DATE August 10, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Paul Murphy and Harold Bray discuss surviving the
sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II and efforts
to clear the name of the ship's captain
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Neal Conan sitting in for Terry Gross.
The USS Indianapolis is one of the great and tragic stories of the sea, an
epic of survival, heroism and self-sacrifice. Near the end of the Second
World War, the US Navy sent the Indianapolis alone across the Philippine Sea
and failed to notice when the heavy cruiser never arrived in port. Torpedoes
from a Japanese submarine sank the ship in less than 15 minutes. The Navy
blamed the ship's captain, Charles McVay, for the disaster, but his shipmates
and historians long argued that McVay was a scapegoat. A series of blunders
led to the ship's destruction and the Navy covered up its mistakes. Last
month, the US Navy officially exonerated Captain McVay.
About 900 men spilled into the oily water when their ship went down about
midnight; just 317 were alive when rescue finally arrived five days later. I
spoke with two survivors of the Indianapolis earlier this year. Paul Murphy,
who's now the head of the Survivors Organization, and Harold Bray, who was
asleep on deck when the torpedoes hit.
Mr. HAROLD BRAY (Indianapolis Survivor): That was my first night on the
topside. My regular sleeping quarters were three decks down forward, around
sick bay. Now I don't know why I slept up there that night, but I'm glad I
CONAN: And this was just at about midnight. Harold, did you realize that
they were torpedoes at first?
Mr. BRAY: Oh, no, sir. When I woke up, I looked up--I was underneath the
number-one and number-two gun turret sleeping, and then when I woke up, I
looked up and saw the fire coming out of the number-one stack, and I really
didn't--I thought a boiler blew. Of course, being new in the Navy, I didn't
know what could've happened. I never expected torpedo.
CONAN: You were 17 years old at the time.
Mr. BRAY: Yes, sir.
CONAN: And just in the Navy--couldn't have been more than a few months.
Mr. BRAY: Well, I enlisted in December of 1944, and I went into boot camp in
January of 1945, so...
CONAN: So did you turn to somebody and say, you know, `What's going on?'
Mr. BRAY: No, I had my dungarees on, no shirt on, and my shoes were off, so
I reached for my shoes, and when I did, I saw them slip over the side, or down
to a lower deck or somewhere. But I was barefoot. And then I started to go
down to my battle station, which was three decks down, and couldn't get down
there on account of fire and smoke. So I continued aft through the port
hangar deck. I got to the rear of the hangar deck and there was somebody in
the carpenter shop throwing out life jackets, so I grabbed one and continued
aft to the fantail.
CONAN: Paul Murphy, you were asleep. Did the explosion of the torpedoes wake
Mr. PAUL MURPHY (Chairman, Indianapolis Survivors Association): Yes, I was
blown out of my bunk and I quickly grabbed my clothes and shoes and dressed
and went to my general quarters station, which was in the after part of the
CONAN: Now at this time, was the alarm for general quarters going off around
Mr. MURPHY: No, there was no power to do anything on the ship. When the
torpedoes hit, it knocked out all intercoms aboard ship, and...
CONAN: And if there's no power, it's black.
Mr. BRAY: It was black.
Mr. MURPHY: That's right. It was pretty black and I went to my general
quarters station which was the after control tower, and that was the tower
that controlled the eight-inch guns. And when I opened that door up, a friend
of mine from California by the name of Paul Mitchell was lying there sound
asleep and I woke him up, gave him a life jacket and told him to go to his
general quarters station. Later, I found out that Paul did get off of the
ship, but he died about two or three days later. I never saw him in the
CONAN: At that time, what did you think had happened?
Mr. MURPHY: Well, I knew something had hit us. Didn't know whether it was
torpedoes or gunnery or what, but everything that happened was forward of
where I was. I couldn't see that the bow had been blown off nor that the
second torpedo exploded under the number-one turret. But the ship very
quickly started listing to the starboard side and...
CONAN: Just starting to turn over.
Mr. MURPHY: Right. And when it reached about 40, 45 degrees, the five-inch
guns that were on the deck below where I was were covered with water, so when
I left the ship, all I did was step off and swim with the life jacket on and I
had an extra one with me when I went over the side, and I swam probably 75 to
100 yards, looked back, and then I saw the ship completely turn over on its
top and the stern was standing straight up in the air with the propellors or
screws still turning. And then it disappeared.
CONAN: You could see that silhouetted against the stars?
Mr. MURPHY: Yes.
CONAN: Harold Bray, we left you on the fantail with your life jacket.
Mr. BRAY: Yes. Yes. Well, when I got there, one of the sailors was hurt
pretty bad, and I gave him my life jacket and went back and got another one,
and by the time I got back to the fantail, whoever I gave it to was gone. And
I was hanging on to the lifeline and the ship was really listing badly at the
time, so there was another sailor by the name--I can't remember his name, but
we called him Frenchy--and he escaped from France, I guess, from the Germans
and joined our Navy to get into the war, and he kept saying, `You better go
over, Bray. You better go.' I said, `No, she's not going down.'
So finally I climbed over the lifeline and by that time the mast was in the
water. She was laying flat on her side and I ran down the side of the ship
back towards the quarter deck, and that's where I went off. It was still
about a 30- or 40-foot drop. And when I hit the water, somebody hit me and
drove me down. I don't know how far I went down. But then I happened to open
my eyes to come back up and I see this big black spot--I said, `Oh, man'--just
coming down on top of me, but happened to be an oil slick on the water. And I
came to the surface and start swimming away and I wrapped my arm around
a--what they call a floater net. It was still bundled up. There was a sailor
sitting on top of it, and we finally got that--well, I looked back and...
CONAN: This would have been like a cargo net but with cork in it?
Mr. BRAY: Yeah. Yes. It was like one-foot square with cork, and it was
like maybe--I don't know, maybe Paul would know the size. It was like
Mr. MURPHY: About 10 to 20, or something like that.
Mr. BRAY: Yeah, something like that, 24 foot square. And, well, before that
I'd look back and the ship was up on her bow and going down, and there were
still guys coming off of it, falling--I don't know, that would be hundreds of
feet when she was on her bow and coming down. And there was still guys coming
off. Looked like a bunch of ants coming off of the ship.
CONAN: What were you hearing at that time? What did it sound like?
Mr. BRAY: A lot of banging, and there was a couple little explosions,
something inboard of the ship was exploding. But as far as--they always said
swim away from her. I never felt any suction or anything. I was only maybe
100 yards from her when she went under.
CONAN: What group did you join when you went off the ship?
Mr. MURPHY: Well, when we went off at midnight, a little after midnight,
there was oil slick on the water and we all swallowed oil and saltwater and
we spent most of the night vomiting. We didn't know where we were that night
because it was so dark, but we all were waiting forward to the sunrise the
next day so we could gather around and determine where we were and what to
expect. The next morning we found that there was three cargo nets in my group
and two life rafts, and we tied those cargo nets together and eventually got
the life rafts tied in there, too. So we were in the largest group that went
together and tried to stay together.
CONAN: Harold, when we last left you, you were on a cargo net with one other
Mr. BRAY: Well, we unrolled it. You know, we untied it somehow. I can't
remember how we did that, but--I don't know if the other sailor had a knife or
what, but we got it unraveled and floating out and then we start picking up
people that were around, and I don't remember where the raft came from, but we
did tie up with a raft and a couple more of the floater nets.
CONAN: Paul Murphy, the sun comes up that first day, you realize, obviously,
a tremendous, you know--obviously the ship has sunk, there's a tremendous
amount of injured men, and what do you think is going on? Are you talking to
officers on the ship at that point?
Mr. MURPHY: No, there wasn't too many officers around. There was a couple
of them that were trying to give us a hard time, but they...
Mr. BRAY: They were ensigns, young ensigns.
Mr. MURPHY: ...didn't have any more training for this than we did, so what
we tried to do is keep those rafts together. My division was the Fox
Division. We tried to take care of each other, and we had quite a few of
those boys together. And the ones that were put on the rafts were generally
somebody that was injured pretty badly and needed to be out as much of the
water as possible. Now those rafts didn't protect you much from water because
they had sides that were hemp rope and they had an open platform on the
bottom, so they were probably waist deep in the water where the rest of us
stayed in our life jackets were shoulder height there at the beginning. But
it was a major warship and we were very optimistic that we would be missed,
not any later than the next day, because on Tuesday afternoon we were due into
Leyte, and surely they'd be looking for us by that time.
CONAN: Leyte, the port in the Philippines that was your destination.
Mr. MURPHY: Right. And of course, each day passed and it became very
obvious that no one was looking for us. We saw planes fly over us every day,
but they were up probably 20 or 25,000 feet. There was no way they could see
us. We tried to buoy each other up and we prayed and we encouraged each
other, and eventually we were spotted. But it was--there's no way that we can
tell you exactly how bad it was. The way to find out is to talk to the men
that picked us up. They could tell you. They were mentally alert and able to
tell you exactly how we looked and what we appeared like and everything. But
it was tremendous. And this was a beautiful ship. This was a famous ship.
It was a flagship of the Fifth Fleet, and somebody's gonna be looking for us.
And each day we were more optimistic than the day before.
CONAN: Harold Bray, somebody always organizes a sing-along.
Mr. BRAY: Yeah. There wasn't much singing that I could remember.
Mr. MURPHY: They organized prayers.
Mr. BRAY: Yeah. That's about it. Well, I stayed pretty much to myself. I
was brand-new on the ship, as I told you before, and I went onboard with maybe
about 12 to 20 men from my boot company, and I didn't know Paul until we
started having our reunions and got acquainted with most of the remainder of
the crew. But out of my boot camp company, I think there was four of us
survived the sinking, and today I think there's only two of us left now. One
is in the hospital in Milwaukee, and then there's me, so...
CONAN: Harold Bray and Paul Murphy, shipmates on the USS Indianapolis, which
was torpedoed and sunk in the South Pacific in 1945. Only 317 men survived
the disaster. You'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Now let's continue our conversation with Harold Bray and Paul Murphy,
who survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Let me take you back, though, to that first day. You're full of optimism that
within a few minutes you're gonna see a plane looking for you or a ship come
up over the horizon. Was it hot? Were you starting to experience, at that
Mr. BRAY: It got pretty warm during the day, but the fuel oil that we had on
us protected us from--those of us that didn't have shirts or pants or--the oil
protected us from the elements as far as the heat goes. But it got pretty
cold at night, though. There's nothing to protect you from that.
CONAN: Was it clear at night?
Mr. BRAY: For the most part it was--after the sinking of the ship, that
night was pretty dark, but we had breaks in the clouds where you could--the
moon would come out once in a while, but after that, as I remember it, it was
pretty clear. You could see stars at night.
CONAN: And again, the sound. Were people praying? Were people talking to
Mr. BRAY: Oh, yeah, they did a lot of talking to themselves and a lot of
praying. There wasn't much--I didn't have much conversations with other
people, but we helped each other. I hung onto this--what turned out to be a
Marine. We carried--I think there was--What was it, Paul?--78 Marines on
Mr. MURPHY: No, 39.
Mr. BRAY: Oh, 39. Well, anyhow, seven of them survived. I hung onto this
one Marine for a couple of days. He was floating around with his mouth open
and he was getting pretty well bloated and I tried to tie him to the net so he
wouldn't float away, and I think I did that, but he disappeared the last
night. I never did see him again, so he must have--the knot probably wasn't
CONAN: Paul Murphy, the heat during the day, you must have been at that
point--you know, you couldn't wait for sundown.
Mr. MURPHY: Well, as the days passed and our conditions weakened, we were
acclimating ourselves to the saltwater and the dehydration and so forth, but
eventually the sun was so blistering during the daytime that it started
affecting our faces especially, and a lot of the boys, including myself, I cut
my shirttail off. Of course, Harold didn't have one. But I cut my shirttail
off and put over my head during the daytime, and it was so warm and tropical
that we looked forward to the coolness of the night. And then when we got in
the coolness of the night it became so chilly that our teeth even chattered.
We looked forward to the warmth of the sun the next morning, and that was
You know, it was four days before we were spotted and each day our mouths were
swelling--we had no water, we had no food, and eventually there was very
little talking going on, and those that got to the point where they really
needed some liquid would drink saltwater. And I'm telling you, you've never
seen anybody go berserk as you would somebody that drank saltwater. It was
worse than the worst alcoholic drunk that you've ever seen. You couldn't
stand them to be near you because our skin was so sore and they were thrashing
and trying to get over and climbing onto the rafts and so forth and it was
CONAN: Harold Bray, the other thing, of course, that everybody remembers
about the Indianapolis is the sharks. When was the first time you saw one?
Mr. BRAY: The first day. I don't know, they just came in droves. There
wasn't one, there was a lot of them. And they were hitting the guys, no
matter if there was singles or if you were in a group. They didn't--they just
hit whoever they could come up upon.
CONAN: And remind us again, you're clinging to a net that's being held afloat
by cork, so you're...
Mr. BRAY: Yes.
CONAN: The water's up to your shoulders.
Mr. BRAY: All the time. Yeah, it got--like Paul said, it got so bad that
you couldn't touch anything because your skin would roll off after three days.
It was just--it was a pretty terrible sight.
CONAN: And you know those fish are in there.
Mr. BRAY: Yeah. They come back every day. They never--they always were
hungry, I guess. It was just a terrible sight to see somebody next to you get
hit by one of those things.
CONAN: When that happened, did they just go away? Were they grabbed and
Mr. BRAY: Yes, most of them. Well, some of them would bob back up, but they
wasn't all there.
CONAN: Paul, was that your experience as well?
Mr. MURPHY: Well, you know, I came from Missouri and I didn't know what
sharks looked like. I thought they might be catfish or something. But
schools came around us and generally we splashed and hollered and they seemed
to let us alone for a while. They bonked our legs and stuff like that, but
you know, I've found that sharks do not like Irishmen, and so I was OK.
CONAN: When you feel that bump, though, of one of those sharks in the water,
bumping your legs, I mean, your stomach's got to fall right through your body.
Mr. MURPHY: Well, we got to the point where it might not have mattered. We
had to look at it sensibly. Are we gonna be saved or are we not? And you got
to prepare mentally for what might happen, and I think many of us were ready
either way that it went. Fortunately we were lucky enough to be spotted and
rescue soon came, at least within 12 hours after that.
CONAN: We'll have more with Harold Bray and Paul Murphy of the USS
Indianapolis Survivors Association in the second half of our show. I'm Neal
Conan. This is FRESH AIR.
CONAN: Coming up, rescued at sea. We continue our conversation with Paul
Murphy and Harold Bray, survivors of the USS Indianapolis, which was torpedoed
near the end of the Second World War.
Also, John Powers reviews the new thriller "The Deep End."
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Neal Conan, filling in for Terry Gross.
Last month, the US Navy exonerated Captain Charles McVay, who had been blamed
for the loss of the USS Indianapolis near the end of World War II. Let's get
back to our conversation with Harold Bray and Paul Murphy, who were shipmates
on the Indianapolis. The Navy didn't realize that the ship was missing. Only
317 men survived dehydration, hypothermia and shark attacks as they prayed for
You guys didn't have any, you know, survival equipment, no lights, no flasks
of water, no food, no nothing?
Mr. BRAY: Nothing. Well, we had the raft that we had, I think they had--it
was a water jug, but it was empty or full of saltwater or something, from what
I gathered. We didn't have any. I think there was a can of malted milk
Mr. MURPHY: Tablets.
Mr. BRAY: ...or tablets or something. Yeah. They were supposed to be in
the kit in the raft and whoever was supposed to take care of those I guess
didn't get around to that raft. There was nothing but the malted milk pills
or tablets that I saw. And they passed those out, but not much energy in
CONAN: Harold, as you've thought about it all these years later, was there
one moment that sticks out where you really thought about giving it up?
Mr. BRAY: Yeah. But the fourth day I don't believe they would have found
many if Gwinn didn't come along on that fourth day. I don't think another day
in the water, I doubt that they would have found too many of us.
Mr. MURPHY: I don't think anybody would have known what happened to the
Indianapolis in another 24 hours.
Mr. BRAY: No. No, everybody was getting pretty wore out and weak and...
CONAN: But when that moment arrived, what were you thinking about?
Mr. BRAY: I was thinking about probably at home.
CONAN: Hmm. Paul Murphy, was there a moment like that for you?
Mr. MURPHY: Well, I knew that I had reason to live if it was at all possible
because my mother was in the hospital back in Missouri and I knew that if
anything happened to me, it would probably be disastrous for her. I have
three brothers and I always told my brothers that I was Mother's favorite. So
I had no girlfriends or anything like that, but I did have family back home
that I was concerned about. But I did act sensibly about our situation. I
had reached the point where it didn't make any difference one way or the
other. If it was to be, OK. And if it wasn't, Lord help me. And he did.
CONAN: Hmm. When did you guys first realize that help was on the way?
Mr. BRAY: When we saw the airplane. No, you know what? I never did see
CONAN: Who's Gwinn?
Mr. BRAY: That was the pilot that found us. He...
Mr. MURPHY: He was the pilot of the PVC-1.
Mr. BRAY: Yeah.
Mr. MURPHY: ...the two-engine bomber out looking for submarines. That's a
story in itself, you know. Do you want me to elaborate a little bit on it?
Mr. MURPHY: Chuck Gwinn has always been called our angel. As he was
approaching our area, they were testing a radio antenna out the bottom of the
plane, which gave them longer distance to their home base. And just before he
got to our area, one of the cables that this was suspended from became loose
and it flopped around in the air. The pilot, Chuck, came back to the plane,
got down on his belly, looked down through the hole in the plane and was
intending to correct this antenna, but he saw oil slick in the water. And as
he was approaching, he thought it was a Japanese submarine that might be in
trouble. And he went back to his seat and opened the bomb bay doors up and
was making a bombing run on that area. And then as he became lower in
altitude, approximately 2,000 feet, his crew saw heads bobbing in the water.
And they realized that there was a disaster of some sort. And he immediately
wired back to his base and that message went to the sub-commander of the base,
and he sent one PBY out with supplies. And that...
CONAN: That was the old Catalina plane.
Mr. MURPHY: Yes. And then as he got out to our area, which took probably an
hour and a half to two hours, he started dropping supplies and life rafts and
kegs of water and so forth. And his crew also saw that the men were scattered
out over about a 25-mile area and that especially those that were stragglers,
or off by themselves, were being attacked by sharks. He wired back to his
base in Peleiu and they sent one more PBY out. Now they had two of them
flying over. The first one that was out there was flown by Adrian Marks, from
Frankfort, Indiana, and he decided that in order to save some lives, he would
have to break Navy regulations and land in eight- to 12-foot swells and start
picking up the men. The other pilot was directing him as Marks landed, popped
some rivets, and as he was approaching the various stragglers, which he
decided was the best to do for the situation, the other one directed him from
the air and he started picking up survivors. And he picked up 56 men in a
small plane like that, piled them in the aisle like cord wood, tied the rest
of them on the wings with parachute shrouds.
And that was the first time they found out that the USS Indianapolis had sunk,
and nobody was looking for it. And Adrian Marks did one of the rule breaking.
He radioed all ships in the area his location, told them proceed at once to
pick up survivors. Didn't say who it was. And the ships then started coming
in on late Thursday afternoon and didn't arrive there until after dark. But
the Doyle was the first one on the site, and it had its search lights signing
against the clouds, so that everybody knew help was on the way. And then The
Basset was the next ship on the scene. And it started out picking up the
groups that Harold and I were in. And they picked up 151 men and took us to
Samar, in the Philippines, for the hospitals. And before we got there, two of
those men died en route. That was terrible. And they were later buried on
CONAN: Harold, as Paul just mentioned, you were in that big group. Did you
get, that last day, some of the supplies that were dropped from the air? And
what were your feelings?
Mr. BRAY: Well, backing up to Chuck Gwinn, when he spotted us, he dropped
what I thought was a cannister of water. And I left the group and I swam out
to it, and it was an antenna. It was a submarine detector. And just before
Chuck died a couple years ago, he told me that I could have talked to him...
Mr. BRAY: ...that there was a microphone on the end of this wire going down
to the ocean. And...
CONAN: It was a sonobuoy...
Mr. BRAY: Yes.
CONAN: ...to pick up to sound of a submarine.
Mr. BRAY: Right. And when they did that, I don't know how far away I swam
from the group, but at that time I looked back and there was all kinds of
noise going on. So I thought they were being hit by sharks. So there was
another raft off, I don't know, another hundred yards or so from where I was.
There was two guys on it. So I went over to that one. And, I don't know, I
sort of remember them taking this raft apart and trying to make a sail or
something and sail away to the ship remains, or some kind of stuff. Anyhow, I
got on this raft and there was no bottom in it 'cause they had tore the slats
out, trying to make the sail. And sometime during the night, these two guys
disappeared. I don't know what happened to them. I never did see them again.
But I was alone on the raft when I got picked up by the Basset. I think I was
probably the first one that the Basset picked up and put me on there. The
LCV--it was a landing craft anyhow that came out and picked me up.
Mr. MURPHY: And they used those like lifeboats.
CONAN: Like lifeboats.
Mr. BRAY: Yes.
Mr. MURPHY: I think there was...
Mr. BRAY: Yeah.
Mr. MURPHY: ...two or three of them out there, circulating around...
Mr. BRAY: Yeah.
Mr. MURPHY: ...and picking up boys...
Mr. BRAY: Yeah.
Mr. MURPHY: ...and then they came alongside the ship.
CONAN: And when you got on the ship, was the first thing that you wanted a
drink of water?
Mr. BRAY: Well, the first thing they did for us, they put me in one of those
basket things, you know, on the ship. The water was kind of rough, as I
remember it. And this LC landing craft would go down and the ship would go up
and then they'd jerk you up in this basket. That was a wild ride. Then they
put me on some kind of an operating table, and I thought this was a hospital
ship or something. And there was questions like, `Any broken bones?' And they
checked you out. And then the next thing I knew, I was in the shower all
cleaned up. I don't know how that happened, but everybody worked on you, I
CONAN: Paul, obviously by that point a lot of the men were in very bad shape,
Mr. MURPHY: Yes, the crew can attest to that. I know when I came alongside
the ship, they pulled me aboard this landing craft and I thought I could climb
the rope ladder, and I got up a couple of rungs and I fell off and they put me
in this wire basket that Harold was referring to, took me up to the quarter
deck, and they laid me out on the deck and cut off my clothes because we were
black, just covered with oil. And they cut off my clothes and somebody
carried me into the shower and they laid me on the floor or deck in the
shower, and they scrubbed the oil off of us the best they could. And the crew
gave up their bunks. And I'm telling you, they were all nice white bunks, and
it was a beautiful ship. And they threw us up on their bunks and we left them
in a mess and they started giving us a little water and some oranges, the
best-tasting oranges I have ever had in my life.
CONAN: Paul Murphy and Howard Bray of the USS Indianapolis Survivors
Association. More of their story after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Let's hear more with Harold Bray and Paul Murphy, US sailors who
survived the sinking the USS Indianapolis in World War II.
There seemed to be a period after the war when this story was not mentioned.
I know the Navy was, well, at least according to what a lot of people believe,
covering up the story and the responsibility and who was at fault for the ship
being there and who was at fault for not knowing it had gone down. And,
really, that's another story. But you guys, amongst yourselves, were you
telling the story? Was this something that you lived with, or was it
something you tried to forget? Harold?
Mr. MURPHY: May I answer that?
CONAN: Go ahead.
Mr. MURPHY: I think most World War II veterans, when they came home, they
were visiting with classmates and friends at home that had been in the
service. And you couldn't tell whether you were talking to somebody that had
it worse than you, so you kept your mouth shut. We never talked about it. We
wanted to forget it. It wasn't until we started our reunions in 1960 that our
comradery came together and we started talking about it. My own children
never knew anything about it until about 1980.
CONAN: Harold Bray, you worked as a police officer. Didn't it ever come up?
Mr. BRAY: Oh, yeah. Well, it was kind of a funny thing. We were in the
coffee room one day, and I had never mentioned it to any of the guys. And my
best golf buddy now, he was in the radio room or the coffee room that day, and
we were talking about this movie "Jaws." And they were talking about it, and
I was just listening. And this buddy of mine, Bob, says `Boy, that was a hell
of a story this guy told.' He mentioned the Indianapolis and the sharks and
stuff. I said, `Well, I was on that ship.' He said, `No way.' And that's
how they found out that I was on the ship.
CONAN: A lot of people became familiar with the story of the Indianapolis
from the movie "Jaws." We have a clip from that movie. If you'll remember,
this is the actor Robert Shaw as the great shark hunter, and he's out in the
water. He's got Richard Dreyfuss and--Who is it?--Roy Scheider there as the
chief of police from Amity. And he describes his experience and his animus
for sharks because he was a crew member of the USS Indianapolis.
(Soundbite from "Jaws")
Mr. ROBERT SHAW (Actor): Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our
side, Chief. Was coming back from the island of Tinian Delahey(ph), just
delivered the bomb, the Hiroshima bomb. Eleven-hundred men went into the
water. The vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for
about a half an hour, Tiger, 13-footer. You know how you know that when
you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail.
But we didn't know, because our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress
signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week.
Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruising. So we formed ourselves into
tight groups. And it was kind of like all squared in the battle like you see
in the calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo, and the idea was shark comes to
the nearest man, and then you start pounding and hollering and screaming and
sometimes the shark go away, sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that
shark, he looks right into you, right into your eyes. You know the thing
about a shark, he's got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes.
Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Agori(ph) ...(unintelligible) swung in low and he
saw us. He was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway he saw
us and he come in low. And three hours later, a big fat PBY comes down,
starts to pick us up. And that was the time I was most frightened, waiting
for my turn. I'll never put on a life jacket again. So 1,100 men went in the
water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June 29th, 1945.
CONAN: The date there at the end of that clip of Robert Shaw, from the movie
"Jaws," is wrong there. A few other facts in there that are wrong.
Paul Murphy, you were one of the men who was actually in the water. Did he
get it right in most ways?
Mr. MURPHY: He indicated that most of the men that died died from shark
attacks. Most of the men that died died from exhaustion, hyperthermia,
drinking saltwater. And it's hard to estimate how many of them were killed by
sharks, but there were some. There's no question about that. But as I said,
sharks really don't like Irishmen, and he didn't have me in that group.
CONAN: I was interested in that thing, though, that he said was that the most
terrifying part was right at the end, I guess the fear that you might not get
Mr. BRAY: Passed over or something, you know. There was that big chance.
Like, I was by myself. It was just a miracle that they saw me, you know. I
didn't have any lights or nothing on me. And they just come up on me. And
they must have been coming into the group from that direction and I was there.
They could have passed me by very easy. They picked up several singles, guys
that were by themselves. But just one of the lucky guys. I'm not even Irish.
I'm Scotch, though. Pretty close.
CONAN: Is there a day that goes by, Paul Murphy, that you don't now think
about what happened all those years ago?
Mr. MURPHY: Well, especially when I see planes fly over, I try to shut out
as much as I can. But, you know, most of the survivors, thankfully for the
youth of today, the youth of today want to hear the story, and I think most of
the survivors are on kind of a speaking tour. Anybody that has a story to
tell about World War II or Korea or any of the others, is the sooner they can
talk about it, the better they're going to be off mentally and be able to have
a healing, put it to bed.
CONAN: Harold Bray, you did not talk about it much.
Mr. BRAY: No. My mother and dad died not knowing what I went through. I
never did talk to them about it. Sometimes I wish I would have, but they
never asked, so I never told them.
CONAN: And your kids?
Mr. BRAY: My kids didn't know about it in their young life either. They've
been to a few of our reunions with me. One time I think we had the biggest
group at the reunion. We had 22 people in my group.
Mr. MURPHY: Wow.
Mr. BRAY: But we had many reunions, too. We had one at Paul's place last
summer, and I think that was more gratifying. And we got to be more intimate
with people, you know, and...
Mr. MURPHY: We're learning more about each other this way.
Mr. BRAY: Yeah.
Mr. MURPHY: It's kind of a friendly group that gets together and we get a
chance to meet in a hospitality room and discuss families and get better
CONAN: Paul Murphy, thank you very much for sharing your story.
Mr. MURPHY: You bet.
CONAN: Paul Murphy is chairman of the Indianapolis Survivors Association.
And Harold Bray, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. BRAY: Thank you for taking this time.
CONAN: Harold Bray and Paul Murphy, survivors of the sinking of the USS
Indianapolis during the Second World War. Last month, the Navy officially
exonerated Captain Charles McVay of blame for the loss of the ship. Next
week, the USS Indianapolis Survivors Association holds its 12th reunion in
Coming up, a review of the new movie "The Deep End." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: New film "The Deep End"
NEAL CONAN, host:
One of the hottest films at this year's Sundance Film Festival was the noirish
thriller "The Deep End." Critics were calling it Hitchcockian. The film
stars the British actress Tilda Swinton. FRESH AIR film critic John Powers
has a review.
JOHN POWERS reporting:
Back when the studios still had some interest in women, they made what were
called women's pictures. Stars like Joan Crawford or Bette Davis played
heroines thrust into melodramatic situations that left them swimming in primal
emotions. These days, such stories are thought to be slightly embarrassing,
corny and vaguely insulting to women. So we've entered the era of the
revisionist women's picture. Movies like Todd Haynes' "Safe" or Pedro
Almodovar's "All About My Mother" take old-fashioned melodramas, then put a
post-modern spin on them.
That's just what happens in "The Deep End," a smart new movie by Scott McGehee
and David Siegel, which sounds like a pot boiler, but is actually a highly
abstract riff on the trickiness of motherhood. Tilda Swinton stars as
Margaret Hall, a Lake Tahoe mother of three with a control-freak aura of a
Martha Stewart. She begins the movie by warning a gay bounder named Darby
Reese to keep away from her teen-ager son, Beau, played by Jonathan Tucker.
But the smitten Beau sneaks off with Darby, and before you know it, the
Margaret finds the corpse near her house, and to protect her son, she dumps
the body in the lake. But her problems are just beginning. Shortly after the
body's found, she receives a visit from a soulful thug named Alex Spera. He's
played by "E.R." heartthrob Goran Visnjic. Alex and his partner possess an
old videotape of Beau having sex with Darby. If Margaret doesn't cough up 50
grand, they're going to give that tape to the cops. So she begins a desperate
attempt to save her son, unassisted by her husband, who's off at sea. But
things rapidly spin out of control. Here, Alex visits the house to demand his
(Soundbite of "The Deep End")
Mr. GORAN VISNJIC ("Alex Spera"): Did you get the money?
Ms. TILDA SWINTON ("Margaret Lee"): No.
Mr. VISNJIC: I'm not sure you understand the situation.
Ms. SWINTON: We don't have the money.
Mr. VISNJIC: You have to get the money. Is that not clear enough?
Ms. SWINTON: Fifty thousand dollars, it is not the kind of thing that
everyone can just go out and get.
Mr. VISNJIC: Have you spoken with your husband?
Ms. SWINTON: He can't be reached. He's on a carrier somewhere in the
north--this is truly none of your business.
Mr. VISNJIC: What about the old man? Well, you have to try harder.
Ms. SWINTON: Try harder?
Mr. VISNJIC: I don't think you're really trying.
Ms. SWINTON: Really?
Mr. VISNJIC: Yes.
Ms. SWINTON: Well, maybe you should explain really trying to me, Mr. Spera.
Tell me, how would you be really trying if you were me? But you're not me,
are you? You don't have my petty concerns to clutter your life and keep you
from trying. You don't have three kids to feed or worry about the future of a
17-year-old boy who nearly got himself killed driving back from some kind of a
nightclub with his 30-year-old friend sitting drunk in the seat beside him.
No, these are not your concerns. I see that.
POWERS: Movie buffs will recognize "The Deep End" is an updated version of
Max Ophuls' 1949 classic "The Reckless Moment," whose heroine was busy saving
her daughter. Having Margaret try to save a gay son isn't simply a
fashionable trick, though it says something about today's America, that we
don't even blink at Beau's infatuation with Darby. Rather, the filmmakers are
showing us the complex psychosexual dynamics of Margaret's world with her
unreachable husband, her clueless live-in father-in-law, the artistic son she
adores--note the name Beau--and the threatening yet alluring villain, Alex
Spera, who's drawn to her like a lover.
Each of these men threatens to shatter the glassy fastidiousness that's
apparent in everything from the way she exercises to the neatness of her
kitchen. We see all of this in the face of Swinton, the willowy English
actress best known for playing iconic figures like Orlando in the movie of the
same name. Here she finally gets to act rather than just pose, and she seizes
her opportunity. She makes us care about Margaret's brittleness and
suppressed emotionalism, her middle-class conventionality and her capacity for
heroism. And in the underwater scenes, we marvel at her ability to pull car
keys from a dead man's pocket while holding her breath. She's so compelling,
that one wishes that Visnjic was more than just handsome. Alex, the film's
most ambiguous character, a bad man drawn to the good, but neither the script
nor the performance give him any juice.
In fact, for all the use of water imagery in "The Deep End," and it's laid on
by the gallon, the movie feels dry, like a Hitchcock thriller with the thrills
removed. It's as if McGehee and Siegel were so bent on not making an
old-fashioned melodrama that they've overintellectualized everything. The
visual style is fussily precise, and there are no quirks or surprises in the
acting. The movie's quite brainy, but it holds together too perfectly, as if
every single thing was planned in advance, and there was no room for any
spontaneity, any mess.
In the end, "The Deep End" isn't simply about a woman who reminds you of
Martha Stewart. It seems to have been made by her.
CONAN: John Powers is executive editor of LA Weekly.
CONAN: For Terry Gross, I'm Neal Conan.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.