Swimming with Sharks: Navy Physician Remembers the Indianapolis Disaster Part III

By Capt. Lewis Haynes (1912-2001)y 

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Editor’s Note. The following is the last installment of the story of Capt. Lewis Haynes.(1)

I think we saw five or six planes.  You know it’s very hard to see people in the water.  And they weren’t looking.  We all splashed.  The first plane that went over, I remember Cpt. Parke [USMC] having everyone splash their feet but they never saw us.

When you’re in a long period of suffering, and I’ve seen this in patients since, this becomes your way of life.  We weren’t too excited about it.  And then he began to drop things and our main thought was water.  He dropped lifejackets with canisters of water but they ruptured.  So we went back to what we were doing.  Then Lt. Marks showed up with his PBY and he dropped rubber life rafts, which we tried very hard to inflate.(2)

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I watched him circle and suddenly he made an open-sea landing. This took an awful lot of guts. He came in with that big plane and hit those big swells, went back in the air and splashed down again. I thought he’d crashed but he came taxiing back.

We put the sickest people aboard and the others hung around the side.  I found a flask of water and it had a 1-ounce cup with it.  I doled out the water, passing the cup down hand to hand.  Not one man cheated.  And I know how thirsty they were.  Not one cheated.  It was very hot and the sun was beating down.

We had to take off our kapok jackets to get in the raft.  It was so hot we went back over the side into the water where we belonged anyway.  Towards the end of the day, just before dark, I found a kit for making fresh water out of salt water. I tried to read the instructions and they didn’t make any sense.  I tried to make it and we tasted it.  It still tasted like saltwater to me and I didn’t want to take a chance I just threw it into the ocean and then went to pieces.

I watched him circle and suddenly he made an open-sea landing.  This took an awful lot of guts.  He came in with that big plane and hit those big swells, went back in the air and splashed down again.  I thought he’d crashed but he came taxiing back.  I found out later he was taxiing around picking up the singles who were floating.  If he hadn’t done this, I don’t think we would have survived.  But he stayed on the water during the night, revved up his engines, and turned his searchlight up into the sky so the Cecil Doyle (DE-368) could find us.  The Doyle aimed its searchlight into the sky in return.  And the ship was able to come right to the scene and begin picking us up.  At that point we were right at the end.

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The Doyle aimed its searchlight into the sky in return. And the ship was able to come right to the scene and begin picking us up. At that point we were right at the end.

The Doyle came up and we were in the rafts.  They had a big net down over the side.  Some of the sailors came down the side of the netting and pulled our rafts up alongside.  With this big ship hovering over us, I remember one of the men in the raft alongside of me yelled up at the ship, “Have you got any water on board?”  Somebody up on the fo’c’sle deck said, “Yes.  We’ve got all the water on board you can drink.”  And he yelled back, “If you ain’t got no water go away and leave us alone.”

Anyway, they put a rope around me; we were too weak to climb up.  And they hauled me up.  I remember bouncing off the side of the ship till they got me up on the deck.  When they tried to grab hold of me I remember saying, “I can get up!”  But I couldn’t.  Two sailors grabbed me under my arms and dragged me down the passageway.  By the wardroom pantry, someone gave me a glass of water with a mark on it and would only give me so much water.  I drank it and when I asked for more, he said that was all I could have this time.  As I was drinking, [Lcdr.] Graham Claytor came and asked me what ship I was from.(3)  And I told him we were what was left of the Indianapolis.  Much of that time is all a haze to me.

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We put the sickest people aboard and the others hung around the side.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a shower.  I remember Corpsmen or seamen cleaning off my wounds, trying to wash the oil from me, and putting dressings on my burns.  I remember trying to lick the water coming down from the shower.  They put me in a bunk and I passed out for about 12 hours and then I woke up and was more alert.  I recall the first bowel movement I had after I was picked up.  I passed pure fuel oil.  The other fellows found the same thing.

The Cecil Doyle took us to Peleliu.  We were taken ashore and put into hospital bunks.  I remember they came in and got our vital statistics; none of us had dogtags.  We all had discarded them because they were heavy.  And they got our names and next of kin, and photographed all of us in our bunks for identification purposes.  They changed our dressings.  Some of the men got IVs.  They didn’t give me one.  While there I began to eat a little and get some strength back.

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The USS Doyle took us to Peleliu. We were taken ashore and put into hospital bunks.

Then after 2 or 3 days there at Peleliu, someone came in and said that I was going to Guam.  The next thing I knew, they loaded me on a stretcher and hauled me out.  I remember being on an LCI lying on the stretcher trying to keep the sun out of my eyes while waiting my turn to be hoisted on the hospital ship [USS Tranquillity, AH-14].

The commanding officer of the ship, a friend of mine, was Bart Hogan.(4)  Bart came in and said, “I know you don’t feel well but you’re going to have to go before the Inspector General.  I’m going to send a Corpsman in and I want you to start at the beginning and dictate everything you can remember about what happened because as time goes on you’re going to forget and things are going to change.”  So I dictated every day off and on for 3 days on the way to Guam.  When I’d get tired I’d fall asleep and then I’d wake up and he’d come back.

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Cmdr. Eugene Owen examines Dr. Haynes wound dressings at Naval Hospital Guam, while Capt. Charles McVay watches.

When we landed, Bart gave me a copy of what I dictated and I took it when I went before the Inspector General’s office.  I told my story and answered their questions and then I gave them this report unedited and said “Here it is.  This is probably as accurate as I can be.”  And that document is the file at the Inspector General’s office.  And all the people who wrote books about the Indianapolis used it.

For more on Navy Medical Oral Histories and the BUMED Oral History Project please click on link below.

http://www.med.navy.mil/bumed/nmhistory/Pages/Oral-History.aspx

Endnotes:

(1)   Herman, Jan. Oral history with Capt. Lewis Haynes, MC, USN (ret.), June 5, 12, and 22 June 1995.

(2)   The survivors of the Indianapolis were first spotted by a PBY under the command of Lt. Adrian Marks and notified the captain of the destroyer USS Cecil Doyle (DD-368).   Before the Doyle arrived on the scene, the PBY dropped off life rafts.

(3)   Claytor (1912-1994) was skipper of the Doyle and later became Secretary of the Navy during the Jimmy Carter administration.

(4)   Capt. (later Rear Adm.) Bartholomew Hogan, MC, USN would later serve as Navy Surgeon General from 1955-1961.