Friday, October 31, 2008

Rejoining Shipmates

Indiana War Memorial

When I read this story, I was simply overwhelmed.

YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) — When the submarine USS Ohio surfaced at sea and Machinist Mate 1st Class Jason Witty emerged from the hatch to look around, he saw calm, blue water under a peaceful sky — perfect for the solemn task he was about to perform.
On the map, the Ohio was afloat in just another indistinguishable expanse of the Pacific Ocean. As Witty stood on deck holding a silver pitcher, the vessel was alone. Just like the ill-fated USS Indianapolis, 63 years earlier.
The pitcher contained the ashes of Witty's grandfather, Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Eugene Morgan, who had survived the sinking of the Indianapolis — one of the worst tragedies for the U.S. Navy in World War II.
Morgan had died of a heart attack in June at age 87, just before Witty went to sea, and among his last wishes was the desire to be rejoined with his shipmates at roughly the same spot in the Pacific where the Indianapolis went down.
Witty, sitting in a wardroom of the Ohio at this Japanese port, recounted the Oct. 2 burial at sea, saying he had never participated in one before.
He had sheepishly asked one of the officers if his grandfather's wish could be granted. The request went up the chain of command to Capt. Dennis Carpenter, who quickly approved.
"I thought it would be an honor," Carpenter said. "And I wanted to make sure that we did it right. Sometimes on a submarine at sea, you just can't go topside. But everything
seemed to be on our side."

This sinking is still one of the greatest tragedies to ever happen at sea during a time of war. Almost 900 men went into the water that night and by the time rescue accidentally arrived five days later, only 317 were pulled out of the water. And to this day, who was to blame for losing USS Indianapolis in the vast Pacific for five days opens wounds six decades old while shipmates mourn the destruction of their Captain by Naval court martial.

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