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Documents reveal burials at sea for 13 sailors from the USS Indianapolis

HONOLULU – Navy Seaman 2nd Class George David Payne was just 17 years old when a Japanese submarine torpedoed his ship in the final weeks of World War II, sinking the ship and killing him along with more than 800 other US sailors.

For decades, his family thought he was missing from action. But now the Navy says newly analyzed documents show he was indeed buried at sea.

The teenager, from the city of Wyoming, Michigan, is one of 13 sailors from the USS Indianapolis who were recently determined to have received Navy committal ceremonies 77 years ago. In response, the Navy changed its status from “unresolved” to “buried at sea”.

“It’s reassuring that he was found and hopefully didn’t suffer much,” his brother David Payne said in an interview from Sparta, Michigan.

Payne said it was a “shock” to hear the news. He first thought it was a prank because his family always believed George’s body was never found.

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Two Japanese torpedoes hit the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945 while the heavy cruiser was en route from Guam to the Philippines. The ship sank in just 12 to 15 minutes. The Navy estimates that around 300 sailors were trapped and went down with the ship.

The remaining 800 sailors abandoned the ship, but the rescue ships did not arrive for four days. Hundreds of seafarers meanwhile died from injuries, dehydration and shark attacks. Only 316 survived. It is considered one of the greatest tragedies in US Navy history.

“Survivors said it was horrible to be in the water, and the sharks just took these young and older guys, one at a time, and ate them, dragged them under the water and took them with them,” Payne said. “And that’s what we always imagined. You know, we were hoping that if he was on the ship, maybe he was killed right away – instead of suffering.”

Payne, who was born a year after the war ended, never met George, who was the third of 12 children. Payne said his older brother was known as a “quiet, well-mannered kid.”

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Rick Stone, retired chief naval historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, said researchers found the names of the 13 sailors in deck logs, commanders’ reports and war diaries kept by the seven ships that recovered bodies.

These ships buried 91 identified men at sea, but for reasons unknown, the names of only 40 of them were reported by the military. Another 51 names were not. The 13 newly identified are from this latter group. Stone said the researchers have open cases on the remaining 38 and have “good evidence” for the identity of five.

Stone suspects the names fell through bureaucratic cracks and were never followed up.

It didn’t help that the Navy announced the loss of the ship the same day the war ended.

“The sinking of the Indy, which would have been on the front pages a week earlier, has kind of been relegated to one of the paper’s middle sections,” he said.

Researchers at Stone’s private foundation began searching for the records in January 2021. Stone said he started a file on the Indianapolis while working at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency and saw evidence that some sailors listed as missing had actually been found.

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“Giving some kind of closure to their loved ones and their families — I mean that honestly and in all sincerity — is the greatest gift I can think of,” Stone said.

Stone’s group, Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation, worked with the Naval History and Heritage Command, the Navy Casualty Office, the USS Indianapolis Survivors Association and the USS Indianapolis Legacy Organization to find their names.

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/27/documents-reveal-sea-burials-for-13-uss-indianapolis-sailors/ Documents reveal burials at sea for 13 sailors from the USS Indianapolis

Sarah Y. Kim

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