Howell, who attended Trigg County High School, told them about how he was assigned to the Indianapolis in 1943, and how he found himself in such places as Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa before heading back to the United States, where the ship was repaired and classified cargo was put on board.
That cargo, which was so secretive that even the captain of the ship didn’t know what it was, turned out to be material for Little Boy, which would later be dropped on Hiroshima, and it was imperative that it reach Tinian Island quickly, Howell said.
On July 30, 1945, the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine, and 316 of the 1,196 crew members ultimately survived the sinking and the almost five days of being stuck in the open ocean with little food and no fresh water.
The biggest dangers to the sailors were dehydration, exposure, malnutrition, hypothermia and shark attacks, although a few rations from the ship were saved, Howell said, adding that he himself found some half-rotten potatoes.
After almost five days, a Navy pilot on a routine patrol flight spotted the survivors, and a PBY Catalina was dispatched to lend assistance and to report on the situation. The Cecil J. Doyle was the first vessel to the scene, Howell said.
The Marine said he was on a hospital ship and in several hospitals for months being treated for numerous conditions due to his time in the ocean.
The ordeal has been detailed in several books on the subject, including Howell’s book, and Quint from the movie “Jaws” famously recalled the incident during a lull in their search for the killer shark.