.
(4) After the end of World War II, the commanding officer of the USS Indianapolis, Captain Charles Butler McVay III who was rescued
with the other survivors, was court-martialed for "suffering a vessel to be hazarded through negligence" by failing to zigzag (a naval
tactic employed to help evade submarine attacks) and was convicted even though --
(a) the choice to zigzag was left to Captain McVay's discretion in his orders:
(b) Motchisura Hashimoto, the commander of the Japanese submarine that sank the USS Indianapolis, and Glynn R. Donaho, a
United States Navy submarine commander highly decorated for his service during World War II, both testified at Captain McVay's
court-martial trial that the Japanese submarine could have sunk the USS Indianapolis whether or not it had been zigzagging.
(5) Although not argued by Captain McVay's defense counsel in the court-martial trial, poor visibility on the night of the sinking (as
attested in surviving crew members' handwritten accounts recently discovered at the National Archives) justified Captain McVay's
choice not to zigzag as that choice was consistent with the applicable Navy directives in force in 1945, which stated that, "During thick
weather and at night, except on very clear nights or during bright moonlight, vessels normally cease zigzagging.".
(6) Before the USS Indianapolis sailed from Guam on what became her final voyage, Naval officials failed to provide Captain McVay with
available support that was critical to the safety of the USS Indianapolis and her crew by --
(a) disapproving a request by Captain McVay for a destroyer escort for the USS Indianapolis across the Philippine Sea as being "not
(b) not informing Captain McVay that naval intelligence sources, through signal intelligence (the Japanese code having been
broken earlier in World War II), had become aware that the Japanese submarine I-58 was operating in the area of the USS
Indianapolis' course; and
(c) not informing Captain McVay of the sinking of the destroyer escort USS Underhill by a Japanese submarine within range of the
course of the USS Indianapolis four days before the USS Indianapolis departed Guam for the Philippine Islands.
(7) Captain McVay's court-martial initially was opposed by his immediate command superiors, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz (CINCPAC)
and Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance of the 5th Fleet, for whom the USS Indianapolis had served as flagship, but, despite their
recommendations, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal ordered the court-martial, largely on the basis of the recommendation of
Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations.
(8) There is no explanation on the public record for the overruling by Secretary Forrestal of the recommendations made by Admirals
Nimitz and Spruance.
(9) Captain McVay was the only commander of a United States Navy vessel lost in combat to enemy action during World War II who was
subjected to a court-martial trial for such a loss, even though several hundred United States Navy ships were lost in combat to enemy
action during World War II.
(10) The survivors of the USS Indianapolis overwhelmingly conclude that Captain McVay was not at fault in the loss of the USS
Indianapolis and have dedicated their lives to vindicating their Captain McVay.
(11) Although promoted to the grade of rear admiral in accordance with then-applicable law upon retirement from the Navy in 1949,
Captain McVay never recovered from the stigma of his post-war court-martial and in 1968, tragically, took his own life.
(12) Charles Butler McVay III --
(a) was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy;
(b) was an exemplary career naval officer with an outstanding record (including participation in the amphibious invasions of North
Africa, the assault on Iwo Jima, and the assault on Okinawa where the USS Indianapolis under his command suffered a fierce
(c) was a recipient of the Silver Star earned for courage under fire during the Solomons Islands campaign; and
(d) with the crew of the USS Indianapolis, had so thoroughly demonstrated proficiency in naval warfare that the Navy entrusted
him and the crew of the USS Indianapolis with transporting to the Pacific theater components necessary for assembling the
atomic bombs that were exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war with Japan (delivery of such components to the
island of Tinian having been accomplished on July 25, 1945).
(B) Sense of Congress Concerning Charles Butler McVay III -- With respect to the sinking of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) on July 30, 1945, and the subsequent court-martial conviction of the ship's commanding officer, Captain Charles Butler McVay III, arising from that sinking, it
is the sense of Congress --
(1) in light of the remission by the Secretary of Navy of the sentence of the court-martial and the restoration of Captain McVay to active duty by the Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, that the American people should now recognize Captain McVay's
lack of culpability for the tragic loss of the USS Indianapolis and the lives of the men who died as a result of the sinking of that vessel;
(2) in light of the fact that certain exculpatory information was not available to the court-martial board and that Captain McVay's
conviction resulted therefrom, that Captain McVay's military record should now reflect that he is exonerated for the loss of the USS
Indianapolis and so many of her crew.
(C) Unit Citation for Final Crew of the USS Indianapolis -- Congress strongly encourages the Secretary of the Navy to award a Navy Unit
Commendation to the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) and her final crew.
***** Editor's Note: The USS Indianapolis did indeed deliver to Tinian components of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. We cannot confirm that components of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki were part of that delivery.