""The Navy's failure to note us missing when we were long overdue in port and then making Captain McVay the scapegoat are the real crimes.""
Quote from the late Joseph Kiselica, USS Indianapolis survivor, from June 21, 1998 article by Bob Sudyk
entitled "Redemption for Sailor Joe" in the Hartford (CN) Courant
""The Navy knew that the submarine which sank us was in our path. They did not tell Captain McVay. We were sent into harm's way, then forgotten, by these and many examples of carelessness.""
From statement submitted at September 1999 Senate hearing
by Michael N. Kuryla Jr., USS Indianapolis survivor
A Victory in Congress
A giant step to clear the name of Captain McVay was taken in October of 2000 when legislation was passed expressing the sense of Congress that his "military record should now reflect that he is exonerated" for the loss of the USS Indianapolis and the lives of the men lost in that tragedy so many years ago.
When President Clinton signed that legislation on October 30, implying his concurrence, it thus represented the view of both Legislative and Executive Branches of our federal government that Captain McVay was not responsible for the disaster which led to his court-martial, his conviction, his humiliation, and the end of his promising Navy career.
The Survivors Organization would like to express genuine gratitude to those in Congress who helped in the passage of this legislation with special thanks to Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) and Representatives Joe Scarborough (R-FL) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HA). Special thanks also should be extended to young Hunter Scott, of Pensacola, Florida, who, beginning at the age of eleven, renewed interest in and campaigned steadfastly to correct this injustice.
This section is dedicated to the story of how Hunter Scott revived the effort to clear Captain McVay's name over 50 years after his court-marital and how he joined with survivors of the Indianapolis and many of their supporters in getting legislation through the Congress.
First, however, it should be emphasized that passage of the legislation did not clear the conviction from Captain McVay's record. As noted in the Introduction, Congress has rules against even considering bills which alter military records.
"All the responses I got back were unanimous, and most were strongly worded in anger and outrage over the court-martial and conviction of their captain."
From testimony at September 1999 Senate hearing by Hunter Scott,
describing results of questionnaire he sent to all Indianapolis survivors
Although the first organized effort by survivors to clear Captain McVay's name did not commence until 1960 when the Survivors Organization was formally established, it was never able to gain sufficient public attention until 1996 when an eleven-year-old boy, Hunter Scott, for Pensacola, Florida, saw the movie "Jaws" and was moved by the very accurate soliloquy of one of the actors who explained his hatred of the sharks by telling his story of surviving the attack upon the Indianapolis.
When told the actor was describing an event which was true, young Hunter began researching the story for what became an award-winning school history project but then, still fascinated, pursued it further, obtaining addresses of all survivors to whom he sent a questionnaire. One of the questions was whether they felt Captain McVay's court-martial was justified and his conviction fair.
As he subsequently testified in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 15, 1999, "all of the responses I got back were unanimous, and most were strongly worded in outrage and anger" over the Navy's treatment of Captain McVay.
These responses set Hunter Scott on a crusade to clear Captain McVay's name. Because of his youth, he attracted media attention which, in turn, attracted the attention of the Survivors Organization and that of his member of Congress, Representative Joe Scarborough. This led to invitations, first to the 1996 survivors' reunion in Indianapolis, then to join a group of survivors in Hawaii in 1997 for a short trip on the nuclear submarine the USS Indianapolis.
It also led to a 1997 promise from Representative Scarborough that he would introduce legislation in 1998, and plans were made for Hunter and a group of survivors to travel to Washington to support Scarborough's Bill.
In April of 1998 fifteen survivors and Hunter Scott arrived in Washington and met with members of both House and Senate, urging support for Representative Scarborough's bill (H.R. 3610) which urged a presidential pardon for Captain McVay. Unwittingly, it did not take into consideration the fact that Captain McVay had, in effect, already been pardoned in 1946 when Admiral Nimitz remitted his sentence and restored him to duty.
Thus, when a new Congress convened in 1999, Representative Scarborough introduced a joint resolution (H.J. Res. 48) which, among other things, expressed the sense of Congress that Captain McVay's court-martial was morally unsustainable and that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice. Once again in April of 1999 Hunter Scott and fourteen Indianapolis survivors traveled to Washington to meet with key members of Congress in support of the Scarborough resolution.
On this visit they persuaded Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire to introduce an identical companion measure in the Senate (S.J. Res. 23), and over the ensuing months over 100 House members joined as co-sponsors of the Scarborough resolution and sixteen senators as co-sponsors of the Smith resolution.
A major breakthrough occurred when Senator Smith persuaded Senator John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to hold a hearing on his joint resolution. The hearing was held on September 14, 1999. Ten survivors came to Washington for the hearing, and seventeen survivors submitted statements for the record.
Witnesses on behalf of Senator Smith's resolution were Hunter Scott; survivors Paul Murphy, Harlan Twible, and Giles McCoy, and Dan Kurzman author of "Fatal Voyage." It was apparent that the eloquent and emotional testimony of these witnesses made an impression on Senator Warner. Additionally, the Navy witnesses had difficulty responding to testimony which clearly indicated that mistakes which caused the sinking of the Indianapolis were beyond Captain McVay's Control.
Click here for a more complete report on the Senate hearing prepared for the Survivors Organization newsletter.
Click here to view the language of the legislation.
During 2000 there was a constant stream of letters from survivors and their friends to Senator Warner and consistent support from the media, including an excellent cover article in Parade Magazine on August 20 by Peter Maas entitles "It's Time to Right a Wrong."
In September Senator Smith convinced Senator Warner to add S.J Res. 26 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2001. Because of strong opposition of the Department of the Navy, the language of the resolution was altered to omit any reference to the court-martial being morally unsustainable or the conviction being unjust.
It did, however, express the sense of Congress that Captain McVay's record should reflect that "he is exonerated for the loss of the USS Indianapolis," representing acknowledgment at last by the Federal Government that he was not guilty for the tragedy which led to his shameful conviction.
As a footnote, although the Navy admirals had strongly opposed the legislation to exonerate, they must have learned a lesson. Following the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in the Red Sea harbor on October 12, 2001, the Navy decided not to court-martial her captain. It gave as reasons that the captain of the Cole (1) had taken all reasonable precautions to prevent such an attack and (2) had not been adequately warned of the danger to his ship in the harbor.
The same reasons were used in the successful effort to exonerate Captain McVay. It might be concluded that the Navy did not want another controversy on their hands.