Coffee and history with a USS Indianapolis Man of Courage

A survivor of the WWII USS Indianapolis tragedy has had coffee in the same shop as I for years. Imagine the real-life true stories that live where we do?

USS Indianapolis

CHARLOTTE, NC, August 2, 2017 – There’s a universal phenomenon that has been going on ever since mankind learned to communicate. It happens every day and has happened every day, throughout the world where small groups of men, and sometimes women, gather at a favorite place for coffee and/or breakfast to solve all the problems of the world until the following day at the same time.

It’s a serendipitous excursion into global events ranging from every possible subject imaginable, so there was nothing unusual about one Wednesday morning when Dave “Snake” Farr walked in and sat down to join the conversation.

Snake used to be an avid scratch golfer who derived his nickname for his uncanny ability to sink serpentine putts that no one else could read. He has an outgoing personality and a genuine curiosity about a potpourri of topics, not the least of which is local history and learning more about his breakfast comrades.

“Saw a great movie the other night on Netflix,” I said to Snake during our daily conversation. “Have you ever heard of the USS Indianapolis?”

“Tell me about it,” he replied.

“Well we all know how World War II came to an end with the atomic bombs we dropped on Japan, but there’s a great pre-story most people don’t even know about,” I began.

At that point, Snake’s eyes opened wider as he suddenly recalled some details of what I was about to relate. “Yeah, I know that story. Unbelievable how all that happened.”

“Yeah, I know that story. Unbelievable how all that happened.”

“Well they made a movie about it and we watched it the other night. What an incredible tale. The movie was called ‘USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage’, but I had no idea this really happened because the bombs grabbed all the headlines.”

On July 16, 1945, the USS Indianapolis departed Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco en route to Pearl Harbor. The ship had just undergone major repairs and an overhaul after being struck by a Japanese torpedo, but her mission was of such importance, it was necessary to get the ship back in service as quickly as possible.

Cruising at an average speed of 29 knots, the Indianapolis set a speed record which still stands today, arriving in Hawaii in 74 1/2 hours.

The secret mission was of such significance that the cruiser was not permitted to have the traditional destroyer escorts employed to locate Japanese subs as protection. Captain Charles B. McVay III (played by Nicolas Cage in the film) had been in command of the Indianapolis since November of 1944.

Racing to Tinian Island, Captain McVay and his ship were charged with delivering two pieces of cargo; the atomic weapons components that would become the bombs that dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The successful delivery went without incident, and the Indianapolis set sail to return to Pearl Harbor. However, because the assignment had been top secret, with McVay taking orders directly from the president, the Indianapolis was forced to make an unescorted return as well.

Thus, there was no knowledge of the whereabouts of the Indianapolis according to naval logs and other military tracking systems.

Four days after completing her mission, the Indianapolis was attacked on the starboard by two Type 95 Japanese torpedoes. One struck the bow and the other was a direct hit to amidships.

Within twelve minutes, the ship’s stern disappeared beneath the surface taking approximately 300 of the 1,200 crew members down with her.

Captain McVay was among the last people to abandon ship
along with the remaining 900 survivors who were now adrift in the salty brine.

Only a few life rafts and other bits of floating debris were available to the men who quickly realized their challenge was not only to await rescue from sources who were unaware of their mission, but also to somehow avoid becoming bait in the shark-infested waters.

For four days, the courageous sailors were in the water with little food or water in the hope that somehow, some way they would be discovered. During that time, sharks took the lives of nearly 600 men.

Eventually, the crew was found, resulting in a massive rescue mission in which only 25% of the men who had delivered the components for the atomic bombs survived.

The Navy, needing a scapegoat, court-martialed Captain McVay on a trumped up charge of failing to “zig-zag” to avoid enemy attacks. McVay later committed suicide, not being able to deal with his personal guilt of losing 900 men.

“You’re right. That’s a great story,” said Snake after we went over the details. “You need to go over to that table and talk to Martin Waters about it.”

Martin, who is in his 90s, is a regular of another daily group that meets at a different table in the restaurant.

“Why?” I asked.

Snake looked at me and responded, “Because Martin told me that story a long time ago. He was one of the 300 survivors!”

Suddenly a coffee acquaintance pops up in the midst one of the great military tales of World War II.

Sometimes history and coincidence can reach up and slap you in the face. Imagine the real-life true stories that live at coffee tables and breakfast bars in every corner of the planet that somehow goes unnoticed in our all-too-busy world.

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

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