SHARK WATCH STRAPS. WATCH GREY'S ANATOMY SEASON 2 EPISODE 15.
Louis "Kayo" Erwin - Download MP3-
By Clint Cooper
s didn't attack until late in the afternoon, but they were a constant presence as the sailors floated helplessly in the open sea.
"You'd see them around you, beneath you," said Louis "Kayo" Erwin Sr., the area's only living survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the closing days of World War II. "You'd drag your legs as close as you could to your chest."
The Chattanooga native was one of 1,196 sailors aboard the ship, which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine just after midnight on July 30, 1945, as it was en route from Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean to Leyte in the Philippines.
The Discovery Channel, as part of its 20th anniversary Shark Week, will air a new documentary tonight on the Indianapolis, the shark
s that preyed on the sailors and the controversial mistakes that surrounded the gruesome events.
"Ocean of Fear: The Worst Shark Attack Ever," broadcast locally on Comcast Cable channel 20, will be narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, one of the stars of the 1975 shark
attack movie "Jaws."
Mr. Erwin, an East Ridge resident who is retired from Ellis Distributing Co., said he was not contacted for the Discovery Channel special but has contributed to other books and articles on the incident. Recently, he said, he received a modest royalty check for his contribution to the 2002 book "Only 317 Survived!"
Though the sailors aboard did not know it, the USS Indianapolis had just delivered components of the atomic bomb to Tinian. There, several days later, the bomb was loaded aboard the B-29 bomber Enola Gay and dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945.
"We knew it was something real secret because they had guards," Mr. Erwin, 82, said. "They locked some of (the parts) down in the captain's quarters."
The heavy cruiser left Tinian, stopped at Guam and was midway in its 1,500-nautical mile trip to the Philippines when it was hit.
"I had just come off the 8-to-12 watch
," Mr. Erwin said, "and I had laid down in my hammock."
The first torpedo crippled the ship, he said, but the second one blew it nearly in two. The USS Indianapolis sank in 12 minutes, he said.
Sailors were supposed to wait for the "abandon ship" call, according to Mr. Erwin, but the first torpedo knocked out the ship's power. He said he began handing out life jackets, and sailors immediately jumped into the water.
He ran down the ship's side and dove in, he said. An "average swimmer," he said he knew the importance of clearing away from the ship to avoid the suction as it sank. Mr. Erwin said he got 600 to 700 feet away before he looked back.
"All I saw," he said, "was the fantail going down."
IN THE WATER
The East Ridge man said he thought the 900 sailors who jumped into the water would be picked up at daylight, but it was five nights and four days before rescue came.
In the meantime, Mr. Erwin said, the sailors fought the sharks and the temptation to drink the seawater and endured neck and arm sores that developed from the irritation of their life jackets combined with the blazing sun, oil from the sunken ship and the salty water.
The first morning, he said, groups of sailors hooked their life jackets together to "stay in a bunch." Their earliest inclination to ward off the sharks was to slap the water, but that only drew attention to them, he said.
The attacking sharks got no closer than 20 feet from him, but they did kill a number of sailors. Worse, Mr. Erwin said, were the sailors who drank seawater and hallucinated.
"They would see different things -- land, a beer joint, a hot dog stand, an ice cream parlor," he said. "You would try to talk to them, but they weren't there. Finally, they would swim off and eventually go under."
Mr. Erwin said the only seawater he drank was unintentional when he dove into the ocean from the ship. He said he later "heaved four or five times and lost everything I had."
While the sailors awaited rescue, he said, he would rinse his mouth out with the water but wouldn't swallow it. To combat the heat, the sailors "kicked off everything but our skivvies and our socks." He said he put his socks over his eyes as he leaned his head back.
"The glare over the water was awful bad," he said.
Mr. Erwin said the sailors would see planes flying overhead and "think they saw you," but they didn't.
"Every day, you'd pray for somebody to find you," he said, "then you'd pray for it to get night (because of the sun). At night, you'd pray for it to be day for somebody to see you."
Though the ship was overdue at Leyte, it had not been reported late or lost. No one was looking for it or its survivors.
RESCUE AT LAST
On Aug. 2, Lt. Wilbur Gwinn, a Navy pilot, saw an oil sli
he finished talking and sat there listening to the rest of the table and he made a noise the same way a baby makes noises when it wants to talk but can't. no one else heard him and i looked over and he had this weird look on his face: he wasn't listening anymore and felt as if he was looking through us. then i saw the firs bubbles of spit form between his lips. i couldn't look away. i thought he was going to say something. everyone else kept on talking. he wasn't looking at me at all. his eyes were so wide and dark like shark eyes.
someone said something about what we're doing in class next week. the types of monologues this particular teaches likes, when i saw it begin to dribble from his mouth. it wasn't spit. well, not only spit, but blood, too. no one saw as this was happening and i couldn't move. i couldn't just stop looking at his mouth and the blood and spit slid down his chin until it dripped before him on the tabletop. he wasn't wincing in pain, and he didn't say anything. i wanted to say something before anyone else noticed. a thing string of spit and blood was on its way to meet the table when, without any indication, his eyes rolled back in their sockets and he fell forward, hitting the table with his face before collapsing to the floor.
the force of his head hitting the table made all the plates and glasses and silverware rattle. everyone was startled but me. i saw it happen as if it were slow motion. now, i think i should've been able to stop it from happening, but i know there wasn't anything that i could do to make my brain move my body. i was in shock. but i didn't even know what was happening. on the spot where his face hit the table was a broken, bloody tooth.
a couple of the girls screamed, and the black girl's boyfriend - jeremy-something - cursed loudly. everyone sprang to their feet. a couple of waiters were running in our direction. the other diners, the ones near out table, all looked over and didn't know what was happening. hell, we didn't know. i didn't know. some women oh-my-goded from the other end of the restaurant. a couple of men who were wearing suits and were sitting at the bar, rushed over with glasses of water. all this comotion, all of this action. so much kinesis at every level. already i could see people with their cellphones to their ears, calling for help. there was a kid nearby using a cellphone to take pictures. another (the first's twin) was taking video from his own phone. i sat there.
everyone was pushing the chairs away from where he fell. everyone was reaching for clean napkins, dipping them in water, and wiping the blood from his mouth. you could see where his nise snaped when his face his the table; it was growing darker and darker. you could see the gap in his formerly perfect row of upper teeth. blood kept dribbling out of his mouth. but it wasn't red-red, claret-red, blood-red. it looked so fake: orange and too oxigenated. his eyes were open but nothing but white showed through. a blood vessel in his left eye had burst near his nose.
i sat there watch
ing this and no one paid me any attention. everyone was too busy trying to help, trying to call for emergency services, wiping away at the now torrent of orange-blood-red blood that was coming from his mouth. waiters were trying to keep people away. the girls who'd been with us that night were crying, holding their hands near their mouths. all the guys from our table were trying to wake him up the way you think a parent tries to wake up a child to go to church. one of the men in suits was calling him champ and sport, talking to him as if he was trying to convince him not to die.
i knew that's what was happening. he was dying. even if you've never seen a dead body, there's just something about a way a person looks when they're done.
even know, after everything, no one ever says anything to me as to why i didn't move an inch to do anything. what could i say? i was in shock sure, but not for the reason people say i was in shock. i was so surprised to the point of inaction.
the paramedics arrived and they couldn't make him breathe. they asked if anyone moved him. who saw what happened. everyone at our table but me said the same thing: we were all in the middle of conversation and he just fell over. i didn't say anything, and amongst the chaos that was unravelling, i got away with staying silent. they strapped him on a gurney: pointless. the had one of those mask-hand pump things on his face to help him breathe. as soon as the paramedic put the mask on him, it began filling with blood. dark red blood. he said, oh shit, and removed the mask and blood poured out of his nose and mouth and ears and eyes. it covered his face and looked like off shore oil spills look on the nightly news. they wheeled him out. people were freaking out. we all left and got into the cars we came in and followed the ambulance. one of the girls grabbed the broken tooth