Sunday, January 25, 2004

Moeller grad helps survivors of USS Indianapolis disaster


Cincinnati 101

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Pick a cause. Any cause. Someone from Cincinnati will be extending a helping hand.

Such is the case with Joe Hammons, Moeller High School Class of 1992. He's the chairman of the volunteer task force raising funds for the USS Indianapolis Memorial Museum.

One summer day in 2002, he went to lunch. Leaving the Indianapolis building where he works as a financial adviser, he came back a changed man.

Near his favorite deli, he saw two veterans at a table. Hammons struck up a conversation.

"Whenever I can, I talk to veterans," he said. "My passion is history." And the passion of patriots.

The vets told him a tale that transported him back in time and around the world.

Their story took him to the Pacific's shark-infested waters. Placed him aboard a warship. Made him a part of history and infamy. All before lunch.

They told him the tale of the USS Indianapolis. On July 26, 1945, the heavy cruiser reached Tinian Island. The battle-tested ship delivered parts for the atomic bomb that would level Hiroshima and help end World War II.

After delivering its cargo, the ship headed for the Philippines. The Indianapolis never made it.

A Japanese sub sunk it with two torpedoes just after midnight on July 30, 1945. The cruiser went down in 12 minutes.

The Indianapolis carried a crew of 1,196 and one passenger. Around 300 men went down with the ship. Nearly 900 jumped into the sea. Only 317 survived.

No less than nine seamen from Cincinnati perished. Included were 20-year-old twins, Albert and William Koegler, graduates of Wyoming High School.

The high death toll came from fire, sharks, the elements, the men's wounds and, worst of all, naval bungling. Official snafus left the men in the water for five days. This created the U.S. Navy's worst disaster at sea.

Making matters worse, a cover-up clouded an investigation of the sinking and an unjustified court martial of the ship's captain.

The two story tellers belonged to the Indianapolis' Survivors Organization. They were selling souvenirs to raise funds to keep their ever-dwindling group - only 106 survivors remain - and their dream alive.

Their dream is to build a $10 million museum dedicated to the lost ship and its crew.

They told the right guy. Hammons had volunteered to raise funds for the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

He'd do that for the survivors. "Had to," he said. "Good cause."

The museum's fund-raiser kicks off Jan. 31. Tax-free donations go to: Tom Curran, treasurer, Union Planters Bank, 1 Indiana Square, Suite 115, Indianapolis, IN 46204. Visit www.ussindianapolis.us

Hammons gladly gives of his time for these veterans.

"What these guys went through astounds me. They saved the world."

They deserve a museum.

E-mail cradel@enquirer.com




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