Sunday, February 1, 2004

USS Indianapolis will always haunt their memories, dreams


Cincinnati 101

Cliff Radel

Every time Dennis Long blows out the candles on a cake, he thinks of his dad.

Bob Mischler, a retired school principal, touches a blanket and can't help but recall seeing stacks of them turned into body bags.

The Rev. Buster Hammons closes his eyes and sees scores of wounded men.

The paths of these three lives converge at a spot in the Pacific where the USS Indianapolis sank.

These men shared their stories of dedication after reading last Sunday's Cincinnati 101. The column detailed the efforts of Moeller grad Joe Hammons to build a museum honoring the crew of the ill-fated World War II cruiser.

The USS Indianapolis sank after being hit by two Japanese torpedoes. The ship had just delivered parts for the atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima.

The men aboard the Indianapolis numbered 1,197; around 300 went down with the ship; nearly 900 jumped into the sea. An infamous naval snafu left the men adrift in the shark-infested waters for five days. Only 317 survived.

(That number is also the area code for Indianapolis - the location for the memorial museum.)

Dennis Long's birthday is July 31. The Indianapolis sank on July 30, 1945.

"That was one day before my sixth birthday," said Long, a CG&E retiree from West Chester.

His father, Joe Long, served as a seaman on the Indianapolis. The professional gardener was one of 12 Hamilton County sailors to die in the tragedy.

"Dad was 38 with two kids. He didn't have to go to war," Long said. "But back then you just didn't say no."

Dennis clings to the memories he has of his father. "He came home only once on leave. Six weeks later he was dead.

"I have a photo of me standing on the rock wall he built at our house in Wyoming. I'm wearing the sailor suit he brought home for me."

Bob Mischler saw hundreds of sailors from the Indianapolis buried at sea. He was a seaman, "an 18-year-old burying 18-year-olds," on the USS French. The destroyer had a solemn assignment: Find victims, identify the bodies, give them a proper burial.

Each body was wrapped in a blanket and weighted down with a 200-pound shell casing.

"The sharks had gotten to a lot of those bodies," Mischler said from his home in Tryon, N.C.

The sights he saw "couldn't have been more traumatic."

No one helped the crewmen deal with the stress. This was in the days before grief counselors.

"So, we just did our job," he said. "Nobody thought twice. It was the only decent thing to do. It made our lives richer."

Before he found his calling as a minister, Buster Hammons repaired planes on the escort carrier USS Hollandia. That ship took survivors of the Indianapolis to a Navy hospital.

He saw medics bring stretcher after stretcher onto the carrier. That sight stayed with him.

"It was on my mind," said the Fairfield preacher, "when I decided to go into the ministry."

E-mail cradel@enquirer.com




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