USS Indianapolis wreckage discovered; One of last survivors recalls harrowing ordeal
TOWN OF FENNIMORE, Wis. — After the World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis was finally found over the weekend, seven decades after it sank, a southwest Wisconsin veteran, who served aboard the ship, on Monday shared his harrowing story of survival.
Robert Witzig, 92, is one of 19 remaining survivors of the Indianapolis, which is famously known for its secret mission: delivering parts of the atomic bomb that was later dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
After that mission, the ship was destroyed by a Japanese submarine off the coast of the Philippines.
Of the 1,196 men onboard, only 316 were rescued.
Witzig, who lives in the town of Fennimore, recalls the hot summer night with clarity.
“When the torpedoes hit, automatically, you’re just on your feet. You didn’t know what,” Witzig said. “It tore the bow of the ship clear back off to the No. 2 turret, which is 140 and 160 feet right off the ship.”
As the ship started to sink, Witzig said, he knew he had to jump.
“I came down two decks, about 74 to 76 feet,” he said. “I jumped. I hit the water. That’s a pretty mean hit.”
Witzig said he spent nearly six days in punishing conditions in the Pacific Ocean. He vomited up all his food and fluids soon after hitting the water.
During the days he spent in the water, he said, his life jacket chafed his skin to the bone.
He and his fellow survivors were eventually spotted by an Army plane and rescued.
“I was left for dead and I got picked up and saved,” Witzig said. “I made it and I’m here today.”
Now, 72 years later, the wreckage of the Indianapolis was discovered Saturday , according to CBS News.
The expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, located the wreckage of the Indianapolis on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean, more than 18,000 feet deep, CBS News reports.
Witzig reacted to the news with happiness.
“I’m glad they made it, glad they found it,” he said.
Describing the events as a “big deal,” Witzig said he hopes the discovery of the Indianapolis reminds generations to come what the Greatest Generation fought for.
“That big deal was one of the major reasons why we’ve got such a nice country,” he said.
For Witzig, the discovery of the Indianapolis was an early birthday present: he turns 93 on Tuesday, he said.
Witzig is robust and active for his age, and the Navy veteran takes pride in that.
“My health is in top shape. No pills,” he said.
Witzig believes he is the last surviving USS Indianapolis veteran in Wisconsin.
Two other Indianapolis survivors called south-central Wisconsin home: Melvin Jacobs, of Sun Prairie, who died in July, and Florian Stamm, of Mount Horeb, who died in 2015.
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