Posted: May 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Navy veteran John Heller's story of surviving five days in the shark-infested Philippine Sea in the Pacific Theater is about to become a big-screen movie. As part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients Week in a matter-of-fact tone, he told surreal stories at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit about the five days he bobbed in the sea after his ship, the U.S.S. Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine torpedo just after midnight on July 30, 1945 “RT Chap FL – 07” <having delivered the parts for the first atomic bomb. The ship sank in 12 minutes with 1,197 men on board. Of the swath of 900 men left floating in the Philippine Sea, only 317 men were rescued. Today, only 41 survivors are still alive. “We had a Marine with us, thank God,” said Heller, who joined the Navy in January 1945 at 17 years old. “And if a guy went berserk and started drinking salt water or started swimming away; or tried to take us down with him; he'd have to hit him, and he'd take the jackets off him and make sort of a float ring out of it to give us more buoyancy in the water because our jackets were getting pretty water-soaked.” The survivors talked about their parents, home and other mundane things, he said, as they bobbed from early Monday until Friday morning. “It was pretty hard to say what we did during the day: We'd watch the sharks go by,” he said. “They'd miss me and get somebody else. But they had a big feast out there. They didn't need a little small guy like me.”
After Heller returned home, he spent 37 years as the owner of four gas stations in Birmingham and Troy, and working in sales in the welding industry. Heller said he gave 22 talks about his experience aboard the Indianapolis last year, something he especially loves to do to educate students. “I enjoy talking to kids because they ask a lot of questions,” Heller said. “ 'What did you do in the water?' “RT Chap FL – 07” <that's always the first.” Army veteran Charles Scott, 60, of Highland Park said listening to Heller's story helps reinforce that there are others who have lived through the horrors of war “RT Chap FL – 07” <like those he saw in Vietnam during the early 1970s. “I know that somebody else has experienced it besides myself,” Scott said. “It helps to know they made it back, like I made it back.” West Bloomfield veteran Marty Levine, 63, membership chairman of metro Detroit's Jewish War Veterans of the United States Post 135, said the week's events point out how important it is to support veterans “RT Chap FL – 07” <specifically homeless veterans, the focus of this year's salute week.”Tom Brokaw was right: They are the greatest generation,” Levine said, quoting the newscaster's book about World War II veterans. “They saved the world so you and I can enjoy the comforts afforded us. I, too, am a veteran, but what they did was incredible.” [Source: The Detroit Free Press Tammy Stables Battaglia article 18 Feb 2012 ++]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s