Last Voyage of the Indianapolis


Hours after the successful test of the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, the USS Indianapolis left San Francisco with a top secret cargo that mystified the crew.  The cruiser delivered Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Tinian on July 26, 1945.  On July 30, 1945 it was sunk by Japanese sub I-58.  900 of the crew made it into the water.  SOS signals, contrary to the Jaws video clip, were sent off.  Three Navy stations received the SOS signal.  At the first station the commander was drunk.  At the second station the commander had left orders not to be disturbed.    The third station wrote off the SOS signal as a Japanese prank.  The Navy denied that the SOS signals had been received for years, and only the release of declassified material revealed the criminal negligence involved.  When the ship failed to dock at Leyte as expected on July 31, 1944, the port operations director Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson inexplicably failed to report that the Indianapolis had gone missing.

This resulted in the men of the Indianapolis being in the water for 3 and a half days until they were spotted by a routine air patrol.  Heroic efforts were then undertaken to rescue the survivors.  321 men were rescued, four of whom died soon thereafter.  Most of the almost 600 men who escaped the ship and died in the water had been killed by hundreds of sharks who swarmed about the survivors.  Among the dead was Lieutenant Thomas Conway, the ship’s Catholic chaplain.  He spent his time in the water swimming from group to group, praying with the men, encouraging them, and reasoning with men driven to despair.  When Father Conway died on August 2, 1945, he was the last American chaplain killed in World War II.

Captain Charles B. McVay III, the skipper of the Indianapolis, had been wounded in the sinking and was among those who survived to be rescued.  He repeatedly asked why it took so long for the Navy to rescue his men, a question the Navy did not answer.  Instead, McVay  was court martialed, a scapegoat for an episode that had tarnished the image of the Navy.  He was convicted for not zigzagging, which was farcical since he had been told to use his discretion in regard to zigzagging, and with high-speed torpedoes and improved aiming devices aboard subs, zigzagging was not an effective technique for a ship to avoid being torpedoed by the end of World War II.

Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recognizing the fundamental injustice of the court martial, restored McVay to duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949.  Although most of the surviving crewmen of the Indianapolis regarded him as a hero, McVay was eaten away by guilt over the deaths of his crewmen, guilt that was exacerbated by hate mail and hate phone calls he periodically revealed from a few of the families of some of the men who died in the sinking and its aftermath.

After the death of his wife in 1966, McVay took his own life, clutching in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father.  In 1996 a twelve year old school boy, Hunter Scott, launched a campaign to clear McVay’s name.  The campaign to clear McVay was supported by former Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who had commanded the I-58 and who noted in a letter that zigzagging would have had no impact on his torpedo attack.

In 2000 Congress passed a resolution calling for the Navy to exonerate McVay.  The resolution stated in part:

Whereas following the accomplishment of that mission, the INDIANAPOLIS sailed from Tinian to Guam and from there embarked for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to join training with the fleet assembling for the final assault on the Japanese mainland;

Whereas as the INDIANAPOLIS began its trip across the Philippine Sea on July 28, 1945, the war was virtually over in that area of the South Pacific, with hostilities having moved 1,000 miles to the north, the Japanese Navy’s surface fleet was nonexistent, and United States naval intelligence reported only four operational Japanese submarines in the entire Pacific theater of war, all of which resulted in the state of alert among shore-based personnel routing and tracking the INDIANAPOLIS across the Philippine Sea being affected accordingly;

Whereas before departure from Guam Captain McVay requested a destroyer escort because his ship was not equipped with antisubmarine detection devices, but, despite the fact that no capital ship such as the INDIANAPOLIS had made the transit between Guam and the Philippines without escort during World War II, that request was denied, and a 1996 report by the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office concedes that ‘Captain McVay and the routing officer did not discuss the availability of an escort after the operations officer for COMMARIANNAS confirmed that an escort was not necessary’;

Whereas although Captain McVay was informed of ‘submarine sightings’ in the Philippine Sea, such sightings were commonplace, and none of those reported to Captain McVay had been confirmed, and at the same time there was a failure to inform him that a submarine within range of his path had sunk the U.S.S. UNDERHILL four days before his departure from Guam;

Whereas United States military intelligence activities, through a code-breaking system called ULTRA, had learned that the Japanese submarine I-58 was operating in the Philippine Sea area, but Captain McVay was not told of this intelligence, which remained classified as Top Secret until the early 1990’s, and this intelligence (and the fact that it was withheld from Captain McVay when he sailed from Guam) was not brought to light at his court-martial;

Whereas the INDIANAPOLIS was sunk by this same submarine;

Whereas the commander of that submarine, Mochitsura Hashimoto, testified at the court-martial that once he had detected the ship, he would have been able to make a successful torpedo attack  whether or not the ship was zigzagging;

Whereas with visibility severely limited by a heavy overcast at approximately 11 p.m. on the night of July 29, 1945, Captain McVay gave the order to cease zigzagging and retired to his cabin and shortly after midnight the INDIANAPOLIS was struck by two torpedoes and sunk within 12 minutes;

Whereas the formal charge upon which Captain McVay was convicted for ‘suffering a vessel to be hazarded through negligence’ contained the phrase ‘in good visibility’ in reference to the weather conditions on that night, which is contrary to the recollection of all survivors, who recall that the visibility was very poor;

Whereas after the INDIANAPOLIS was sunk, various Navy shore offices compounded the previous errors which had led to the ship being placed in jeopardy by failing to report the ship’s overdue arrival, thus leaving the approximately 950 members of the crew who survived the sinking of the ship adrift for four days and five nights until by chance the survivors were spotted by a routine air patrol;

Whereas a court of inquiry to investigate the sinking was convened in Guam on August 13, 1945, just two weeks after the sinking and nine days after the survivors were rescued (a date so soon after the sinking that Captain William Hillbert, the Navy judge advocate for the inquiry, admitted that the inquiry was so rushed that they were ‘. . . starting the proceedings without having available all the necessary data’) and recommended that Captain McVay be issued a Letter of Reprimand and that he be court-martialed;

Whereas the headquarters staff of CINCPAC (commanded by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz) disagreed with the recommendation of the court inquiry, stating that in not maintaining a zigzag course Captain McVay at worst was guilty only of an error in judgment and not gross negligence and concluded that the rule requiring zigzagging would not have applied in any event since Captain McVay’s orders gave him discretion on that matter and took precedence over all other orders (a point that was never made by Captain McVay’s attorney during the court-martial);

Whereas the Department of the Navy delayed the announcement of the sinking of the INDIANAPOLIS for almost two weeks to coincide with the announcement of the surrender of Japan, thus diverting attention from the magnitude of the disaster and lessening its public impact, and then, despite opposition by Admiral Nimitz and Admiral Raymond Spruance (for whom the INDIANAPOLIS had served as flagship), it brought court-martial charges against Captain McVay in a rare instance when a commanding officer’s recommendations are contravened;

Whereas Captain McVay thus became the first United States Navy commanding officer brought to trial for losing his ship in combat during World War II, despite the fact that over 700 ships were lost during World War II, including some under questionable circumstances;

Whereas Captain McVay was convicted on February 23, 1946, on the charge of ‘suffering a vessel to be hazarded through negligence’, thus permanently damaging his career as a naval officer, although when Admiral Nimitz was advanced to the position of Chief of Naval Operations later that same year, he remitted Captain McVay’s sentence and restored him to active duty;

Whereas following his court-martial conviction, Captain McVay remained on active duty until retiring in 1949 upon completion of 30 years of active naval service, with a final promotion, in accordance with then-applicable law, to the grade of rear admiral, effective upon the date of his retirement;

Whereas Rear Admiral Charles Butler McVay III (retired), died on November 6, 1968, without having been exonerated from responsibility for the loss of his ship and the lives of 880 members of her crew;

Whereas the survivors of the INDIANAPOLIS still living have remained steadfast in their support of the exoneration of Captain McVay;

Whereas in 1993, Congress, in section 1165 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994 (Public Law 103-160; 107 Stat. 1765; 16 U.S.C. 431 note), recognized the memorial to the U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35) in Indianapolis, Indiana, as the national memorial to that historic warship and to her final crew; and

Whereas in 1994, Congress, in section 1052 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1995 (Public Law 103-337; 108 Stat. 2844), stating that it was acting on behalf of the grateful people of the United States (1) recognized the invaluable contributions of the U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS to the ending of World War II, and (2) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her tragic sinking, and the dedication of the national memorial in Indianapolis on July 30, 1995, commended that ship and her crew for selfless and heroic service to the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


It is the sense of Congress that–

(1) the court-martial charges against then-Captain Charles Butler McVay III, United States Navy, arising from the sinking of the U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35) on July 30, 1945, while under his command were not morally sustainable;

(2) Captain McVay’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice that led to his unjust humiliation and damage to his naval career; and

(3) the American people should not recognize Captain McVay’s lack of culpability for the tragic loss of the U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS and the lives of the men who died as a result of her sinking.


(a) SENSE OF CONGRESS- It is the sense of Congress that the President should award a Presidential Unit Citation to the final crew of the U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35) in recognition of the courage and fortitude displayed by the members of that crew in the face of tremendous hardship and adversity after their ship was torpedoed and sunk on July 30, 1945.

(b) WAIVER OF TIME LIMITATION- A citation described in subsection (a) may be awarded without regard to any provision of law or regulation prescribing a time limitation that is otherwise applicable with respect to recommendation for, or the award of, such a citation.

The Secretary of the Navy cleared McVay of all wrongdoing in July of 2001.  The boy who began the campaign to bring posthumous justice to McVay is now a helicopter pilot in the Navy.

More to explorer


  1. On August 2nd, 2015, at 11 AM, at Waterbury CT City Hall, our Waterbury Veterans Committee will present to our city, state, and nation, a lasting memorial in bronze remembering Waterburian Lt. (Rev.) Thomas M. Conway, Chaplain, USS Indianapolis (CA-35). The memorial, designed by sculptor Andrew Chernak, was cast last week, and we are busy making the final plans. Born and raised at 224 Cooke Street, Waterbury, Father Conway gave his life for his country Aug. 2nd, 1945.

  2. 70th Anniversary Sinking USS Indianapolis: Chaplain Rev. Thomas M. Conway Remembrance

    July 31, 2015 will mark the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. In 2001, Doug Stanton’s In Harm’s Way, an account of the events surrounding the sinking of the cruiser in the final days of World War II, was published. At the time, reviewers characterized the book as the latest entry in what has become a race against time for those who would preserve the events of the war through the memories of the people who fought it. The author, responding to several reviewers’ comments on the lack of information on Fr. Thomas M. Conway, the ship chaplain, stated that there was little extant information readily available on the chaplain. Since reading that comment it has been my personal quest to compile the research and documentation of Fr. Conway’s life. The quest became a remarkable example of how easily the stories and events, though preserved in the minds and hearts of family and friends, are lost to the historical consciousness of our communities. But, it is also an extraordinary example of how being inspired by the compassion, selflessness and sacrifice of individuals like Fr. Conway, can promote collaborative efforts to preserve and promote awareness of those who serve our families, communities and our nation.

    Fr. Conway on the bridge USS Indianapolis
    Lt. (Rev.) Thomas M. Conway, a 37-year-old Navy Chaplain from Buffalo, New York, was sleeping soundly on July 31, 1945, on board the USS Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser. At 12:14 a.m. the first torpedo from the Japanese submarine, I-58, blew away the bow of the ship. An instant later the second struck near midship on the starboard side, the resulting explosion split the ship to the keel, knocking out all electric power. Within 12 minutes the unescorted cruiser slipped beneath the surface of the Philippine Sea, midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf. Of 1,196 men on board, approximately 900 men made it into the water. Few life rafts were released; the majority of the survivors wore the standard kapok life jacket and life belts. The ship was never missed, and by the time the survivors were spotted by accident four days later, only 316 men were still alive.

    Over the years there have been many books and articles published about the greatest naval disaster after Pearl Harbor. Among the survivors several men were awarded commendations for their heroic actions. Among those lost at sea, a few tales of heroism remain to be told. For three nights Fr. Conway, a Catholic priest, swam to the aid of his shipmates, reassuring the increasingly dehydrated and delirious men with prayers until he himself expired, the last Catholic chaplain to die in WWII. Like many stories of heroism, Fr. Conway was commemorated in simple ways among his friends and shipmates. As time moves on, and generations pass away, many stories of history are lost, and sometimes they are rediscovered.

    Fr. Conway parish priest Diocese of Buffalo
    Fr. Conway was born on April 5, 1908, in Waterbury, Conn. He was the oldest of three children born to Irish immigrants, Thomas F. and Margaret (Meade). Fr. Conway attended Lasalette Junior Seminary, in Hartford, Conn. In 1928, he enrolled at Niagara University (New York) and received an A.B. degree in 1930. On June 8, 1931, Conway enrolled in Our Lady of Angels Seminary, on the campus of Niagara University. May 26, 1934, he was ordained to the priesthood for the diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., in St. Michael’s Cathedral, Springfield, Mass. For the next eight years Fr. Conway served as a curate in the parishes of St. Rose of Lima, All Saints, St. Teresa, St. Nicholas and finally St. Brigid. Former parishioners recall that Fr. Conway’s favorite pastime was to navigate Lake Erie in his little sailboat, a common sight parked along side the rectory during the week. He is remembered as a “man’s man” – a priest in touch with and sympathetic to the blue-collar realities of his parishioners living among the Erie Canal neighborhoods.

    On Sept.17, 1942, Fr. Conway enlisted in U.S. Navy, commissioned a chaplain. A few days before leaving on active duty, Fr. Conway recorded a voice message on a 78 rpm recorder to Mary Noe. The Noe’s had become both family and home to Fr. Conway. Mary had eight children, one of whom was also a Buffalo priest, and in the recording he referred to her as ‘Ma.’ The recording, though scratched and distorted, preserves most of his farewell message prefaced with a song, “Well, Ma, your Sailor Boy is going to dedicate a very special number to you, a very, very special mom. I’d like you to excuse the singing. It’s not so hot. Remember, it is always the thought behind it that counts!” Fr. Conway sings two verses of the song I Threw a Kiss into the Ocean, by Irving Berlin for the U.S. Navy Relief: “I spoke last night to the ocean spoke last night to the sea And from the ocean a voice came back ‘Twas my Blue Jacket answering me Ship Ahoy, ship ahoy I can hear you, Sailor Boy I spoke last night to the ocean I spoke last night to the sea And from the ocean a voice came back ‘Twas my true love answering me” “Well Ma, how’d you like it?” asks Fr. Conway, “I’ve wrote I’ve missed you when I’m gone and now I’m going to miss you again. So, don’t miss me. I’ll be back. Remember me in your prayers and I’ll remember you in mine. So goodbye mom.” Fr. Conway served at naval stations along the East Coast and in 1943 was transferred to the Pacific. For several months he served on the USS Medusa, and on Aug. 25, 1944, Fr. Conway was assigned to the USS Indianapolis.

    On March 31, 1945 the USS Indianapolis took part in operations against the Japanese Home Islands. While off Okinawa she was hit by a kamikaze bomb, which fortunately exploded after passing through the bottom of the hull. Because of the damage the ship lay anchored off Okinawa for five days, during which time the Japanese continued to try to sink the USS Indianapolis. Nine crew members were killed in action during this battle. Finally she was able to limp to the US naval base at Ulithi, a nearby atoll. After her hull was mended she was dispatched across the Pacific to Mare Island, near San Francisco for further repairs. One of the sailors killed in the kamikaze attack was Earl Peter Procai.

    Fr. Conway leading ecumenical prayer service
    On April 10, 1945, while sailing to Mare Island, Fr. Conway wrote to the sailor’s parents, “Dear Mr. Procai, the Navy Department has already informed you that your son Earl Peter Procai was killed in action on the morning of the 31st of March. It is my sad duty to add to this brief statement whatever details military security allows and to give you my sincere sympathy for the loss of your boy. The blow which struck your son killed him instantly. As soon as he was hit two men carried him out of the damaged compartment. War doctors examined him at once but he was beyond any assistance they could give. We carried his body down to the sick bay, encased in a canvas burial shroud and then placed in a wooded coffin. We buried him that afternoon. His flag draped coffin was placed on the quarterdeck and in the presence of Admiral R. A. Spruance, Commander of the Fifth Fleet, his staff and the ship’s entire company; I read the prayers over him. Six men from his division acted as bearers. They were Jimmy Wakefield, S2c of Tulsa, Okla., Fred Harrison of Waterbury, Conn., Jimmy French S1c of San Francisco, Cal., Vincent Allard QM3c of Omak, Wash., Robert Owens QM3 c of Kingsport, Tenn., and William Burt of Boise, Idaho.

    They carried his him into a small boat alongside. The Marine firing squad fired three volleys and the ship’s bugler sounded taps. We buried him in the American Cemetery on one of the small islands of the Pacific. The flag which draped his coffin is being sent to you and you should receive it soon. Your son was one of the most well liked and respected men aboard this ship. Everyone from the Commanding Officer down to the men in his division thought and spoke very highly of him. He was always cheerful and willing and devoted to his duties and we will all miss him very much. Our loss however will be small compared to the loss you will feel a losing such a wonderful boy. His country is proud of him and shall never forget what he contributed to her. The memory of his courageous sacrifice will never fade and to and to us who knew him it shall ever be an inspiration and an encouragement to carry on the work that still needs to be done. I hope you will find some consolation in the thought that when this war shall end and peace and happiness will once more come to the world, you will remember that you before all other have paid the greatest price anyone could pay, for you have given your son and no one can do more than this. I pray and hope that Almighty God in His Goodness will give you the strength to bear up under this severe loss and I know He will be most generous with you who have been so generous with others. May He help and bless you and your family.”

    Melvin W. Modisher, a survivor and Jr. Medical Officer onboard the USS Indianapolis, recalling the kamikaze attacked and Fr. Conway’s chaplaincy at the time stated, “The day before D-Day on Okinawa, the Indianapolis was hit by a kamikaze killing 9 of the crew and injuring a couple of dozen others. The ship cold not be repaired on site and had to return to California for major repairs. Fr. Conway spent the entire repair period traveling across the country visiting the families of all 9 who had been killed telling how they had been buried at Sea, etc. He did this on his own time and at his expense rather than spend time with his own family and friends. This is a small example of the kind of Love and Devotion he displayed for others.”

    On April 26, a week sailing from Mare Island, Fr. Conway wrote a sailor’s ditty for the ship’s newsletter, the Wigwam. The simple verses expressed the unspoken love, valor and sacrifice of the crew. Fr. Conway prefaced the ditty, “We are now under way for Mare Island, Valley Joe and points east. We expect to go under the bridge on the morning of the 2nd, next Wednesday at 0800. Stand by to man the golden gate And swing it open too For standing in the bay today Is the cruiser Indy Maru. Steaming along on two screws and a prayer With half her boilers cold The Indy Maru’s been thru the wars And looks a little old. She’s hit the nip north and south The mighty cruiser Indy Maru At Tokio and Iwo And Okinawa too. Thru freezing cold and tropic heat And kamikazes too And Nippon’s shells and bombs and fish Has comes the Indy Maru. So break out your blues and shine your shoes The Indy Maru-is here – They’ll double the shore patrol And raise the price of beer, For months your wives have waited For the cruiser Indy Maru So take along your dog tag To prove that you are you. Frisco’s seen some great ships But the greatest it ever knew Is that tootin’ shootin’ cruiser The fighting Indy Maru.

    When repairs were complete, the ship was ordered to carry to Tinian Island the trigger and radioactive core of the atom bomb destined to be dropped on Hiroshima. Under Captain Charles Butler McVay III, it sailed from Farallon Light at San Francisco to Diamond Head on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in a record 74.5 hours. Stopping briefly for fuel at Pearl Harbor, the USS Indianapolis proceeded to Tinian, reaching it on 26 July. After discharging its top-secret cargo, the ship, with a crew of 1,196, left for Guam and then Leyte in the Philippines, which had been liberated only a few weeks before. It was to join the American invasion fleet bound for Japan. July 30, 1945, was a typical Sunday for Fr. Conway. He celebrated the Catholic Mass and later conducted a Protestant service. It was known that Fr. Conway could usually be found in the ship’s library or his room for confession or just someone to talk to. A few minutes past midnight Fr. Conway was bobbing among the burning oil, debris, chaos and voices of the 900 survivors. Fr. Conway’s actions are vividly recalled by several of the survivors.

    Frank J. Centazzo recently wrote, “Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates. I was in the group with Father Conway. … I saw him go from one small group to another. Getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness. He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again. Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he finally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remembered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the ‘Indy’ and especially three days in the ocean.”

    Lewis L. Haynes, Captain, Medical Corps, USN, recalled in an article for the Saturday Evening Post (Aug. 6, 1955), “All thoughts of rescue are gone, and our twisted reasoning has come to accept this as our life until the end is reached. A life with nothing but the sky, a shimmering horizon and endless wastes of water. Beyond this we dare not imagine…But we have not lost everything. To the contrary, we have found one comfort – a strong belief to which we cling. God seems very close. Much of our feeling is strengthened by the chaplain, who moves from one group to another to pray with the men. The chaplain, a priest, is not a strong man physically, yet his courage and goodness seem to have no limit. I wonder about him, for the night is particularly difficult and most of us suffer from chills, fever and delirium. The moon has been up for some time when I hear a cry for help. It is Mac, the sailor who has given so much to so many. When I swim to him, Mac is supporting the chaplain, who is delirious. “Doctor – you’ll just have to relieve me for awhile!” Mac gasps. “I – I can’t hold him any longer!” I take the chaplain from him; thrust my arm through the chaplain’s life jacket so that I may hold him securely through his wild thrashing. Then I look around for Mac, for I know he needs help. He is completely exhausted, his head forward, his nose in the water. Mac! Mac! I call. There is no answer – and the last I see of Mac is his head sinking lower and lower as he drifts away in the moonlight. The chaplain’s delirium mounts; his struggles almost too much for me. He cries a strange gibberish – some of the words are Latin – but in a little while he sinks into a coma. The only sound is the slap of water against us as I wait for the end. When it comes, the moon is high, golden overhead. I say a prayer and let him drift away, along the path to follow Mac.”

    Fr. William F. Frawley, was a chaplain at Base Hospital #20, Peleliu Island where the majority of survivors were taken for medical attention. Though there was a government news blackout about the incident, Fr. Frawley wrote a letter to Archdiocese of Military Services, dated August 5, one day after the rescue. He wrote, “The true facts concerning the death of Fr. Thomas Conway…He along with about eight hundred others, got off the ship into the water when the explosions occurred. On the evening of the third day in the water, completely exhausted, he drowned. All the survivors who were brought to our Base Hospital have the highest praise for him. They report that he had been aboard the cruiser for the past year; that he had done much to improve the ship’s facilities; that he treated the personnel indiscriminately, devoting as much attention as possible to the non-Catholics; that on the Sunday preceding the disaster two mess halls were needed to take care of the overflow crowd at general services; that he spoke on the parable of the Pharisee and publican, likening them to two sailors appearing before the captain of the ship; that, while in the water he went about from group to group organizing prayer groups … Fr. Conway spent his leave flying to the homes of nine boys who had been killed by a suicide plane which struck the ship near Okinawa (that is the reason the ship was on its way from the States. It had been reconditioned and left the States on 16 July and was hit somewhere between Guam and Leyte on 30 July at 0010.) …”

    Several books about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis have referenced Fr. Conway. In his book, In Harm’s Way (2001), author Doug Stanton wrote, “The boys usually confided in Father Conway. During the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, most of them had been scared out of their wits. … As the kamikazes dove at the ships, the boys cried out from their battle stations for the kind priest. … Fr. Conway, in his early thirties, was relentless and fearless in his duty. Once, while saying Mass, battle stations had been called suddenly, and the astute Father shouted out, ‘Bless us all, boys! And give them hell!’ The boys loved him for this. He was a priest, it was true, but he was a priest with grit. … (Conway) spent the bleak early morning hours swimming back and forth among these terrified crew members, sometimes dragging loners back to the growing mass … the priest also never stopped swimming among the boys, hearing their confessions and administering Last Rites.”

    Thomas Helms, in his book, Ordeal by Sea, wrote, “Father Thomas Michael Conway swam from group to group, never stopping to rest, praying with the men, encouraging those who were frightened, trying to reason with the maddened. His faith and his prayers gave solace to many … Father Conway, like Ensign Park, Seaman Rich and many others, burned himself out keeping up a constant patrol among the men, ministering to the dying, talking reason into others who had become momentarily deranged and calming the frightened with prayers until all at once he reached the limit of his endurance, and his life drained away.” On August 2, 1945, Fr. M. Thomas Conway was the last chaplain to die in combat in WWII. Fr. Conway was awarded Purple Heart posthumously.

    Frank J. Centazzo, a survivor wrote, “I’m sure that Father Conway was recommended for a medal. In fact, if my memory serves me well, I believe Dr. Haynes (Lt.Cmdr.) was the one who put forth Father Conway’s name. However, more than half of the recommendations were set aside by the brass at Guam. I suspect that they didn’t want to bring too much attention to the disaster by awarding too many medals. I believe my name along with many others were also put forth for consideration but got lost in the shuffle. But the real loss was not awarding any medal to Chaplain Conway. After the war, the city of Buffalo, NY was, and remains the location of veteran and citizen attempts to preserve the memory of the heroic, compassionate and selfless ministry of Fr. Conway.

    On March 4, 1946, the Fr. Thomas Conway VFW #5800 was mustered (organized) in South Buffalo by returning WWII veterans. Unfortunately, the post was declared defunct on May 27, 1952. A direct result of the migration of young veterans moving out from the city to the surrounding suburbs. On May 11, 1954 the Fr. Conway Park was dedicated by the City Council. At the time the area was then known as “Scummy Basin.” The basin was a part of the canal, and an area utilized as a ‘turn-around’ for barges and ships. Sadly, it also was a dangerous area for children who frequently played in the vicinity of the basin. After a few children drowned in this area neighborhood residents demanded the basin filled-in. The neighborhood was successful and the 14.5 acre filled-in basin area became known as Fr. Conway Playfield. Many residents at the time, remembering the manner of Fr. Conway’s death, believed that even after death Fr. Conway reaches out to victims and family survivors of those who drowned. A local reporter wrote on the dedication of the park, “The Ohio Basin yesterday was dedicated as the Father Conway Playfield in tribute to a Buffalo priest who gave his life as a Navy Chaplain in World War II. About 5,000 persons witnessed the ceremony…”We dedicate here this field to the activities of the youth today as a means to strengthen them in their battle against the subversive enemies of our times…The children who play here, we hope and pray, will be guided by the spirit of Father Tom Conway, a truly great priest, a true and honest sportsman, a brave and loyal soldier-sailor of God to the very end.”
    The migration of young families that began in earnest after WWII, did not end in the early 1950’s but continued well into the 1990’s. During this era, the families moving into these neighborhoods, for the most part, were ethnically different and in particular, largely Hispanic. As the years passed the collective historical memory of the former neighborhoods was increasingly relegated to the older generation. At the same time, the younger, newer residents were creating their own futures and histories, mostly unaware of the men and women whose names appeared on memorial plaques and monuments. In fact, the Fr. Conway Park became simple known as Conway Park, and only a handful of older residents and veterans associated the name with Fr. Conway. In the fall of 1997, the Buffalo Zoo announced plans to relocate from its 125 year-old home in Delaware Park, to a site in a mixed residential/industrial area along the Buffalo River, including Conway Park. This announcement provoked a firestorm of opposition, beginning in the Parkside neighborhood, where the existing zoo was located, and in the Old First Ward, site of the proposed new zoo. The opposition eventually coalesced into two new organizations, Save the Old First Ward and the Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park. Leaders from Save the Old First Ward joined the Committee worked collaboratively with the Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park. Finally, on September 2, 1999, the Buffalo Zoological Society announced its abandonment of a plan to relocate the Zoo to the proposed site. If the move had been successful, there was a chance the name of Conway’s Park would have been at risk. In fact, at the time there was no signage identifying the park as Conway Park. The only sign in the park at the time identified the area as the “Old First District Park.”
    August 2, 2001. Henry J. Mansell, D.D., bishop of Buffalo, presided at an anniversary memorial for Mass for Fr. Conway at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. August 26, 2001. Fr. Conway was inducted into the Waterbury, CT, Silas Bronson Library “Hall of Fame.” Recipients of the award are comprised of Waterbury natives and residents who have made a significant impact on the history of Waterbury or who have achieved recognition for their accomplishments throughout the city, state, country or world. September 23, 2001. The rededication of the Fr. Conway Park and erection of new signage throughout the park, authorized by Anthony M. Masiello, Mayor of Buffalo, took place.
    May 20, 2006. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, bishop of Buffalo, dedicated the Father Thomas Conway Memorial at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. Artist Brian Porter created the bust of Father Conway clutching a fistful of dog tags in his left hand and flotation vests in his right hand. Father Conway re-moved the sailors’ dog tags as they died. “There is an emphatic connection as humans that this is what Father Conway and the other men went through in the water. There is the spiritual connection of Father Conway to these men. Not only did he provide physical comfort, but gave comfort to their souls as well.”

    July 2007. Fr. Conway was inducted into the Inaugural Class of the Niagara University Legacy-Alumni of Distinction. Recipients of Niagara’s prestigious Legacy Awards have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments and excellence in their field of endeavor, have lived lives both personally and professionally that mirror the Vincentian ideals of Niagara University., and have affected a positive and lasting impact to the betterment of society.

    A Sonnet to Fr. Thomas M. Conway: Ms. Stacey Bowers, October 20, 2009

    Stars shining in the dark morning of July 30, 1945.
    Indianapolis found the crushing fate of the plunder of war.
    Youth, courage and fortitude float in blackened bloody sea.
    The loss of God’s good life beyond our worst vivid dreams.
    Fighting for their lives and country good men born
    and good men perish living for the virtue of endless conflict.
    In times of terror and fear an enemy recluse
    as heroes emerge among the countless dead and dying confident.
    Giving care, confession and the rites to all impossible
    yet with all strength, blessing pain, fear and death’s sweet and drenched call.
    I suspect for Msgr. Conway, Though war should rise against me,
    Even then will I be confident – a Psalm of hope and inner peace.
    Survivors, those who perished and now many more
    find strength and hope shines today hence this hero Man of God and war.

    On April 16, 2013 the Waterbury (CT) Veterans Memorial Committee wrote a letter to Senator Christopher Murphy asking him to sponsor a resolution to posthumously award Fr. Conway the Navy Cross.

    On July 16, Robert Dorr (Waterbury (CT) Secretary, Veterans Memorial Committee) informed supporters, “US Senator Christopher Murphy will hold a Press Conference at the Waterbury Veterans Hall, Waterbury City Hall, 235 Grand Street. Sen. Murphy will announce that he is sponsoring and submitting a Senate Resolution to Honor the Service and Sacrifice of Lt. (Rev.) Thomas M. Conway, Chaplain, USS Indianapolis, which was lost July 30, 1945. The actions of Chaplain Lt. Conway resulted in over 300 survivors rescued from the water. The Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee is requesting that the sacrifice of Waterburian Lt. Conway be recognized with the Navy Cross for his heroic actions after the sinking of his ship.”

    On July 19, 2013 Robert Dorr sent: Friends,

    US Senator Christopher Murphy and US Senator Richard Blumenthal said that they have co-sponsored a US Senate resolution to award posthumously the Navy Cross to the Chaplain of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35). Both Senators attended an event at Waterbury (Connecticut) City Hall where the text of the resolution was released to the press. Initially sponsored by Senator Murphy, Sen. Blumenthal joined with him and co-sponsored the resolution. Surrounded by posters describing the ordeal of the men of the USS Indianapolis, both spoke eloquently about the USS Indianapolis and its critical role in bringing an end to World War II. Sen. Blumenthal is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and intends to meet with US Navy officials next week to discuss this matter.

    Photo: L-R – Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary; Col. John G. Chiarella, Chairman, Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee; US Senator Christopher Murphy; US Senator Richard Blumenthal.

    The Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee began a campaign in April 2013 to recognize the service and sacrifice of Waterbury native Lt. (Rev.) Thomas M. Conway. Two men from Waterbury died on its final sailing – Chaplain Lt. Conway, and S2c Fred E. Harrison, 23 Roland Street, Waterbury. S2c Harrison left behind his wife, Mrs. Ruth Elizabeth Harrison and 2 children. Frederick Elliott Harrison was age 32.

    July 3, 2014 Announcement: A Public Hearing on Sen. Res. 197 will take place on Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 11 AM at the USS Indianapolis Survivors Meeting. The hearing will take testimony to award the Navy Cross to the Chaplain of the USS Indianapolis, Lt. (Rev.) Thomas M. Conway.

    Fr. Thomas Michael Conway’s story is only one example of the untold and unrecorded lives of compassion and heroism sewn into the fabric of our nation’s collective memory. How many more stories are there among our men and women who served, and are serving now, in our armed forces?

    Friday, May 23, 2014 WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is launching an effort to ensure the U.S. Navy posthumously awards Navy Chaplain Lieutenant Thomas M. Conway with the Navy Cross, America’s second highest military decoration for valor. Father Conway, who grew up on Cooke Street in Waterbury, was a chaplain aboard the USS Medusa and the USS Indianapolis during the Second World War. On July 30, 1945, Father Conway was aboard the USS Indianapolis when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Of the 1,196 crew aboard, approximately 300 were killed in the attack and subsequent sinking of the ship.

    Father Conway was among the roughly 900 sailors left in the water facing shark attacks, dehydration, and exposure. For three straight days, Father Conway swam back and forth among crew members, helping individual sailors who drifted away to rejoin their comrades, organizing prayer groups, and urging the increasingly dehydrated and delirious men not to give up hope of rescue. He died on the third night, August 2, 1945, shortly before Navy pilots spotted the survivors. Just 316 men survived, making the sinking of the USS Indianapolis the single greatest loss of life at sea in the history of the United States Navy.

    The living survivors of the USS Indianapolis have made it their mission to make sure Father Conway is recognized by the U.S. Navy for his acts of heroism, saving many of their comrades’ lives at sea. Murphy is joining local efforts and sending requests to veterans organizations across the country to gather eyewitness accounts of Father Conway’s actions to help make the case for this recognition to the Navy. Murphy also plans to meet with this group of WWII veterans to help them achieve their goal. Last year, Murphy introduced a Senate resolution to award Father Conway with the Navy Cross.

    “Father Conway’s story of heroism and selflessness inspires me and the people of Waterbury every single day. His bravery is the stuff of legends,” said Murphy. “The veterans aboard the USS Indianapolis who are still with us today have incredible eyewitness accounts of Father Conway’s rescue efforts – saving countless sailors aboard the ship. They have made it their mission to make sure their hero gets the recognition he deserves, and I strongly support their efforts. I’m looking forward to bringing the details of Father Conway’s story to the U.S Navy’s attention so they can share in the inspiration we all feel from Father Conway’s story.”


    Veterans want Navy Cross for chaplain
    By Oriana Pawlyk, Staff Writer 2:14 p.m. EST January 20, 2015

    Over two dozen veterans can recount how chaplain Lt. Thomas Conway kept their hope alive as sharks swarmed the remains of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945. But a letter written in 1948 stating Conway went down with the sinking ship could be the reason behind the denial of a Navy Cross — a decision one Connecticut veterans organization wants to reverse. “A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, so we started,” said committee secretary Robert Dorr.

    The Navy denied last month the request from the Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee to award Conway the Navy Cross, the second highest military decoration for valor for extraordinary heroism in combat. Conway was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. A bench erected by the committee in a city park commemorates two fallen chaplains from Waterbury — Conway, and Lt. Neil Doyle, who died on New Georgia Island in 1943 and, for his service, received the Distinguished Service Cross.
    Father John Bevins, a retired Naval chaplain at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception — the same parish where Conway was baptized — approached the 15-member committee in 2013 to have the same honor administered for his fallen parishioner.

    Because the request was beyond the three-year limit in which a nomination may be submitted through appropriate channels, the committee went through Connecticut Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal to pass along the nomination to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. “We gathered together every recorded story, every magazine article, every newsletter … and when you’re looking through these newsletters, when they’re talking about heroism, they’re talking about Father Conway,” Dorr told Military Times on Jan. 19. It went beyond keeping the men together, Dorr said. The Indianapolis (CA-35), midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf, was hit by two torpedoes fired by the I-58 Japanese submarine. Conway floated from group to group of about 67 men called “the swimmers,” praying, and reeling in sailors who began to drift away. “We put together a compelling case,” Dorr said of the nomination the committee submitted in September. The stepping stone, Dorr said, was looking at past chaplains who received such high honors, one being Cmdr. George Rentz.

    “There are considerable similarities,” said Vietnam veteran Doug Sterner, a military historian and Military Times contributing editor. During the sinking of the USS Houston on Feb. 28, 1942, after a Japanese attack in the Pacific, Rentz sacrificed himself so sailors could climb aboard a pontoon, according to his Navy Cross citation provided by Sterner. “We believe that [Conway’s] service was equal to or greater than Cmdr. George Rentz,” Dorr said. However, Conway’s heroic actions “never happened,” Dorr said, because “the captain believed that Father Conway went down with the ship on July 30, and his letter was written in the official 1948 history of the Navy chaplains corps.” Dorr said evidence and testimony from survivors shows Conway died Aug. 2. The letter was written by Indianapolis’ commander, then-Capt. Charles McVay, who nominated a number of his officers and crew for personal decorations. McVay later went on to be court-martialed for putting his ship in harm’s way for “failure to zigzag.” But even after the widely publicized trial, McVay nominated others for awards — just not Conway. “Your letter asserts that Captain McVay did not know of Lieutenant Conway’s actions, and if he had known, he would have nominated his chaplain for the Navy Cross,” R. Claussen, writing on behalf of Mabus, states in the denied request sent to Sen. Murphy’s office. Claussen’s title is not provided in the document.

    “Based on our review of official records, it was not possible to establish whether Captain McVay knew any details of Chaplain Conway’s actions,” Claussen writes. “What is known is that Captain McVay did not personally witness all of the actions of every officer and Sailor he nominated for awards. Regulations only required that he know of the action, and had eyewitness testimony of others to substantiate them.
    “We could find no evidence of any such claim having been made via official Navy channels, or recorded in official Navy documents. There appears to have been ample opportunity for those survivors to convey this information to Captain McVay.” “I find the lack of awards to Father Conway … rather inequitable,” Sterner said in an email to Military Times. “I think in Conway’s case, he probably was as much a victim to the embarrassment the Navy had with the debacle surrounding the Indianapolis sinking, and subsequent sadly handled inquiry, as he was to the sea.”

    “We’ve asked the Navy to revisit McVay’s letter,” Dorr said. “And in the response no one addressed that. They didn’t say, ‘Oh my God, you’re right — there is an error in the official 1948 history.'”
    All they cared about, Dorr said, was 10 U.S. Code 1130, “Consideration of proposals for decorations not previously submitted in timely fashion” regulations to submit the award, which are: the submission must be originated by a Chief Warrant Officer 2 or above; the commissioned officer was in the intended recipient’s chain of command or had firsthand knowledge of the heroic act; and that the officer was senior to the intended recipient in either grade or position at the time of the act, according to the documents Murphy’s office received from Claussen.

    Because of the passage of time, this would preclude any enlisted men from making a recommendation for an award for Father Conway, Dorr said.And whoever’s left to tell Conway’s story might not cut it, he said. There are 37 survivors from the Indianapolis today, Dorr said. “They would like to see this — they’re getting together for their last and final reunion July 23 in Indianapolis for the 70th anniversary of the sinking,” he said. The committee recently submitted a request to the Congressional Research Service through Murphy’s office to look into any award recommendations that fall outside the scope of that regulation, Dorr said. “We’re delighted that Father Conway’s story is being told,” Dorr said, “and that the sacrifice of the men of the Indianapolis is again recognized.”

    “But if they’re going to do it for somebody, why not Father Conway?”

    Celebrating Mass on board USS Indianapolis

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