ELKHART — About 40 people gathered Friday, May 15, for the graveside service of World War II veteran Clarence Hershberger.
Hershberger was one of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis, which a Japanese submarine sank during World War II. He died at the age of 89 on Feb. 14, 2015, in DeLeon Springs, Fla.
Family and friends placed flowers and wreaths around the gray stone columns at the corner of Prairie Street Cemetery where U.S. veterans are buried. Members of the Elkhart DAV Chapter 19 rendered full military honors for Hershberger, including the traditional firing of three volleys from rifles and the playing of taps.
During the service, family members read poetry, recited verses from the Bible and gave eulogies in memory of Hershberger’s military service and his life.
Hershberger wasn’t ready to share his experiences during the war until the 1990s, when he began speaking at schools to raise funds for the USS Indianapolis National Memorial in Indianapolis. It was his wife, Juaneta Hershberger, who convinced him to do so.
“When he started telling it, he didn’t stop,” Juaneta Hershberger said.
Clarence Hershberger was only 19 when the USS Indianapolis returned from a mission to Tinian island in the Pacific Ocean. The ship had delivered uranium-235 and parts of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” that would be dropped on Hiroshima, according to the USS Indianapolis Museum website.
Four days later, a Japanese submarine shot a torpedo and sank the Indianapolis. An estimated 900 of the 1,196 crew escaped the ship, but no one heeded the distress signals.
With no lifeboats, the men drifted through the ocean for days, facing dehydration, hallucinations, sunburns and shark attacks.
A passing U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 Ventura spotted the men four days after the ship sank, according to the museum. When rescue crews arrived a day later, only 317 men were alive.
“It takes a lot of guts for him to get up to tell the story of what he went through,” said Charles Hershberger, Clarence’s oldest son. “I’m amazed to this day of what his legacy means to the human (race).”