WWII vet recalls USS Indianapolis

Havasu man was aboard ship that helped rescue sailors

LAKE HAVASU CITY (AP) - Only 18 years old and months out of boot camp, Jim Weldon didn't realize the importance of a call he received more than 65 years ago.

But it turned out to be what he remembers as one of the most important calls of his life.

It was the evening of Aug. 4, 1945, and the 84-year-old Lake Havasu City resident was serving as a 3rd Class Navy radioman aboard a converted destroyer christened the USS Ringness.

Prior to that night, he had seen little action during World War II. But during the late hours of the evening, Weldon said he received a coded radio message "to proceed at flank speed to a location several hundred miles away to pick up survivors from an unknown vessel."

"I'm standing there watching as our crew starts pulling in the survivors and one looks up and says 'I'm Captain (Charles) McVay of the USS Indianapolis.' And we were shocked," Weldon said. "We didn't think it was an American ship, and until that point, no one knew that the Indianapolis had been sunk."

The USS Indianapolis sinking, often referred to as "the worst naval disaster in U.S. history," occurred around 12:14 a.m. on July 30, 1945.

According to the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization, the vessel was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea and sank in 12 minutes.

Of 1,196 men on board, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remainder, about 900 men, were left floating in shark-infested waters with no lifeboats and most with no food or water. By the time the survivors were spotted four days later, only 316 men were still alive.

Weldon later found out the 30 or so men the USS Ringness pulled out of the water were the first and led to the rescue of hundreds of others. But he had no idea of the historical significance as it was occurring.

"I was just a kid then and didn't really know anything about war," Weldon said. "We were the first ones to get a radio call that some ship was in trouble but none of us knew what it was or how important it was going to be."

Weldon said the years that have past have given him a better understanding of the events and the appreciation for veterans.

"I know I'm a veteran, but I was only a kid, and I didn't know what I was doing so I don't often think of myself that way," he said. "The thing that sticks out most in my mind today is that I served in a very different kind of war back then."

Weldon said veterans in Lake Havasu City are often given proper respect, but he recalls many instances in other areas of the country when that was not the case.

"The soldiers in my time were absolutely lauded for who they were," he said. "But with Vietnam, Korea and even the wars today, people don't agree with them so they forget to give that same kind of respect."