[December 13, 1925 - February 13, 2016]



     The World War II experiences of Wheeling native Paul W. McGinnis are told in the book, U.S.S. Indianapolis Survivors, published in 2002 by Printing Partners, 929 W. 16th Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. The story, "Only 317 Survived - Survivor McGinnis," is presented here with the permission of Mr. McGinnis.

     In 1944, Mr. McGinnis served aboard the USS Indianapolis, in action in the Pacific Theater. On July 30, 1945, while delivering materials for use in atomic bombs to Tinian Island, the ship was sunk. Paul was among 317 survivors of the crew of 1,197.

     Paul and Marcella McGinnis reside in Wheeling. They have one daughter, Kathleen Ann Gompers (Joe), and two grandchildren, Kelly and Michael. Paul recently attended the 60th Reunion of his 1944 Triadelphia High School graduation class.


Paul W. McGinnis
(Photo by Bob Moore)




     I was born December 13, 1925 in Wheeling, West Virginia, the fourth of six children. My family and I lived on Marshall Avenue in a duplex house shared with my paternal grandmother who taught classical piano. My childhood spanned the Great Depression era when many families kept gardens for canning and raised chickens for eggs and meat. I did my share of hoeing corn. I attended St. Vincent's Catholic School for eight grades then attended Triadelphia High School, a public school.
     My first near-death experience occurred during the winter of my sophomore year of high school, when I missed - by five minutes - being caught, crushed and taken out with thawing ice I had unsuccessfully tried to skate on.
     During my junior year at Triadelphia High, I participated in an optional body development program for all junior and senior boys anticipating serving their country. In September of my senior year, I decided to enlist in the United States navy and become a sailor. My father didn't hesitate signing the necessary documents for my enlistment since I would become eligible for the draft on my eighteenth birthday in December.
     By October 1, 1943, I found myself at Great Lakes naval training station in Illinois. I was now a boot with skinned head, double-soled shoes and leggings. While there, I marched what seemed to be miles, steel wooled the black shoe marks from the barracks' wooden floor, cleaned windows, and was given my share of "happy hours," which was punishment for some or any minor infraction.
     In early December, after approximately nine weeks of training, I graduated seaman second class and was given boot leave.
     I had always enjoyed working with my hands building model airplanes, repairing bicycles, etc. as a young kid and had hoped to be assigned to a naval motor or machinist school, but that was not to be. From 2000 hours until midnight Christmas Eve 1943 (my first Christmas away from home), I found myself on guard duty, carrying a dummy rifle on my shoulder and walking inside the fence of the Navy Signal School at the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, Illinois. The navy had decided to make me a signalman.
     My training at signal school lasted four months. While there, I learned to send and receive semaphore, send and receive Morse code by light and equally important, to identify all those pretty colored flags one normally sees hanging from a ship's yard-arm and waving in the breeze. Upon completion of signal training, I graduated seaman first class (more money) and was given a short leave.
     Sometime in early May 1944, some of us were sent to Shoemaker naval station in California where sailors were billeted while awaiting assignment to a ship or shore station. In short order, Ken Lanter (another signalman) and I were assigned the USS Indianapolis which was docked somewhere in San Francisco.
     The navy transported Lanter and me, along with other young sailors, to the Indianapolis. We went aboard via gangplank and were directed by the officer of the deck to the compartment immediately beneath the quarterdeck where we stowed our hammocks and sea bags. Immediately we all were put to work loading ammunition, which consisted of shells in long metal containers.
     We loaded ammunition all day until early evening, somehow missing lunch. Having worked up quite an appetite, we had to ask about chow and only then were we shown to the mess hall and our first meal aboard. I thought the meal good, particularly the fresh bread. Most of us decided then we had found a good home.
     After a couple days of living out of our sea bags and sleeping in our hammocks, Wojiechowski, a ship's company signalman, found and escorted Lanter and me to the signal bridge. There, we were assigned a sleeping compartment, a sleeping rack, a locker, and given our watch schedule. Following several days of becoming acquainted with other signalmen, standing watch, inspection, and the like, we finally sailed out of Frisco Bay for Pearl Harbor and beyond.
     It was only a short time after leaving port that the gyrations of the ship caused me to become extremely seasick. Someone on the signal bridge handed me a bucket to use and this I did while kneeling on the signal bridge deck.
     My first introduction to actual warfare was during the invasion of Saipan in the Marianas. We were bombarding Japanese installations ashore while being shelled by enemy artillery located somewhere high in the hills. Captain Johnson cleverly maneuvered our ship, moving it slowly starboard or port while at the same time going forward or reverse. The enemy shells would land where we had just been. I remember the sound of their shells as they passed overhead and recall how most everyone instinctively crouched down. I believe we all were quite apprehensive at the time and I recall particularly one older signalman who took shelter in a bulkhead recess, sitting on the deck with knees pulled to his chest and looking petrified with fear. I learned later he had survived the hell of the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. We did take a hit that day; fortunately, the shell failed to explode.
     Another admiral who had previously come aboard and was on the signal bridge with Admiral Spruance was trying to persuade Spruance to have the high smokestack of the sugar mill ashore blown up just to see it tumble down. Admiral Spruance wouldn't comply - at least not that day. Sometime after the war, it was reported the Japanese spotter for the artillery that had shelled us was inside the stack; however, I never heard how we found this out and or whether the smokestack was blown away.
     Our ship was stationed off Saipan for a considerable time after the invasion. Many nights while fighting was still in progress ashore, we illuminated the battle area with star shells. During the day, I can't recall much (if any) activity involving the firing of our guns.
     In the waning days of the Saipan invasion, the putrid stench of decaying bodies hung in the air far out from shore. The flies, which were quite large and not very skittish, were everywhere. The ship's carpenter shop manufactured a hundred or more fly swatters which consisted of a 4-inch by 6-inch piece of canvas attached to a stick. All watches were issued a fly swatter and many hundreds of flies met their demise.
     My last vivid memory of Saipan occurred when leaving the area. I was looking at the water near the shore and noticed a man in the water with his arm raised. At first, I thought this man was waving for help. Immediately I looked through the telescope and realized he was a dead bloated Japanese man, floating with legs and torso submerged with his shoulders, head, and raised right arm above the water. Sayonara!
     The Indianapolis was soon involved in the invasions of Tinian, Guam, Palau, and carrier raids on Tokyo where our ships at night turned searchlights to the sky so our returning aircraft, which were running low on fuel, could easily find our carriers. Some of our aviators did have to ditch after running out of fuel. Iwo Jima was our next engagement. There the Indianapolis, with Admiral Spruance aboard, participated in pre-invasion bombardment. There again, I looked down into a landing craft loaded with marines and felt fortunate not to be one of them. Admiral Spruance who was on the signal bridge, asked me how I would feel if I were in those marines shoes? I answered, "I would be scared to death, sir." He replied, "I'm sure they are too." That was the only time the admiral had ever spoken to me directly.
     A short time after the Iwo invasion, with fighting still going on, I was involved with a message saying that a B-29 bomber returning from a bombing run on Japan was going to have to land on the unsecured island's airfield. We all watched that B-29 come in and go out of our sight as it landed on the Iwo airfield. To this day, I never have heard if that B-2 survived the landing or the gunfire.
     Our next port of call was Okinawa with its green vegetation and mountains. I paid particular attention to the horseshoe-shaped tombs, which I observed through field glasses and telescope. These tombs were not destroyed by our gunfire if my memory is correct.
     Our invasion fleet would bombard during the day and retire to sea at night. Sometimes it was necessary to lay a smoke screen when Japanese kamikazes (suicide planes) were threatening.
     It was March 31, 1945 and I had been on the midnight to 0400 watch. I was asleep in my sack when awakened around 0730 by another signalman and told the watch was being doubled. I was again to go on watch at 0800. Of course I grumbled about just getting off watch, but got up, got dressed and went to the mess hall for breakfast. Halfway through my breakfast of beans and cornbread, two other signalmen joined me. I finished eating several minutes before 0800 and immediately went to the signal bridge and proceeded to shine my shoes prior to taking my station at 0800.
     I heard a tremendously loud roar coming from above, looked up, and to my horror saw a kamikaze in a power dive headed directly for me on the port side of the signal bridge. Its engine and spinning propeller looked huge. Immediately I ran forward several feet, dove to the deck, buried my head in my arms, and the plane struck the ship. It felt like the ship had been picked up and was being shaken violently; then shortly, the shaking stopped. Since the ship had been moving forward about 25 feet per second while the plane was in its descent, it didn't hit the signal bridge at all; instead, it struck aft beyond the port hangar near the head. Its bomb went through the ship's main deck, through the mess hall area where I had just finished breakfast, on through the mess hall deck, the sleeping compartment below, the fuel oil tanks, and finally the ship's hull, before exploding in the water directly beneath the ship, damaging the hull and the number four screw shaft.
     The seawater rushed into the ruptured fuel tank, forcing its contents up into my sleeping compartment (where I had just been sleeping) flooding it with oil and seawater, and drowning several sailors. We had many casualties - nine men dead. Oh, what a somber experience when we buried them. John Diamond, one of the signalmen who had joined me at breakfast, was wounded and sent somewhere off the ship for care. This kamikaze incident was the second time in my life that I knowingly missed certain death by a few minutes. Had I not been called for doubling of the watch, that fuel oil and water would have drowned me also. Hatches had been closed and dogged to prevent additional flooding and eventual sinking; however, our stern was quite low in the water.
     We were detached from the Task Unit and preceded on various courses and speed under our own power off Okinawa, eventually steaming at about 8 knots to anchorage at Kerama Retto.
     We were anchored at Kerama Retto for a full week while a salvage tug tied alongside our port stern investigated the damage and made temporary repairs to hull. While there, the entire fleet of ships (many of which were damaged) constantly on alert for and often under attack by kamikazes. I witnessed several ships hit and particularly recall the atomic-bomb-like explosion of one of tankers when struck by one of those devils.
     We left Kerama Retto on Saturday, April 7, 1945 in convoy with nine APA's and five anti-submarine vessels sailing for Guam. Everyone aboard felt relief from the extreme stress of being under attack by kamikazes.
     We arrived at APRA Harbor Guam on Wednesday, April 11, 1945 and stayed until Sunday, April 15, 1945. While there, further repair to the ship's damaged hull was made, passengers disembarked, nearly 50 crew members transferred off, and several replacement crew members came aboard. About one third of the crew went ashore on a recreation party. We even had two crew members returned to ship under arrest by shore patrol and made prisoners at large. The ship unloaded some aviation gasoline and took on fuel oil and thousands of gallons of fresh water, etc.
     Underway again on Sunday, April 15, 1945, we headed for Pearl Harbor alone, except for the USS Adams DM27, our anti-submarine screen. Our ship held AA target practice that morning and five minutes of silence in commemoration of our late president and commander-in-chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The following day memorial services were held for him. (Taken from ship's log.)
     During our voyage to Pearl via Eniwetok, we launched and recovered our plane several times for anti-submarine patrol and held gunnery exercises. We had picked up a second escort, the USS Cochlan DD606, which with the Adams accompanied us to Pearl Harbor. We arrived there Tuesday, April 24, 1945. We departed Pearl Thursday, April 26, 1945 and sailed independendy for the States arriving Wednesday, May 2, 1945 at San Francisco, where we went into dry dock at Mare Island on May 5, 1945 for approximately 49 days. Then our ship was relocated and moored at Pier 22S navy yard at Mare Island for completion of repairs and overhaul.
     Approximately 400 sailors and officers (one-third of the crew) were given 15 days' leave plus some travel time. Upon their return, the second third of the crew would be given their 15 days plus travel. I elected to be in the last third to go on shore leave and lucked out. When on leave at home, I received a telegram saying my leave was extended 5 days. I surmised this extension was granted because we had done most of the initial work, such as chipping paint, and were now being rewarded.
     After my leave, I returned to my ship at Mare Island and was surprised and saddened that our signal officer, Mr. Fisher whom we all thought a lot of, had transferred. Mr. Hill, a young ensign who was later lost at sea, replaced him.
     The Indianapolis was looking like a queen. She had been repaired, repainted, and fitted with the latest weaponry and associated equipment in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of the Japanese mainland, and I was proud and happy to be one of her crew.
     We had heard the Indianapolis was to sail for Leyte in the Philippines and there join with other ships of the fleet for maneuvers in preparation for that invasion.
     We left Mare Island and shortly afterwards again docked at Hunters Point. There we took on a huge wooden crate, which I watched hoisted aboard by the ship's crane, placed upon the quarterdeck, then moved into the port hangar where it remained under 24-hour marine guard to its destination.
     It was reported another container or two was brought aboard and placed in a cabin in officer country; however, I wasn't a witness.
     We sailed out of Frisco and were immediately under the surveillance of a navy blimp, which stayed with us for an extremely long time acting as anti-submarine patrol. We were churning up quite a wake doing something like 30 knots continuously, the entire way to Pearl Harbor. We arrived there in record time.
     With little delay, after having her fuel tanks topped off, the Indianapolis was again on her way at high speed for the far reaches of the Pacific and arrived at Tinian where the B-29 air base was located - again in record time. We anchored and soon were visited by an LCI full of brass hats. In short order, the huge crate was loaded into the LCI, which soon thereafter, shoved off for the island. Unknown to us, we had just delivered some of the components of the atomic bomb that which was to be dropped on Hiroshima.
     Shortly we weighed anchor and again were underway. After a little anti-aircraft gunnery, we headed for Guam, arriving there the next morning, Friday, July 25, 1945. Captain McVay had gone ashore for briefing, and while there had requested an escort but was informed none was necessary. The ship was again refueled in preparation for our departure.
     We departed APRA Harbor, Guam on Saturday morning, July 28, 1945 for Leyte in the Philippines, where we were to arrive Tuesday morning, July 31, 1945. Unescorted, we were cruising at a leisurely 17 knots, which to all appearances, would make this a pleasure cruise. For wasn't it true the Japanese fleet had lost practically all its major ships in previous engagements with our fleet and - other than a few submarines - presented very little threat to our ships in this theater?
     Sunday night, July 29, 1945, the Indianapolis was several hundred miles west of Guam in the middle of the Philippine Sea. I had showered late, dressed, and with my bedding, had gone to the signal bridge where we signalmen not on watch were permitted to sleep on the deck at night. In the tropics, sleeping on the deck topside was done by much of the crew because most sleeping compartments were like saunas.
     Around midnight, I was awakened by the most violent shaking and explosions that one could imagine. It was as though some giant was using this 15,000-ton, 610-foot-long cruiser for a cocktail shaker and we were the ingredients. After what seemed ages, the violent gyrations ceased along with most of the explosions. It was then I heard the agonizing screams of men who were being burned alive in the internal fires below. Their screams seemed to last forever... then they suddenly ceased.
     Not knowing how extensively the ship had been damaged, we signalmen who were on the signal bridge high above the main deck immediately donned kapok life jackets. Some of the signalmen prepared the classified material in a weighted bag for jettison.
     The ship was still moving forward on an even keel at what seemed the same speed as earlier in the evening. Off our port side, I distinctly noticed the frothy foam of our wake and thought we must have made a U-turn or the ship was running in a large circle. Also I noticed some of the gun crews were manning their guns. Most of the noise, screams, and shouting had subsided and Carpenter, a signalman, was sweeping up the spilled sugar and coffee from the signal bridge coffee station. I thought everything was going to be okay.
     Suddenly, the ship listed sharply starboard and immediately we all knew for certain that we were in for real trouble. I vaguely remember Captain McVay had come down to the signal bridge and met Mr. Flynn, the executive officer who just then was returning from down below where he apparently evaluated the damage and was now at the top of the bridge ladder. They talked out of my hearing, but the order to abandon ship was given shortly and passed by word of mouth, since all communication by phone or speaker was impossible.
     The ship continued rolling slowly starboard while simultaneously going down by the bow. Along with other signalmen, I hurried down the long ladder to the deck immediately beneath the signal bridge. The ship was rolling onto her starboard side at an increased rate now, and everything was mass confusion. Sailors were rushing to the port rail and going over the side into the water. It certainly wasn't an orderly abandonment, for everyone's heart was filled with fear of being sucked under with the ship.
     I recall Lt. Hill, clad only in his underwear, trying in vain to release a life raft and requesting us to give him a hand. He said, "You'll never make it without a raft." Having just gone over the poop deck rail and starting down to the last deck when he said those words, I hesitated momentarily in my descent but could feel the ship rolling and decided not to climb back up to assist him, nor did I look back to see if he succeeded in getting help.
     The ship was now listing at least 30 degrees. Another signalman and I climbed over the last life line and literally half jumped, half slid down the port hull deep into the water. Normally, when one goes under the water, the expectation is to come up through water, breaking the surface. However, we came up through what seemed to be a couple inches of thick black fuel oil that had leaked profusely from the ship's ruptured tanks and was now floating on the surface. Unfortunately, the oil covered my body with some going into my nose and eyes. Fortunately, the oil did not catch fire; otherwise, in all probability, no one would have survived.
     I swam away from the ship as fast as possible; luckily the surface current was going my way. Soon I exited the heavy oil slick and continued swimming away until I was a safe distance from our sinking ship. Only then did I stop and turn to look at her. She was standing straight up on end with her bow down under, and she had revolved 180 degrees. It appeared at least half of her was still above the water line - just standing there like a tall building, the ship's black silhouette on this black-ink sea cast against the background of an extremely overcast and poorly moonlit sky. Momentarily, she continued to stand there, seemingly motionless; then slowly, ever so slowly, she started to descend, picking up speed and then, with that final plunge, disappearing beneath the surface.
     Although I didn't then, I later wondered and oh yes, still do wonder about the horrifying ordeal faced by those sailors who were still aboard when our ship went down. Those trapped men maybe hurt or maybe not, sealed in a dogged-closed hatch compartment surrounded by total darkness, possibly only hearing the cries and sobs of others or the pounding of their own hearts and then, the loud groaning of the compartment steel as the ever-increasing water pressure prepared its crushing blow of that compartment tomb. I think and dwell on this placing myself there. Then, imagining the horror they must have felt, I begin to cry and say, "Oh my God, what a terrible way to die!"
     What a shock-beyond belief! I had been comfortably asleep on the signal bridge deck just 15 or so minutes prior, and now my ship was gone. I was in the ocean among very large white capping swells, all wet, covered with smelly fuel oil and hearing distant cries for help coming out of the darkness.
     Eventually a group of 25 or more survivors gathered around a floater net and I was happy to be one of them. At first some of the group related what they had experienced aboard after the explosions. Then the possibility of a distress signal having gotten off was discussed, but no one seemed to know. We all knew and agreed the ship was due in Leyte Tuesday morning and all felt assured the navy would come looking for us when we didn't show. This was our hope, our "ace in the hole!"
     Actually, an SOS had been successfully transmitted from the ship's radio shack 2 and was received in the Philippines; however, it was discounted by NAVY BRASS as a Japanese ruse.
     Someone in the group suggested we pray, so all of us prayed the "Our Father" aloud, then all went silent. I decided to maybe help morale by singing all the mrching songs we signal trainees learned while marching to classes at the University of Illinois. So I sang, and as expected when I finished, no one clapped, no one spoke a word, nothing but complete silence was the order of the day. For sometime that Sunday night, our group had been silently swaying back and forth and bobbing up and down with the ocean swells. Then someone regurgitated, then another and another; finally I too, along with most all the others, became seasick and vomited or had the dry heaves. I heard no other sound from anyone through the night except the retching, for all of us had become like zombies. Time stood still.
     Dawn, and then morning finally came. We scattered somewhat from our cluster around the floating net but remained relatively close to one another. Someone hollered, "SHARK!" Immediately we all thrashed the water and screamed, thinking the noise and commotion would frighten the shark away. We had four shark alarms that Monday morning, each accompanied with thrashing and screaming, but I never saw the sharks.
     We all seemed to scatter more, and I swam some, looking for whatever. I ran to Fred Kouski, who was from Bridgeport, Ohio just across the river from my hometown. Fred had been burned badly by fire below deck, leaving him in bad shape, and there was no way to help him. Years later, I learned that Fred had died on Tuesday.
     As Monday wore on, the sun's direct heat as well as that reflected from the water's mirror surface was starting to have disastrous effect, for there was no escaping its merciless fire. What a relief when it dipped into the ocean at horizon's edge and was gone.
     The evening became night and the night became chilly and seemed to last for eternity. I recall it was during this Monday night that an unexplained round green light which appeared to be quite steady was seen. It reminded me of the standard signal bridge light with a green filter. When this light was seen, word was passed to remain silent for fear it might be a Japanese sub, which we thought would machine-gun us. Several minutes passed and the light disappeared.
     When dawn came that Tuesday morning, we waited with great anticipation for the sun with all its fiery brilliance to again rise and warm our shivering bodies. This was the morning of our ship's scheduled arrival at Leyte, and when she didn't show there, the navy would come looking for us and we would be rescued. (Dream on sailor boy!)
     Sometime around midday, I was swimming a slow breast stroke and going somewhat with the current when I came down from the top of a huge swell and ran into several scattered survivors, one of whom was Father Conway, our chaplain. Being Catholic, I was most happy to see him since I hadn't been to confession for some time. I asked Father Conway if he would hear my confession; however, due to the extreme circumstances, he waived confession and gave me absolution. It is difficult to explain the feeling of relief that came over me when he finished with the sign of the cross. I was elated and religiously prepared to die. In this group also were Dr. Haynes, the ship's medical doctor and the marine commander, Captain Parke.
     With this group there also were cries of "SHARK" several times. Once again I didn't see any sharks or shark fins that day or any day out there. Years after the rescue, Dr. Haynes stated in a published article he had counted eighty-eight shark attacks on cadavers in two days; rescue vessels recovering bodies refer to many as being mutilated or skeletonized, and fellow survivors tell me of witnessing actual attacks on live survivors and also say sharks were always beneath us. Thank God I looked down only twice.
     At some point Tuesday I ran into Frank, another signalman with whom I spent considerable time exploring the area; that is, we swam to other groups, which we could see when atop swells at the same time. Our thinking was that they might have food or water, for we certainly had nothing and the hunger and thirst were always there.
     Father Conway was constantly swimming from one injured or suffering survivor to another trying to comfort them. Eventually he exhausted himself, became incoherent, and died.
     Captain Parke also was constantly trying to assist and comfort his marines who were suffering from injuries or burns and were incessantly, with pleading voices calling out, "Captain Parke, Captain Parke." Captain Parke eventually exhausted himself physically and mentally and finally succumbed.
     All during Tuesday, we kept watching for those rescue planes the navy would send out searching for the Indianapolis. Evening arrived and still no planes; darkness fell and they never showed; of course, we were overcome with despair, knowing then, they would never come.
     Sometime Tuesday night I found mvself all alone in the darkness, having drifted from the other survivors. The sea was its usual blackness but seemed to emit minute flashes of light, which I did not question.
     For the first time since being immersed in that liquid grave, my mind became slightly, just slightly, veiled; however, the fear of being all alone in that vast sea prevailed and I began calling out, "Anybody out there, anybody out there?" Eventually I got an answer and requested whoever it was to come for me - but to no avail. So I contrived a story of floating boxes and eventually a lone survivor came to me. It was Todd Hickey, a radioman whom I was well acquainted with, having done 30 days mess duty together. He asked about the boxes and I pointed saying, "Out there." Without hesitation, he swam the direction I had pointed. Todd Hickey wasn't rescued but his body was found and buried Sunday August 5, 1945, two days after the 317 were rescued. I still wonder if I was responsible for him not being rescued.
     Harry Todd Hickey, radioman third class was a very likeable, congenial, out-going person and an accomplished cartoonist who frequently produced cartoon wings of many different shipboard functions and situations. In 1944 he drew cartoon of activity on the signal bridge and presented it to me. That cartoon is still in my possession and is treasured. Had Hickey survived, he could have been very successful cartoonist. (A copy of the cartoon is in the middle of this book.)
     Somehow the chilly night turned into day with the usual welcoming of the sun. Besides being hungry, thirsty, and sunburned that Wednesday morning, my vision had become somewhat blurred and my eyes felt full of grit, which I attributed to oil and salt residue.
     Sometime during late morning I had lost contact with Frank but chanced upon another signalman, John Diamond, who had been wounded at Okinawa by the kamikaze attack. John also was having similar eye problems. Since trying to wipe the oil and salt residue from our eyes with our hands only worsened the condition, we decided to lick each other's eyes out. This was a crude but very productive remedy providing nearly complete relief.
     As the day wore on, more survivors became delirious and were like unmanageable drunks; others wanted to remove their jackets and swim for some tent of their imagination.
     I came across a marine with whom I started a conversation (big mistake)! He asked me to swim to Pearl Harbor with him and when I told him "No, it's too far," he firmly grabbed my throat with both hands. He didn't squeeze, but continued to hold on. While I was pleading my case, out of the blue popped up old Frank saying, "Hey friend, what's going on?" Man was I ever glad to Frank! Almost immediately, the marine released me and with no more discussion, Frank and I departed the area of that deranged marine. Had Frank not intervened, I might have had a battle for life and possibly met my demise, for I wasn't sharp enough to have told the marine, "OK, lead the way!"
     One cannot sleep in a life jacket, at least not for very long. On several occasions, upon dozing off and before my face would fall forward into the water awakening me, I dreamed of being in some restaurant (one time at Coney Island, where I had never been) drinking ice tea, lemonade or even beer, and always in my dream the drink was salty. In reality, I had been sipping salt water.
     My first hallucination occurred that Wednesday with the realness of life. Several Arabs on as many camels were circling me and gradually closing in for the capture. I was cursing them in sound naval profanity (which I had learned aboard ship) but they continued closing in on me. Just when I could have reached out and touched them, they vanished and I - completely in shock - looked around and saw only my fellow survivors in oil-stained clothes and life jackets and on some, oil-stained headgear. (Long before this time, that heavy mask of oil that had covered many of us had been washed away from our head and hands by agitating seawater.)
     Whether with Frank or alone, I was almost constantly swimming slowly. It gave me something to do, for time just stood still; however, in the end, the swimming proved exhausting.
     During my swimming, I chanced upon another signalman who was receptive to any suggestion. I asked if he wished me to baptize him and he concurred. So, I proceeded with the ritual by scooping up seawater with a cupped hand, pouring it onto his uncapped head while saying the words, "I baptize you, etc...". When finished with the baptism, I asked him if he wanted me to drown him and again he answered "yes." So with both my hands atop his head, I pushed him under and momentarily held him there. Suddenly all hell broke loose, for he struggled free and came up fighting and striking, which aroused me from my stupor. I couldn't avoid his wrath, for when trying to escape by backing away, the current shoved me right back. After a few failed tries, the light came on and I realized it was necessary for me to circle him 180 degrees, then back off going with the current. The strategy was successful and I watched him become smaller as I back paddled away.
     In early evening, Frank and I were again together. A short distance away, a survivor suddenly began frantically flailing his arms, striking the water and screaming. He continued this while we approached and stopped only when we shouted and placed our arms about him saying words of comfort and encouragement. With this man between us, Frank and I must have momentarily fallen asleep. We both awakened with a start, and Frank asked, "What happened?" The survivor we had calmed was no longer between us, that is, above the water. He was now dead, still between us, but below the surface. Had he died and our weight (from hanging onto him) forced him under, or had our weight (from holding him) forced him under and drowned him? If the latter, he struggled not, for that certainly would have awakened us, and with this reasoning, I take solace. When Frank and I parted, the survivor's body rose to the surface between us. We removed his jacket and watched as his body sank slowly into the depths.
     Darkness fell and eventually the night turned into dawn and dawn into morning. I have absolutely no recollection of that Wednesday night.
     Thursday morning Frank was still in the area and apparently in better shape than I. Realizing my strength and stamina were quickly dwindling and that I couldn't last another day, I related this to Frank. I added, "I am only 19 and I don't want to die," then for the first time, broke down and cried. Frank immediately spoke his usual famous words of encouragement, "You talk like a man with a - --!" That helped a lot.
     Sometime later that morning, a huge, black, transparent ship appeared among us and stayed for quite awhile. I could see survivors floating beyond it and in and then it was gone.
     The sun was now high and getting mighty hot when suddenly we heard a roar and turned our heads toward the sound. There, quite close to the water, coming lickety split was an American bomber with bomb bay doors open. We cheered, waved our arms, and shouted, "We're saved, we're saved."
     In reality, the plane's crew only saw unidentifiable bumps on the water. The plane made a second pass at the same altitude and we again yelled and waved as he passed, but there was no sign of recognition. The plane then gained altitude circled and finally waved its wings. "Thank God!" we had finally been spotted.
     The plane, piloted by Wilbur Gwinn, continued circling for a considerable tin before being relieved by another plane. Other planes dropped rubber rafts and some were recovered, but most were too far away for retrieval since most of us had grown too weak to swim that distance.
     I recall that a raft was recovered close by and Dr. Haynes was elected to get into it, possibly with a survivor who was badly injured. The raft had some fresh water and an extremely small ration of it was doled out to each survivor surrounding the raft. Later, a single cracker was being passed to each man. Being near the raft, I asked for and got an extra cracker to take to Frank who was on the far-side outer perimeter of the survivors. I placed the cracker in my mouth, intending to retrieve it for Frank upon arriving at his location. While swimming to him, the cracker grew soft in my mouth, and being extremely hungry, I was overcome with temptation and swallowed the cracker. Boy was Frank ever ticked when I arrived without that cracker!
     Very early in the evening, we saw a PBY (which had landed) taxi by our group some fifty yards away and go out of sight beyond the swells.
     An occasional plane would fly overhead and drop supplies into the water. In my weakened condition, I slowly drifted away from the survivors around Dr. Raynes' raft and ended up some distance away from them. I was watching a plane (possibly a PBM) circle when one of its crew tossed out something which struck the water about three to four feet in front of me. It was a sack-like container which had split open upon striking the water quickly expelling a green can of something. I grabbed for the green can, missed it, and watched in dismay as it slowly sank. Then a small miracle happened - rather a big miracle. Those in the plane must have observed what happened for when the plane circled again, another package was tossed out. It landed in the same way (bursting open) and at the same distance from me; however, this time knowing what to expect, I immediately grabbed the can when it exited the sack. Again the can was green and contained water which I readily drank - "the whole thing."
     How is it possible for an object being tossed from an airplane to hit the bull's-eye twice in a row? The odds are astronomical!
     I was a good distance away from the group of survivors with Dr. Haynes. With my body growing weaker and my mind less clear, I felt like I was in a trance. Then it happened... I saw that PBY taxiing ahead of me, going to my left only to disappear behind the ocean swells. It had to turn around, but shortly it again appeared ahead of me passing to my right, towing a buoy with a long line. The buoy was moving on top of the water and was a few feet ahead and to my left. I swam forward as fast as possible and just as the buoy was passing in front of me I reached out to hook my right arm into the buoy and missed. I then despaired and became completely bewildered.
     Sometime during the night, I awoke and found myself lying on and secured to the wing of that PBY with many other survivors. Some plane crew members were walking among us, doling out rations of water that I refused, already having had more than my share when I drank that can of water previously.
     I - and I'm sure most of us - again fell asleep and upon awakening saw reflected light coming from the overcast sky. We were told it was the reflected light from the oncoming rescue vessel's searchlight.
     The USS Cecil J Doyle arrived in our area a little after midnight and removed all 56 survivors from the PBY, plus one from the rubber raft tied to the plane. Adrian Marks, pilot of the PBY, having been guided by a second plane in the air as spotter, had taxied about retrieving isolated survivors until darkness fell and his operation had to cease.
     I remember being placed in a steel-framed wire body stretcher, lowered to the Doyle motor whaleboat, transported to the Doyle and hoisted aboard. Thereafter we were medically examined and our conditions recorded as serious to acute, and we were placed in a crew member's sack and watched over by one of the Doyle's crew while we slept.
     The Doyle had taken 2 1/2 hours to remove us from the plane, and then spent several more hours searching for and retrieving 35 or more survivors in the vicinity of Mark's PBY.
     Around 0730 Friday morning, we were alarmingly aroused by gunfire from the Doyle's guns. We survivors were quieted and told Marks' badly damaged plane was being sunk.
     With a minimum of 92 survivors aboard, the Doyle set course for Peleliu in the Palau Islands. En route, those able to eat were given soft ice cream, but somehow I was missed. When the Doyle crewman watching over us came in and sat down on the upside-down bucket and proceeded to eat his ice cream, I inquired if there was any more ice cream, he said "No." When I told him that I didn't get any, he immediately got up, came over, and gave me his. Oh what a heavenly delight to eat, so smooth and refreshing and my first nourishment since the previous Sunday. I thank that man from the bottom of my heart.
     The Doyle arrived at Peleliu Saturday, August 4, 1945 and all the survivors were transferred to the base hospital where we stayed two days. It was there at Peleliu that survivor Robert Shipman, who had been picked up by the USS Register APD 92, died. All the survivors from all the rescue vessels except the USS Bassett had been brought to Peleliu, and with the exception of Harold Shearer (who had been blinded) were transferred to the hospital ship tranquility on Monday, August 6, 1945.
     On the tranquility, I stood up for the first time since my rescue, took my first shower, washed off the oil residue, had my saltwater ulcers treated, and my injured back looked at. We were given a wonderful full meal of which most was wasted because our stomachs had shrunk.
     We arrived at Guam on Wednesday, August 8, 1945 and were admitted to Base Hospital 18 for treatment and recovery. Later, those able were transferred to the submarine rest camp for R & R. Finally, we were shipped via CVE Hollandia to San Diego and there given 30 days' survivor leave.
     Should you ever sail the Pacific and cross that great trench, where wet hell reigned and many deaths met, go ever so quietly and softly pray, for you're o'er the graves of my buddies who died there one day.
     In San Francisco, just prior to our high-speed run to Tinian, Davis, our 310-pound second class signalman and ex-boxer, was memorizing a poem about sailors being buried at sea... HE WAS!
     Saturday en route to Leyte, Singerman, a second class signalman spoke of his dream concerning an enemy submarine... HE MET HIS DEATH BY ONE!
     Sometime during my four days and five nights in the ocean, my mother - back home in West Virginia - awakened from a dream during the night, sat up in bed, woke my father and said, "Paul's in trouble and he's swimming"... AND I WAS!

(Thanks to Bob Moore for providing the photo and story for this page.)


Paul Wendle McGinnis, 90, of Wheeling, WV, was Born to Eternal Life, peacefully surrounded by his loving family on Saturday, February 13, 2016.

He was born December 13, 1925 in Wheeling, WV, son of the late Archibald B. and Alice Mary (Conrad) McGinnis.

In addition to his parents, Paul was preceded in death by three brothers; John Conrad, Charles Robert, and Carl Adrian McGinnis; and a sister, Mary Kathryn McGinnis Horne.

Paul was a graduate of Triadelphia High School and attended St. Joseph’s Collage in Hays, Kansas. He was retired from Siemens Corporation and a member of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church.

In 1943, at the age of 17, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he achieved the rank of Signalman 3rd Class. He was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis in the South Pacific. On its final voyage in 1945, the ship was torpedoed and sunk. Of the 1197 men on board, only 317 survived the 5 days lost in the sea. Through the grace of God, Paul was one of the survivors.

His naval experience guided much of his life, in the fact, that each day was a gift. He never tired of living and learning. Whether it be fixing just about anything, fishing with his grandson, painting, square dancing, mastering the computer with his granddaughter, clock making, or his favorite, wood working. His greatest legacy, though, was the love, help, never ending time, and example he gave to his family and friends. Our sweet "Poppa" will be missed.

Paul is survived by his loving, devoted wife of 64 years, Marcella (Baker) McGinnis; his daughter, Kathleen (Joseph) Gompers; his granddaughter, Kelly Ann (Christopher) Lohri of Wheeling; his grandson, Michael Joseph (Kelly) Gompers of Philadelphia; four great grandchildren, Michael and Jackson Gompers, Addison and Joshua Lohri; his brother, James E. (Valerie) McGinnis; his brother-in-law, Joe (Veneida) Baker; his many nieces and nephews.

Family and friends will be received from 6-8 pm, Tuesday, at the Altmeyer Funeral Home, Elm Grove Chapel, 154 Kruger Street, Wheeling, where a vigil service will be held at 8 pm. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 am, Wednesday, February 17, 2016, at Our Lady of Peace Church, 640 Old Fairmont Pike, Wheeling, WV, with Rev. Dennis Schuelkens as celebrant. Interment with Military Honors will follow in Mount Calvary Cemetery, Wheeling, WV.

A special thanks to our Home of the Good Shepherd "Angels" and Dr. William Mercer, who provided such loving and compassionate care for him and his family.

Memorial contributions may be made to the USS Indianapolis Gwinn “Angel” Scholarship Endowment, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, 250 E. Front Street, Suite 310, Traverse City, Michigan, 49684, or a charity of the donor’s choice.

Contributions to the USS Indianapolis Gwinn "Angel" Scholarship Endowment may also be made online at Online condolences may be offered to the family at

Web page by Linda Cunningham Fluharty.