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The USS Indianapolis

I’ve written a lot of songs over the years. Some fall away for ages and I’m nudged back to them periodically. Such is my song “The Indianapolis”, which I wrote back in 2004.

Like most I learned of the story from Quint’s monologue in the movie “Jaws”. To me it remains the greatest monologue in movie history (I’ve since learned that it played a bit loosely with the facts, but at its core the horror was well conveyed).

But there was so much more. I studied. I read (I recommend In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton). I questioned. I learned the shameful secrets. And in a white-hot fever I sat down and wrote the song in one sitting.

It was soon picked up by a wonderful woman named Kim Nielsen, who organizes reunions for the Indianapolis survivors across the country. She’s also put together a presentation for schools, churches, and civic groups…teaching new generations about one of WWII’s blackest holes. She heard the song and asked if she could use it to make a video montage as part of her program. I was honored.

I bring this up now because there was recently a “Jaws Marathon” on TV, and it’s a movie I can’t help but watch no matter the time, which is why I find myself extremely sleep deprived at the moment, as I’ve stayed up into the wee wee hours the past two nights….watching it 3 times.

And now I find myself revisiting a song I’ve always been very proud of….

The Indianapolis
by Tom Flannery
copyright 2004

Who on earth knows why
some men live and some men die
he was a better man than I
or would have been…we were boys
We were nearly twelve hundred souls
watching how war takes it’s toll
it hates to watch the young grow old
it seeks and destroys

To Tinian we were bound
to deliver the end from above the ground
never knew a thing never heard a sound
get her there on time
then we pushed for more
and torpedoes from the ocean floor
cut us in two with a mighty roar
in war nothing’s a crime

captain said “boys we gotta go”
900 jumped into the water below
those that could not see still could hear
when the Indianapolis….she disappeared

We thought they’d come when the sun it rose
but the sharks they gathered and the world it froze
10 footers from the tail to the nose
well this was not war
Some boys thrashed and some lay prone
some were bit in half some left alone
all we had to give was flesh and bone
tell me what are you fighting for?

For 4 days we died
some floated away when the night flew by
others with madness in their eye
I can still hear the sounds
calls for loved ones in the air
and whoops for things that just weren’t there
the chattering teeth and the Lord’s prayer
with the devil all around

That PV-1 finally came
called the PBY and the ships the same
you learn about luck in war
’cause we weren’t exactly what they were looking for

317 survived
so there’s that many men asking why
how do I live when I’ve watched men die?
where did they all go?
you may seek to blame
state your case…make your claim
stick your goddamn brass up in a frame
because you’ll never know

Now I’m an old man
still never got further than the sand
dreams can bring me back and force my hand
like it was yesterday
Put a seashell to my ear
grandson says “pappa what do you hear?”
I’ll turn so he can’t see the tear
someone tell me what to say

captain said “boys we gotta go”
900 jumped into the water below
317 survived
so there’s that many men asking why

Who on earth knows why
some men live and some men die
he was a better man than I
or would have been…we were boys

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