Tag Archive: PT-109


Review by C.J. Bunce

Whenever you read a Colin Solter book, you know what you’re going to get.  Salter, author of 100 Speeches that Changed the World and the co-author of 100 Books that Changed the World, is bringing his next thought-provoking ideas to your bookstore next month, 100 Letters that Changed the World.  As with his prior entries in the series, Solter doesn’t really assemble the 100 best, 100 favorite, or even 100 most important items in each category, but he brings to light primary references from history.  In doing this he reminds readers as much as things change, they also manage to stay the same.  Having read his earlier books, I find I’m as intrigued to learn what he has selected from the obscure as much as more expected finds.

In truth, not all of these letters changed the world, if anyone, as might be the case with a few suicide notes from popular culture across the decades.  It also gives a bit more weight to letters that exist in their original form today, and letters that might fetch big dollars on the collector’s market.  The most intriguing of the letters is a note from Abigail Adams to husband John Adams from 1776.  Her letter decidedly did not change the world, because had Adams paid heed to her plea, women would have been included along with “all men” in the Declaration of Independence.  But it is a fascinating secret from history nonetheless.  Also fascinating is the final, jovial letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his wife Constanze, including references to his peer Antonio Salieri.

More obvious, important entries in 100 Letters that Changed the World include the telegram informing FDR about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s open letter from a Birmingham jail, Nelson Mandela’s letters from prison, and words of King Henry VIII’s affections to Anne Boleyn, which indeed would forever alter the course of history in Europe, Christopher Columbus’s first report back to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1493, as well as Galileo mentioning his telescope whereby he first saw the moons of Jupiter and noted its military advantage for Italian naval efforts in 1610.  And from the historic, but perhaps not so critical to human progress is the last telegram message from the RMS Titanic, a telegram from the Wright Brothers to their father of their successful first airplane flight, and Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus describing the horrific deaths from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79.

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Philanthropist Paul Allen is known by many as the owner of the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers, but he’s also known by space technology and science enthusiasts and science fiction fans.  In addition to co-founding Microsoft and earning billions allowing him to fund myriad projects, he owns the suborbital commercial spacecraft SpaceShipOne, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, which houses several screen-used props and costumes from the history of sci-fi TV and film, among many other educational, charitable, and influential enterprises.  Recently Allen used his wealth to begin to earn his sea legs as the next Dr. Robert Ballard, the ocean explorer who discovered the shipwrecks of the R.M.S Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, the USS Yorktown in 1998, and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 in 2002.  In 2015 expeditions Allen and his team discovered among the ocean’s depths the bell to the British vessel HMS Hood and the remnants of the Japanese battleship Musashi, and earlier this year he located the wreckage of the Italian destroyer Artigliere.  Yesterday Allen and a small expedition crew on the research vessel Petrel discovered what was thought unfindable: the remains of the World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35).  Allen’s discovery off the coast of the Philippines, 18,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, now puts him in league with Ballard, and more importantly, will hopefully bring closure to the 22 remaining survivors of one of the most famous ships in modern history to meet a dire end at sea.

At 12:20 pm local time Saturday, August 19, 2017, Allen released the following tweet:

The “35” in the photograph above is the ship’s registry number painted on the hull (and throughout the vessel) clearly identifying the ship as the Indianapolis.  “To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement.  “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances.  While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”

Ship’s bell of the USS Indianapolis as photographed by the crew of the research vessel Petrel Saturday.

In the final days of World War II, the USS Indianapolis had completed delivery of components of the atomic bomb to the island Tinian.  Dubbed “Little Boy,” the bomb would be dropped on Hiroshima, precipitating the end of the war.  The mission was secret, and so on July 30, 1945, when Japanese submarine I-58 struck the ship’s starboard side with two Type 95 torpedoes–one in the bow and one amidships–the Indianapolis sank within 12 minutes, but tragically was not listed as overdue.  By the time a rescue party arrived, more than four days had passed and the approximately 800 survivors of the 1,196 crew ship dwindled to only 316, resulting from dehydration and shark attack.  A fantastic National Geographic compilation of interviews from 2015 provides first-hand accounts from surviving sailors of the Indianapolis’s end 72 years ago. But you already know this story.  Thanks to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the Indianapolis has been etched in modern memory since the film’s debut in 1975.  Without the fictional character of Robert Shaw’s seaman Quint, the Indianapolis might be but a forgotten footnote to history along with so many equally valiant ships lost in wartime.  The Indianapolis is now a revered part of the American consciousness along with the USS Arizona, and it’s doubtful anyone would have pursued this project but for the importance and tragedy of this ship’s crew communicated to us by a film, and amplified by that film’s continuing legacy.

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