JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
Seventy two years ago the USS Indianapolis sank, losing most
of its crew in one of the one of the worst Naval disasters the world has ever
seen. To pay tribute to one veteran, Airmen,
Soldiers and Sailors from the Defense Information Systems Agency Pacific (DISA
PAC) gathered to have breakfast with one of the survivors of the Indianapolis
at the Wright Brother’s Café on Hickam, April 21.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. John Woolston, was an engineer assigned
to the Indianapolis when it sank, but his history with it began several years
“The Indianapolis was the first Navy ship I ever walked on,”
said Woolston. “I was about 10 years old when my buddy’s brother in law was an
officer on the ship. He took us over and
showed us around.”
The tour made an impression on Woolston. After finishing midshipman’s school at
Cornell University, he would set foot onto the Indianapolis as an Ensign.
“I had the opportunity to replay my entrance from 15 years
before,” said Woolston. “I walked up the gangway, saluted the flag, and said, ‘Ensign
Woolston reporting for duty.’”
A few months later they set sail, setting a record for crossing
from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor and from Pearl Harbor to Tinian Island,
while carrying parts and uranium for the atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’. After successfully delivering its cargo, the
Indianapolis headed towards Japan to support the upcoming invasion. But the vessel never made it.
“That night, I was on
watch in the Damage Control Center,” said Woolston. “I was relieved of duty and went up to the
main deck to the galley. I ordered a sandwich
and a cup coffee and sat down when I heard a bang and the ship shook.”
On July 30, 1945 at 12:05 a.m., the Indianapolis was
torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.
“Next thing I saw was two whirling caterpillars of flames
jump through the door, filling the room with fire,” added Woolston. “I jumped
over the serving counter, went into the galley and me and the steward on watch
opened up the port. We stuck our heads
out until we got our breath back.”
The ship took on water immediately.
“After a few moments, the ship was already at a 30-degree
angle,” said Woolston. “I climbed up and could see the entire bow was
Within 12 minutes, the Indianapolis sank into the Philippine
Sea. Of the 1,196 men on board, 900 abandoned
the ship and only 317 men survived and were rescued four days later.
After his rescue, Woolston went on to serve a total of 31
years on active duty, sharing his story with hundreds of service men and women
Though this tragic event occurred decades
ago, DISA PAC leaders wanted to make sure Woolston knows today’s service
members are proud of the actions the young ensign embodied years ago.
“We just want to take a moment to thank Capt. Woolston for
taking some time to meet with us,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Huro, DISA
PAC deputy chief of plans and services division. “It’s not often we get was an honor and
privilege to be able to listen to his story.”