Veteran Harold Bray Recognized at Fleet Week
When Veterans Day comes around, you probably put out your flag and give a thought to the men and women who have served our country. This year we have a special veteran to celebrate, Harold Bray. As you may know, Harold is the last surviving crew member of the USS Indianapolis and Benicia honored him with a moving ceremony in July, where dignitaries spoke of the tragedy and heroism of the crew members that survived. A bronze statue of Harold was unveiled.
The Harold Bray, Veterans, USS Indianapolis (CA-35) Committee wanted more for Harold. They wanted Harold Bray to be honored at Fleet Week in San Francisco. It took almost two months to work through the requirements and approval process set by San Francisco Fleet Week for those who got to participate. And for the first time in San Francisco Fleet Week history, they had a Master of Ceremony, and it was Harold Bray. A total of seventeen committee and family members were able to join the Navy for a day.
Four family members accompanied Harold to the St. Francis Yacht Club for the Master of Ceremony and recognition activities, where the Admiral and dignitaries participated. Thirteen committee members and families got to board the USS Paul Hamilton Destroyer (60) and sail in the Parade of Ships. A proud day for Harold Bray and Benicia.
Fleet Week is meant to recognize and thank those who go to sea in defense of the nation but, for some, the sacrifice can be hard to imagine. Harold Bray survived one of the most harrowing ordeals in World War II.
Harold was shipped out to Mare Island in Vallejo, California, where he joined the crew aboard the USS Indianapolis.. The ship had been undergoing repairs after the battle of Okinawa in spring 1945 and wasn’t scheduled for any immediate missions. The USS Indianapolis was tapped to deliver “Little Boy” the atomic bomb that the U.S. hoped would end the war in the Pacific. The crew on the USS Indianapolis successfully dropped off its payload at Tinian Island.
On the night of July 30th, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was struck by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine. The mighty USS Indianapolis sank in just 12 minutes. The crewmen scrambled to abandon ship and Bray, who would normally sleep below deck, had been given permission to sleep topside that night. This undoubtedly saved his life as the torpedoes struck just outside of his assigned bunk. He found a life raft and began to aid the wounded and help fight off the sharks that infested the waters. He recalls helping pick up 80 more crewmen who clung to the raft and crash net in the Philippine waters.
Though the crewmen didn’t know it, an SOS was never sent, so Bray and his fellow servicemen hung on in for a harrowing almost five-day wait for rescue. Bray had sustained burns on the left side of his body, which were aggravated by salt water and oil spilled by the ship. “We were covered in oil – in your eyes, in your mouth…I still taste it to this day,” says Bray. They were stuck in the water with no food or water, many of them injured; and then the sharks came. Bray recalls seeing his fellow crewmates falling victim to sharks lured by the scent of fresh injuries. Others went mad from exposure.
The USS Indianapolis had never been reported missing, so no one was looking. Finally, a plane spotted the survivors by chance and radioed for help. It would be another day and a half before that help came. Bray was pulled to safety along with the other survivors and they were shipped to a hospital in the Philippines. Bray had lost 35 pounds in nearly five days.
Of the nearly 1200 men on board the USS Indianapolis, 900 survived the sinking, but only 316 survived the wait for rescue. It is considered the worst disaster at sea in US Naval history. Bray counts himself incredibly lucky to have survived. Read about the Harold Bray monument and more of his story at beniciamagazine.com/harold-bray-monument/.