MAHOMET, Ill. (WCIA) — It’s the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. That’s the ship that delivered parts of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. It was hit by torpedoes days later.
Of the nearly 2,000 men who were on that ship, only 316 survived. Twelve of those survivors are alive today. One of them is Art Leenerman of Mahomet.
“The Indianapolis ended the war, really, because we carried that first bomb over there,” said Leenerman.
Delivering parts of the atomic bomb had to be kept under wraps. Even after the USS Indianapolis was loaded up, there were only four men on board who knew that’s what they were carrying.
Four days after delivering the bomb, July 30th 1945, was the last time the USS Indianapolis would go to sea.
“I was back on the fantail of the ship going to the restroom when we got hit with the torpedoes.”
300 men went down with the ship. 900 of them made it out into the water. Leenerman survived four days and five nights of shark attacks, starvation, and exposure on the water.
“We had salt water burns and damage from the sun,” he said. “We were spotted by accidental, by a plane that was searching for submarines.”
Leenerman says he fell asleep in a life raft waiting to be rescued.
“They had me in a body bag already. I guess when they were taking me on the airplane or to the ship, I guess I kinda came to and moved a little bit, so they decided I was alive.”
Of the 900, only 316 had survived. Leenerman says it’s hard for him to recall too many details from his time on the water, but what he does remember still feels like yesterday 74 years later.
“We lost more men than anybody else.”
Leenerman gets together from time to time with other survivors. He just got back from a celebration two weeks ago in Indianapolis with all the survivors who are left. He’s the only survivor left in Illinois.
The parts to the atomic bomb were loaded onto the USS Indianapolis in San Francisco. They were there getting repairs after being hit by a kamikaze plane. That hit killed nine people.