For fans of Unbroken, Left for Dead is the incredible story of a boy inspired by Jaws to help bring closure to the survivors and their families of the World War II sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The ship sank in 14 minutes. More than 1,000 men were thrown into shark-infested waters. Those who survived the fiery sinking—some injured, many without life jackets—struggled to stay afloat in shark-infested waters as they waited for rescue. But the United States Navy did not even know they were missing.
The Navy needed a scapegoat for this disaster. So it court-martialed the captain for “hazarding” his ship. The survivors of the Indianapolis knew that their captain was not to blame. For 50 years they worked to clear his name, even after his untimely death. But the navy would not budge—until an 11-year-old boy named Hunter Scott entered the picture. His history fair project on the Indianapolis soon became a crusade to restore the captain’s good name and the honor of the men who served under him.
I’ve always been the kind of bookworm who is fascinated by true life stories. Once I’ve watched a show or movie that is based on a true story, I find that I can’t think of anything other than finding out more information. This is exactly what led me to reading this story about the grim fate of the USS Indianapolis during World War II.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a brief run down of the events that happened. In July 1945, the crew of the USS Indianapolis headed across the battle-fueled Pacific Ocean on a top secret mission. The ship was carrying the first operational atomic bomb and they successfully delivered it to their destination in record time. The captain asked for a destroyer escort on their return trip, but this request was denied. Early in the morning of July 30, 1945 the ship was spotted by a Japanese submarine. The two were so close that the submarine made multiple direct hits to the hull of the USS Indianapolis and it sank within 14 minutes. The sinking happened so quickly that the communications crew barely had enough time to send out an SOS. Over a thousand men found themselves stranded in shark-infested waters with little to no food, water, or shelter. No one came looking for the crew and it was only by chance encounter that a pilot spotted them four days later. Over a thousand men went into the Pacific Ocean, but only 317 survived. When it was all said and done, the U.S. Navy decided that they would make an example of the ship’s captain, Charles McVay. An injustice that ruined his life, his reputation, and haunted the survivors for decades.
This book’s significance is because not only does it include several accounts from crew members of the USS Indianapolis. Instead, it also chronicles the story of a young Florida boy, Hunter Scott, whose history fair project started the process of restoring Captain McVay’s good name and exposed the truth behind why so many men lost their lives in the wake of the ship’s sinking.
The story of the USS Indianapolis, its crew, and its captain represents a dark place in our country’s naval history. As a Navy veteran, I have immense respect for our military service. However, it’s come to light that Captain McVay was scapegoated in the 1940’s. Not only was the ship’s SOS transmission received and ignored, but they ignored the intercepted reports from the Japanese submarine about the survivors in the water. Captain McVay was unfairly reprimanded for the tragedy and many of the families of those who were lost, made it their mission to harass him and brand him a murderer for the rest of his life.
This story’s purpose was to seek out justice and uncover the truth behind the tragedy of USS Indianapolis. I found myself becoming invested as the stories from the survivors unfolded and my heart aches that anyone would have to experience such a traumatizing and horrific event. My heart ached for Captain McVay and how much this tragedy weighed on him until his suicide in the late 1960’s. Based on the stories of the survivor, he did everything he could to help his crew have their best chance and risked his own life to save others. Ultimately, his court martial was just another tragic event that left a good man and honorable U.S. Navy Captain disgraced.