Friday, April 27, 2007

History comes to life

History comes to life
Article from:The Sun - Lisle (IL) Article date:April 27, 2007Author:By Tim Waldorf More results for:jeanine nicarico Literacy

At 12:14 a.m. July 30, 1945, a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Indianapolis, shown here at Pearl Harbor, while it was en route from Guam to the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.|Kuryla|A showcase filled with USS Indianapolis memorabilia is on display at Kennedy Junior High School in Lisle.|USS Indianapolis survivors George Laws, left, and Michael Kuryla share a private word April 20 before their presentation to Kennedy Junior High School eighth-graders. The World War II sailors were among 317 survivors after a torpedo strike sunk the Indianapolis.

There's history - and there are those who change it. Paulette Goodman, Kennedy Junior High School's library resource center director, is giving the school's eighth-graders face-to-face meetings with both. Goodman used a Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Literacy Fund grant to bring Bartlett resident Michael Kuryla, survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, to school April 20 to speak to the students. Survivor George Laws of Manchester also was there.
The grant also allowed Goodman to do the same April 23 with Hunter Scott, who helped exonerate the ship's captain.

Kennedy's eighth-graders have studied World War II, but have no concept of the suffering and sacrifices of its veterans on behalf the country, she said. That's where Kuryla came into play April 20 when he spoke of his experience.

On April 23, they learned from Scott how one voice - a voice much like their own - can make a difference.

"This is an experience that does not go away," she said.

The Indianapolis

At 12:14 a.m. July 30, 1945, a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Indianapolis while it was en route from Guam to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. The ship sank in 12 minutes, and, of the 1,196 men on board, about 300 went down with it.

"I thought it was going to end. I thought I was going to die right there," Kuryla said of the moment he ran out of breath and water began to flood into his nose as the sinking ship sucked him beneath the sea. "The next thing I know, I came up to the surface and I clung onto something, and I looked and I saw the ship, just the back of the ship going down."

The rest of the crew, about 900 men, were left floating in shark-infested waters - some, such as Kuryla, in life rafts, some in just life preservers, but all without food or fresh water.

The ship was returning from the Philippines after delivering the first atomic bomb to a secret military location. This was the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima a week later, helping to end the war.

Because the Indianapolis was on such an important mission, it was kept a secret. No other ship on the waters knew the location of the Indianapolis, and nobody but its surviving crew members knew it had sunk. So by the time the survivors were spotted by accident four days later, only 316 men were still alive.

Scott and McVay

The ship's captain, the late Charles Butler McVay III, was one of the 316 survivors, but he was court-martialed and convicted for the sinking of the Indianapolis. The Navy said he placed the ship in jeopardy by failing to "zigzag" through the Philippine Sea so as to avoid such an attack.

McVay's dedicated crew believed he was made a scapegoat for the mistakes of others in the Navy. Thanks to Scott, their beliefs were validated. At the age of 11, Scott began extensive and relentless research on the USS Indianapolis incident after hearing about it while watching the movie "Jaws."

"His voice was the only one willing to contest the findings of the U.S. government and the U.S. Navy concerning the USS Indianapolis, its captain and its men," Goodman said.

His voice was heard. In October 2000, President Clinton signed legislation stating McVay should be exonerated for the loss of the Indianapolis and for the deaths of its crew members. The Navy amended McVay's record accordingly in July 2001, but his conviction remains on his record, as the U.S. military has never overturned a court-martial verdict, and there is no known process for doing so.

Still, for survivors such as Kuryla (and there are only 84 of them left), their beloved leader's name had finally, although posthumously, been cleared due in large part to Scott's work. That meant a lot to them, Kuryla said.

"He was such a good officer, and they blamed him for something that he was not guilty of. That's the way we felt, and the whole crew felt that way," he said. "We just loved the man. We would follow that man again if there was a possibility."

Author Peter Nelson told Scott's story, as well as those of the survivors, in the book "Left for Dead," which Kennedy's eighth-graders read in preparation for these visits.

On April 23, learned firsthand from Scott how "just one voice changed the history of a man, his ship and the USS Indianapolis survivors," Goodman said. They had "opportunities to question and discuss the level of courage that was undertaken by this young man, the steps he took to accomplish his mission and the aftermath of the experience."

They will then take on similar projects of their own, she said.

"They (will) pick one issue that is meaningful to them and then ... pursue steps that will aid in a positive change for that issue," she said. "It may take years to learn of the impact of this program, but it will be felt."

Contact Tim Waldorf at or 630-416-5270.