Nappanee native, a survivor of USS Indianapolis sinking during World War II, dies at 89


Clarence Hershberger of Nappanee, a sailor during World War II, was part of history twice over.

Hershberger, 89, who died Feb. 14 in DeLeon Springs, Fla., was a crew member of the USS Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis was returning from a top secret mission to the island of Tinian in the Pacific Ocean. The crew, including a 19-year-old Hershberger, had delivered uranium-235 and parts for the atomic bomb "Little Boy" that would be dropped on Hiroshima, according to the USS Indianapolis Museum website.

The ship and its crew would be part of history again four days later. At 12:14 a.m. July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank in 12 minutes. An estimated 900 men of the 1,196 crew aboard escaped the ship.

That was the beginning of their trouble.

Fuel oil from the Indianapolis coated the surface of the water and covered the eyes, ears, nose and hair of the survivors it came in contact with, according to a draft of Hershberger's book "The U.S.S. Indianapolis (CA 35) Tragedy As Seen By One Survivor That of S 1/CF.C. Clarence L. Hershberger."

"(Some survivors) were vomiting, crying, and trying hard for some sort of sanity to the almost impossible situation that we now found ourselves to be in," Hershberger said in the book.

Worse, no one heeded the distress signals from the Indianapolis, which meant no one was looking for the crew.

For five days, the men drifted through the ocean with no lifeboats and faced dehydration, hallucinations, sunburns and shark attacks.

In his book, Hershberger stated that you didn't have to see a shark to know they were present "because the sharks victim would usually release a loud chilling scream. A scream unlike that of any scream you would ever expect to hear. It has a definite tone, that one can't possibly mistake for any other scream."

On the fourth day, Aug. 2, 1945, the men were spotted by a passing U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 Ventura, according to the museum. Rescues began on Aug. 3, 1945, with 317 men ultimately surviving.

Hershberger's daughter, Carrie Humphries of Goshen, said her father never lost his fear of water. "He'd get in a boat for a bit and say 'Get me home.'"

Humphries said her father was quiet about his ordeal until the 1990s, when Hershberger began speaking at schools and raising funds for the USS Indianapolis National Memorial in Indianapolis.

A graveside service for Hershberger will be at 2 p.m. Friday, May 15, in the veterans section of Prairie Street Cemetery. Full military honors will be rendered by Elkhart DAV Chapter 19.

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