Louis "Kayo" Erwin, USS Indianapolis survivor

Louis "Kayo" Erwin, survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis

Louis "Kayo" Erwin was 17 years old in 1942.

He had an older brother fighting in World War II. Kayo joined the Navy to go find his brother.

"I was at Tarawa, the Marshalls, The Marianas, The Gilberts, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Iwo Jima, and in Okinawa we was hit with a suicide plane," Kayo Erwin said. "Killed nine men. Wounded thirty-eight."

He was in the Navy on the USS Indianapolis. There's a big room in Kayo Erwin's house in East Ridge, Tennessee filled with books, photos, and letters, all reminders of the summer of 1945. After Okinawa, the ship was sent back to California. It was repaired, and sent back out on a top secret mission.

"That's when we took the component parts of the atomic bomb, and carried them to Tinnian and dropped them off there," Mr. Erwin said.

The sailors on board didn't know what their cargo was at the time, but those components were assembled. That was the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II. With that part of the mission complete , The USS Indianapolis was on the way to Okinawa just after midnight on July 30, 1945.

"Torpedoes hit up here," Mr. Erwin said as he pointed to the starboard side of a replica of the USS Indianapolis.

Within minutes the ship was sunk.

" I run down the side and dove in and swam as far as I could to get away from the ship to keep from it pulling me down." Mr. Erwin said. "All I could see was the last tail end of the ship going down."

There were just under 1,200 men on board the ship. 900 sailors and marines survived the attack. They were floating at sea with only a life jacket around their necks.

"Salt water and that sun would eat you up. Hot in the daytime. Cold at night." Mr. Erwin said. "If it's night you'd pray for day to get warm. If it's daytime you'd pray for night to get some cool."

They hooked their life jackets together and floated in big groups. For several days the U.S. Navy didn't know they were missing.

"You prayed a lot. You tried to watch whatever you do, and sharks would get so close to you that you'd pull up your legs just as far as you could." Mr. Erwin said. "Hold them up out of there to keep the sharks from getting your legs. Just be as quiet as you could get. The first time we started scaring them off. (We) started splashing the water. (We) found out it's the wrong thing to do. They thought it was fish and it attracts sharks. So we didn't do that no more."

Kayo Erwin and the rest of the survivors spent four days and five nights in the shark infested waters. Of the 900 who survived the sinking of the ship only 317 made it home. They were spotted in the water, and the rescue started on August 2, 1945. Mr. Erwin says the sharks killed most of those men.

"Just losing their mind," Mr. Erwin said. "Sometimes you'd see them just take off their life jacket and then you wouldn't see them no more. Then you'd hear if it was getting about dusk, dark or something, then you'd hear screaming after a while. You knew a shark had 'em."

Kayo Erwin eventually made it home to Chattanooga. That was the next time he saw that brother he was looking for. The survivors started having reunions in Indianapolis. Mr. Erwin says he's only missed one.

"You go over there, and you lose a lot of men," Mr. Erwin said. "There's no good war."

Louis "Kayo" Erwin is one of 22 living survivors of the USS Indianapolis disaster.

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