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‘Don’t give up on the Brink of a Miracle’
By Scott Mills/The Red River Sun—
MEMPHIS - Texas’ only living survivor of the 1945 USS Indianapolis disaster will be honored with a parade on July 30 – the 75th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.
A drive-by parade, which will begin at 2 p.m, honors the life and service of Memphis’ Cleatus Lebow, who also is one of eight living of the 317 men who survived the July 1945 torpedo bombing of the giant ship by the Japanese during World War II.
The Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to the crew of this ship and will be presented at 10 a.m. July 30 during the 75th Anniversary Reunion, which will be held virtually on the website, ussindianapolis.org due to the coronavirus. Each survivor will receive an identical Bronze medal for his service. The full reunion will be held virtually July 30 – Aug. 1.
Lebow joined the Navy in 1943 and trained in San Diego, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the USS Indianapolis as a Range Finder.
The ship was on its way back to the United States after delivering components of the atomic bomb that would soon be dropped on Hiroshima on July 30, 1945 when a Japanese submarine torpedoed it.
The horrors of the disaster, and the despair of loss is only overcome by the sense of something greater, Lebow said adding he has taken up the slogan, “Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle,” which is a song from artist Mike Adkins.
“God was watching over me while I was in the water,” he said of the four days he spent in the water following the sinking of the ship. “God answered mine and my mother’s prayers and led me home.”
In July of 1945 the worst maritime disaster in the history of the United States of America took place. As part of the Pacific fleet, the Portland class heavy cruiser, the USS Indianapolis was not only large, but fast. The United States Navy used the speed of the vessel to shuttle important parts of the atomic bombing missions that would eventually lead to the end of WWII.
According to USSIndianapolis.com, just a few minutes past midnight, after completing the important delivery, between Guam and the Philippines the cruiser was torpedoed by the Japanese. A B-3 type Japanese submarine, I-58, launched six torpedoes at the Indianapolis, striking it twice, nearly simultaneously, sinking the ship in approximately 12 minutes. The disaster happened so quickly, it was not possible to send out an SOS, the Navy learned of the ship’s demise approximately four days later.
The site states of the nearly 1,200 crew, 300 went down with the hulking ship. The remaining sailors faced horrors that can only be overcome by the incredible will to survive. Many sailors died in shark attacks. Men died of saltwater poisoning, drinking the toxic liquid due to thirst from dehydration. The ship sank so fast that most lifeboats could not be deployed, and sailors died of hypothermia, being exposed to the cold waters for over four days.
On that fourth day, the Smithsonian details that a Lockheed PV-1 Ventura, a medium ranged patrol bomber of the U.S. Navy spotted men struggling in the water. A PBY Catalina seaplane was dispatched, the pilot, Lieutenant Commander Robert Adrian Marks landed in the open ocean against orders not to do so.
Fifty-six men were saved and the remainder of the approximately 300 survivors were rescued by seven ships sent to the struggling crew.
For more information about the USS Indianapolis and the reunion events, visit www.ussindianapolis.org. During the reunion, the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization and the USS Indianapolis Legacy Organization are teaming up with media professionals in order to provide free online access to special guest presentations, Q&A Sessions, live special-edition memorabilia auctions, educational videos and exclusive access to commemorative merchandise in the online store.