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Monday, March 31, 2008

USS INDIANAPOLIS - Survivors Story

PUBLISHED: Saturday, March 29, 2008
Indianapolis survivor shares story

By Frank DeFrank
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

Richard Thelen, 81, a survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the worst naval disaster in U.S. history, makes a point with students at Kennedy Middle School in St. Clair Shores. The Indianapolis was torpedoed in the Pacific Ocean days after delivering to a South Pacific island the atomic bomb that would end the war just days later. The Indianapolis was served by a crew of nearly 1,200 sailors. Only 317 survived.
Macomb Daily photo by David Dalton

Paul Melton, an eighth-grader at Kennedy Middle School in St. Clair Shores, holds a fascination for World War II. When the History Channel broadcasts a program that chronicles an event of 60-plus years ago, Paul is as likely to be tuned in as most kids are to be playing video games.After Friday, he'll view those programs in a whole new light.
Paul was one of dozens of Kennedy students on hand to hear the real-life story of Richard Thelen, one of just 317 sailors who survived the July 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

"It's pretty exciting," Paul said.

The eighth-graders were assigned to read the book "Left for Dead," one of several about the Indianapolis. Just days after it delivered components for the first atomic bomb that would end the war, the Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

As a follow-up to the assignment, teachers recruited Thelen, a Lansing resident, to visit the school and tell his story.

"He is living history," said Jennifer Mackewich, language arts teacher. "These kids are so excited, especially the boys."

Thelen was an 18-year-old sailor making his first voyage aboard the Indianapolis in July 1945. Crew members didn't know what they delivered to the South Pacific island of Tinian, but the round-the-clock Marine guards told them it was something important.

"We didn't know it until after we dropped the bomb," Thelen said. "Then they told us."

After leaving Tinian, the first part of its mission completed, the

Indianapolis set sail for the Philippines. But shortly after midnight July 30, the ship was torpedoed in the Philippine Sea. The Indianapolis sank in 12 minutes.

Of nearly 1,200 men on board, 300 went down with the ship. The other 900 were left floating in shark-infested waters with no lifeboats and most without food or water.

"The sharks would go through at night and bounce around like Ping-Pong balls," Thelen said. "I saw six to eight men taken by sharks."

Unbeknownst to the sailors, nobody knew the Indianapolis was missing. So nobody was looking for them. For four days the men bobbed in the ocean, stretched out two miles wide and 18 miles long.

One by one, they succumbed to wounds, exposure, madness from drinking salt water and the loss of hope.

"They'd take their life jackets off and say they're going down below deck to get a drink of water," Thelen said.

Thelen, too, thought of letting himself slip below the surface to end his agony. But every time he did, the vision of his father's face appeared before his eyes.

"I'd see my dad's face," he told the students. "He brought me home."

For five nights and four days the crew of the Indianapolis clung to life. Finally, on the morning of the fifth day, a passing plane caught a glimpse of an oil slick.

"They (the crew of the plane) didn't know who we were, what ship were we off or where we were from," Thelen said.

Only after the survivors were pulled from the sea did the Navy understand: The sinking of the Indianapolis was the worst disaster in U.S. naval history.

Of the 900 sailors who went into the water, just 316 survived.

Now 81, Thelen is one of the few survivors of the Indianapolis still around to tell the story. He carved out a good life for himself, working as a truck driver for more than 40 years and raising six children. Two years ago, he married Esther, his second wife, who accompanies Thelen now when he visits schools, service clubs and other groups to tell his story.

Why did he survive when so many of his shipmates perished?

"I have no idea," Thelen said.

Meanwhile, Paul Melton will watch those World War II documentaries with a new appreciation for the men and women whose stories are chronicled.

"I don't think I would have made it," Paul said. "I'll see (World War II) a lot differently. I have a lot of respect (for veterans). But this just boosts your respect that much more."
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Open Letter From an Army Wife

Jill [somewhere in the mid-west]
25 March 2008
Wife of SFC [somewhere in Iraq]
HQ, 1/151 Infantry –Indiana National Guard


Can you imagine. . .

Your husband is in Iraq and you are sitting in the living room with your children, watching your favorite television show and suddenly “BREAKING NEWS” – your local newscast personality is on your TV screen, seemingly shouting at you “Another Indiana National Guardsman killed in Iraq. More at 11. . . ”.

Your kids look at you. . .

You look at the TV. . .

Then at the phone. . .

Surely if it were your husband someone would have called you before it made it on the 11:00 news. . .

Wouldn’t they???

All you News people out there, let me ask - ARE YOU CRAZY!!! You have no idea what that feels like, and I hope you never have too. In an instant, your heart stops, your stomach is in your throat and tears are already streaming down your face. . .

But you can’t let the kids see that you’re the slightest bit upset by this.

In the midst of all the negative press about the war and all the angry debates over bringing the troops home, has anyone stopped to think about how this all affects the families of the soldiers???

I’ve heard over and over how it takes a special person to be a soldier, but what about their families? Let me tell you, they are pretty special too! I know, I’ve been married to a soldier for years and I get it. . .

But then I have also been the soldier, which gives me a different perspective than most. It is not easy to let go and let your soldier go off into a combat zone, but, then you don’t have a choice. The decision has already been made by the soldier and the soldier (Your Soldier) must have strong feelings about what he is doing or he would not be serving in some capacity in the military.

As a soldier’s family it is our place to be strong and totally supportive of the soldier, whether or not you support the war. It does, however, look really bad when a soldier’s family talks bad about the war. If you have nothing good to say then say nothing! The media is doing a good job keeping the negativity alive all by itself. They don’t need our help, but think about this. . .

Would our soldiers want to go back if they didn’t think they were doing some good?

We must have faith and trust in what our soldiers believe. Recently, I was fortunate to hear LTC Brian Corneilson speak on “The Truth About Iraq” and one thing he said stuck in my mind. Everyday a line forms outside this one building, people waiting to get applications to become Iraqi police. EVERYDAY there is a new line with new people, waiting. This line has been blown up at least 3 times by suicide bombers, killing many, many people. Would you willing go stand in a line that you knew could get you killed?? These people did and still do because they feel that strong about governing themselves. Our soldiers feel this and they see this from the civilians they come in contact with on a daily basis. The good they see and feel over shadows the negativity that we see in the media and therefore we have to trust our soldiers and show them support.

How can we support our troops?

The soldiers no longer need every bar of soap or tube of toothpaste mailed to them. Life in Iraq for the troops has progressed to a more comfortable state of living, so what we need to do is support the families. We must do everything we can to minimize a soldier’s distractions. A soldier that is not totally focused on what they are doing puts himself and those around him at risk. If a soldier is in the middle of a mission but is thinking about how depressed his mother was the last time he talked to her or he is upset because he can’t be home for his sister’s wedding or birth of a child –this is dangerous. We must minimize their distractions as much as possible.

Your soldier is already upset he can’t be there so don’t make it worse.

Tell him it’s OK. . .

You understand why he can’t be there and what he is doing IS important. Your husband doesn’t need to know the basement is flooded. He DOES need to know there is a support network in place at home and his family is using it. Whether it is your extended family or the Family Readiness Support Group for your unit, someone is there to help.

If you know a family who has a deployed soldier, check on them. Some people are shy about asking for help, so show up, often, volunteer your services, let them know you care and aren’t going away. This is the best way you can support our deployed soldiers.

A person’s outlook and attitude changes when the war gets personal. They start paying attention to the news, forming their own opinions and wanting to get involved. The more people we get involved, the better it is for our troops.

People ask me how I can let my husband go back to Iraq. . .

I say “How can I not?”.

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