Op-Ed: Remembering heroic uncle, sinking of USS Indianapolis

I have many fond memories of growing up in Darien. My family lived on Beach Drive overlooking Holly Pond. In 1973, we moved to Long Neck Point Road.

Some of you may have known my parents, John and Fran Emery. But most people were not aware that my dad carried a lifelong deep grief. July 30 is a day that has haunted my father all of his life.

Most of our Darien friends didn’t know that my dad had a younger brother named Bill. William Friend Emery graduated from New Canaan High School in May 1944 and enlisted in the Navy.

My grandfather, Lt. Commander John Colvin Emery, served in the Navy and received an order from his superior, my grandmother, Janet Millar Emery. My grandmother was still grieving and processing the death of their young 4-year-old child, Steven Gray Emery, who died in 1940 due to spinal meningitis.

My grandmother told her husband: ”Do not put my son in harms way.” My grandfather then looked up and down the Navy‘s Fifth Fleet for the perfect ship that had the least likelihood of seeing any action. My grandfather found the perfect ship: 10 battle stars, Admiral Raymond Spruance‘s Flagship, and FDR’s ship of state. The ship was dry docked in Mare Island in Vallejo, Calif., after getting hit by a kamikaze pilot during the Okinawa Gunto Operation. It was the USS Indianapolis CA-35.

Three weeks before VJ Day was declared on Aug. 14, 1945, the USS Indianapolis CA-35 delivered the components of the first atomic bomb to the island of Tinian. From there, the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. The USS Indianapolis, nicknamed “Indy,” played a crucial and pivotal role in the ending of World War ll.

Sadly and tragically, on July 30, 1945, two weeks before peace was declared, the Indy was torpedoed and sunk in 12 minutes. Of Indy’s 1195 final sailing crew, only 316 survived 4 1/2 days in shark-infested waters in the Philippine Sea.

Perhaps some of you may have first heard about the USS Indianapolis from the movie “Jaws.” I still remember watching “Jaws” at the Darien Playhouse with my dad in 1975. When Robert Shaw started to deliver his speech about the USS Indianapolis in the movie, my Dad started fidgeting in his seat. I could tell he was so uncomfortable.

The Indy sinking was the largest loss of life from a combatant ship in naval wartime history. My uncle and namesake, William Friend Emery, Seaman First Class/Quartermaster Striker, Navigation Division, was one of the 879 Indy crew who were lost at sea.

Today, there are only five Indy survivors still with us. I will be flying down to Indianapolis for our Sixth Annual Honor Watch on July 30 at our USS Indianapolis CA-35 Monument. We will begin our Honor Watch at 4 a.m., and will be joined by other members of our Indy family.

As we remember the anniversary of the end of World War ll, please don’t forget the the USS Indianapolis CA-35, and the 879 of her final sailing crew who were not able to come home to their families’ loving embrace. These magnificent Indy sailors of the greatest generation had a higher calling and destiny. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we cherish today. As a Gold Star family, the Emery family knows the ultimate price of freedom.

Freedom is not free. Our heroes might be gone, but they will never ever be forgotten. To never be forgotten is to live forever.

Michael William Emery is a resident of West Concord, Mass.