DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Sinking Of The Indianapolis

I can’t resist a used bookstore. On Saturday, I picked up a volume that tells the story of the cruiser U.S.S. Indiana, sunk by the Japanese in World War II after delivering the atomic bomb that would end the conflict.

The book, “In Harm’s Way,” reminded me of the description of the disaster that the character “Quint” (Robert Shaw) provided in the 1975 movie “Jaws,” still one of the most popular films ever made.

Here, slightly edited, is how Quint described what happened.

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. Our ship was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes.

“Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer.

“You know how you know that when you’re in the water, chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week.

“Very first light, chief, the sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups.

“You know it’s kinda like ol’ squares in battle like you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and that man, he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away.

“Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ they all come in and rip you to pieces.

“Y’know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour.

“On Thursday mornin’ I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top.

“Up ended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper in a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low. He’s a young pilot, and anyway he saw us and come in low.

“And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again.

“So, 1,100 men went in the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

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Dave Vorland

David Vorland spent most of his career at the University of North Dakota. As a UND student, he reported part time at the Grand Forks Herald and summers at the Harvey (N.D.) Herald-Press. After teaching journalism full time for five years at UND and St. Cloud (Minn.) State, he returned to UND as director of public relations. Dave took early retirement in 2005 after serving more than three decades. Although still often seen in Grand Forks, Dave lives in Bloomington, Minn., with his partner, Dorette Kerian. Travel and photography are now his principal interests.

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