The Worst Shark Attack in History
July 30, 1944. Just after midnight. The new day was beginning as any other for the men of the USS Indianapolis. Many were asleep. Others were at their posts. Some were playing cards. That ended abruptly when a Japanese torpedo struck the starboard bow, blowing 60 feet of the ships bow out of the water and igniting over 3,000 gallons of fuel. LD Cox remembers being thrown five feet in the air and landing on his belly on the steel floor. As he raised himself to his knees the ship was struck again. “Whoom,” LD said, and he was thrown into the air again.
LD jumped when the order was given to abandon ship. LD recalled, "I turned and looked back. The ship was headed straight down. You could see the men jumping from the stern, and you could see the four propellers still turning. It took only twelve minutes for the ship to go under.
Of the nearly 1200 men on board 900 made it into the water, some severely injured. One of the injured was a friend of LD’s, Cliff Josey. As LD swam away from the ship he reached another sailor struggling to stay afloat. “Is that you LD,” the sailor asked? “Yes it is, Josey.” “I’m hurt real bad LD, real bad.” And with that LD’s friend, Josey, sank out of sight.
The 900 men in the ocean survived explosions and fire to make it to the water, but their real struggle was just beginning. Life rafts were scarce, so were life jackets. Men sank from exhaustion. One day turned into two, then three, then four. Men were crying out in hunger, thirst and exhaustion. Some lost their minds and began drinking the sea water, a death sentence.
“When will the Navy rescue us?” the men wondered. They had a right to wonder. The Indianapolis had sent distress signals that were disregarded by the Navy. A Japanese message about sinking a Navy ship was also disregarded. Also ignored was the failure of the Indianapolis to return on time. So, the men waited, and waited, and waited. And fought for survival.
There was one other enemy of the men out there in the deep water: sharks. First the sharks feasted on the dead. But soon, the thrashing of the survivors and the blood of the injured attracted the attention of the massive sea creatures. The sharks came in closer and closer. To protect themselves the men got together in groups. Some groups were about 30 in size. One group was up to 300 men. Those in the middle of the group stood the best chance. Those on the fringe were at greatest risk.
"You were constantly in fear because you'd see 'em all the time,” LD said. “Every few minutes you'd see their fins - a dozen to two dozen fins in the water. They would come up and bump you. I was bumped a few times - you never know when they are going to attack you."
"In that clear water you could see the sharks circling,” LD continued. “Then every now and then, like lightning, one would come straight up and take a sailor and take him straight down. One came up and took the sailor next to me. It was just somebody screaming, yelling or getting bit." The sharks fed for days. On the sailors.
Day four. The men are spotted by a Navy plane. Within hours Navy LT Adrian Marks returned, dropping rafts and survival supplies. Then, he saw sailors being attacked by sharks. Disobeying orders he landed his craft in the water and taxied his plane to the survivors. Just after midnight that day the last of the survivors were rescued from the shark invested waters. Of the 900 men who made it to the water, only 317 remained. How many died by sharks? It is hard to tell, but estimates range from 36 to 150. With either number, the plight of the men of the USS Indianapolis was the worst shark-related naval disaster in US history.
Forty years later LD Cox and his wife met a woman and they chatted for a moment. The woman said, “I’ve been trying for years to find something out about my brother who was aboard the USS Indianapolis.
“Who was your brother?” LD asked.
“Cliff Josey,” she said. “Do you know what happened to him?”
LD recalled the friend he swam up to that night. “Yeah, I know what happened to Cliff Josey,” he answered. “I know.”
To all the men and women serving our country in the armed forces: thank you. We hope sane heads prevail in deciding when and where and if you will be deployed. And we pray for God's protection over your lives.