"Just after midnight on July 30, 1945." So begins the story of the U.S. Navy's greatest sea disaster.
There were 1,196 crew members on board when the USS Indianapolis was hit with two torpedoes on that fateful day as they returned from a secret mission to Tinian. Four days later, only 321 survivors were pulled from the shark-infested waters. One of them was Missouri's own Pvt. 1st Class Giles G. McCoy.
But why were they there? What was this mission that cost 875 men their lives?
After the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vice President Harry S. Truman stepped into the presidency and, for the first time, learned of "the Allies new, highly destructive weapon." His diary entry for July 25, 1945, read: "We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world."
On July 26, 1945, the USS Indianapolis had completed delivery of the parts and uranium for Little Boy, the atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima the following month. Had they been hit on their way to Tinian, the outcome of World War II might have been very different.
Although there had been much speculation at the time, none of the crew had known what they had been transporting. McCoy told in an interview later that he had been one of the marines assigned to guard their special cargo. He also said that, to the best of his knowledge from all reports, he had been the last man pulled from the water.
During those days in the water, McCoy admitted making a deal with God. "I prayed so hard to God. I promised God that if He got me out of this that I would go back home and would study and I would do something with my life. I would not kill any more of his people. I would become a doctor; and that is what I did."
McCoy returned home, took advantage of his GI Bill, and went to school at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He opened his chiropractor office in Boonville, where he practiced for 37 years and enjoyed baseball, golfing, fishing and hunting. McCoy also spent a great deal of his time clearing his captain's reputation.
For more information about the USS Indianapolis, see:
"Out of the Depths: An unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis" by Edgar USMC Harrell and David Harrell.
"All the Drowned Sailors," by Raymond B. Lech.
"Abandon Ship! The Saga of the USS Indianapolis, the Navy's Greatest Sea Disaster," by Peter Maas and Richard F. Newcomb.
"In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors," by Doug Stanton.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written Historically Yours for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008. In celebration of Missouri's upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.email@example.com.