The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, in the minds of many, represented the dramatic conclusion to fighting in Pacific Theater of World War II. While victory would not technically come for a month after the first atomic bomb ever used in combat was dropped, its devastating effect, coupled with a subsequent atomic attack on Nagasaki, not only effectively ended a bloody war, it changed the shape of international diplomacy, and tensions, forever more. Hiroshima’s destruction on August 6th, 1945 marked not only the beginning of the end of the greatest war ever seen on earth, but also marked the onset of the nuclear age.
Of course, the story of America’s victory in Japan is often told with a somber tone, as although experts at the time estimated ongoing fighting in the islands surrounding Japan, and a subsequent mainland invasion, would be among the most brutal and costly America had ever seen, the decision to use such a powerful weapon, to kill so many so quickly, was never one to be taken lightly, as demonstrated most tellingly by America’s decision to never again employ such a tactic unless faced with no other alternative following the second drop in Nagasaki. This loss of life, however tragic, was not the only caveat to America’s successful atomic operation, either – as the USS Indianapolis, that had been tasked with delivering the primary components of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, disappeared into the Pacific soon after it completed its mission, claiming the lives of the majority of the ship’s 1,196 crew along the way.
Worse still, because the ship sank so rapidly (estimates place it as 12 minutes between the Japanese torpedo impacting the hull and the ship disappearing into the deep) no distress call was sent, so although the majority of the crew managed to escape the sinking vessel, most of them died adrift in the days to follow to a combination of exposure, drowning, dehydration, and shark attacks.
In the beginning I took off their dog tags, said the Lord’s Prayer and let them go,” recalled Capt. Lewis L. Haynes, the ship’s chief medical officer, who tried, often in vain, to care for men dying as they waited for rescue. “Eventually, I got such an armful of dog tags I couldn’t hold them any longer.”