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  Saturday, July 30, 2005

Sunk by Submarine

David S was born in Los Angeles in 1923, the fifth of seven children. David was the family's youngest son, and beloved by all. His father was a Romanian immigrant, his mother the child of Russian and Hungarian immigrants. They had left their homelands to escape what would be called, a century later, ethnic cleansing. But David, like his mother, was born in America. He was an American.

We are a country of immigrants. It takes a lot of spirit to read the writing on the wall, to abandon your belongings, your homeland, all the familiar places and stores and people and language, to leave that all behind in hope of a better life across the sea. Somehow, though, millions did it, overcoming their fear of an unfamiliar land to escape the fear of slavery, death, and destruction. People pushed by fear, people drawn by hope.

David S in 1933
David with sister Ruth, his mother and little sister in car

David's mother, Fannie, was about five feet tall, with dark hair and a round face. She was a sweet woman, known for giggling and laughing. She was born and raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she became a librarian. It was at the library that she met the man from Romania, who spoke no English. She taught him English, he proposed marriage, she declined. He kept proposing, she kept refusing, but his English kept getting better. She moved to Los Angeles. He followed. He pursued her persistently, until Fannie finally relented. You find stories like these in romances and fairy tales, but I wonder how romantic it is. It seems to me that a relationship should be forged in friendship, not won in battle.

They had a girl, then a boy. Then a boy, then a girl. Then David. Then a girl, stillborn. Then another girl. A lot of kids from a man who didn't like children, but Fannie loved them all.

David and Alvin
David (left) and older brother Al, 1940

David's father, the Romanian, was an insurance salesman, and did well at it. David's brother Al followed in their father's footsteps, and also succeeded in the insurance business. They had a way with words.

The USS Indianapolis

I don't know why David didn't go into insurance. What I do know is that he joined the Navy and achieved the rank of signalman, second class. He was assigned to the USS Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser that became the flag ship for the 5th fleet in the South Pacific during World War II. On July 26, 1945, the Indy delivered the components of the world's first atomic bomb to Tinian Island.

David's little sister in 1941
David's little sister at 8 yrs old

Meanwhile, David's mother was now divorced and in poor health. She had lost a leg to diabetes, and David's 12-year-old sister (shown above at 8), the only child still at home, cared for their invalid mother alone. The older kids had families of their own, and David was at sea.

Saturday, July 28, while the Indianapolis was en route from Tinian to Leyte in the Philippines, David spoke to fellow signalman Paul W. McGinnis about a dream he had "concerning an enemy submarine."

David S
Shortly after midnight on Monday, July 30, 1945, sixty years ago today, the USS Indianapolis was midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and rapidly sank. If you've seen the movie Jaws, or any of the documentaries on the Indianapolis, you know the story. David was not one of the survivors.

David and shipmates
Middle row, far right

David's mother was devastated by the news. She stopped eating, and after two weeks was hospitalized. A month later she passed away, from a broken heart. The 12-year-old daughter had to move from place to place, living with one relative and then another.

Me and my mom
That 12-year-old girl would one day give birth to me, naming me after her late brother, who'd gone down with the ship.

I never met my grandmother, grandfather, Uncle David. But the pictures survived, and the DNA, and the stories. Life goes on.

For more on my mom's story, read Improv.

Blog Tag: Chatter


At 7/30/2005 3:49 AM, Anonymous Brian Shields said...


I just want you to know what an unbelievably wonderful post I think this is...

Brian Shields
The Bay Area is Talking (dot com)

At 7/30/2005 9:41 AM, Blogger dkgoodman said...

Thank you, Brian, for your kind words and your link at The Bay Area Is Talking.

In related news, I just read that J.J. Abrams, producer of Alias and Lost, will be producing a movie called The Good Sailor, based on the sinking of the Indianapolis.

At 7/30/2005 10:44 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

Great story, Dave. You could write a book about this. It would also make a great movie.

At 7/30/2005 11:32 AM, Anonymous Claude said...

Thanks for sharing this. I loved the way you told your family story and you were right in saying that I liked old photos. Yours are great.
I also like the way your family story mixes with history.
Hope you'll give us more of this!

At 7/30/2005 11:48 AM, Anonymous Rhymes With Right said...

Thank you, David. I was living on Guam 30 years ago when I first heard the story of USS Indianapolis. When I saw the article you commente on over at my site, I had to post.

My feeble efforts pale compared to your beautiful post, which I have linked.

At 7/30/2005 12:58 PM, Blogger beajerry said...

Wow! Interesting post!
That's definitely a rich history to have.

At 7/30/2005 1:38 PM, Blogger Candace said...

::hugs:: Glad that I happened to stop by today.

At 7/30/2005 2:44 PM, Blogger dkgoodman said...

Me too. :)

At 7/30/2005 5:37 PM, Blogger Candace said...

::blush:: Don't be surprised if your visitor count increases significantly today. ::eyelashes::

At 7/31/2005 1:15 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

Wow, this is just amazing, it had me captivated and i didn't want it to end! What a wonderful family history you have :o)
The photos are fabulous!

At 7/31/2005 8:46 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

Wow... that's so amazing. I love that you had pictures to go with this. This would be a wonderful book to write.

At 8/01/2005 1:35 PM, Blogger dkgoodman said...

I just found a web page by survivor Paul W. McGinnis, in which he says that a couple days before the attack, my uncle, "a second class signalman spoke of his dream concerning an enemy submarine..."

At 8/02/2005 10:05 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

How eerie.

At 8/05/2005 10:39 AM, Anonymous Mike Duffy said...

You might want to check out a series of posts over at Susan Kitchen's blog, starting with this one on the sinking of the Indianapolis. She's been history-blogging the events leading up to detonation of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima (i.e. blogging events in the past from the present) - an informative and well written series.

At 8/05/2005 4:07 PM, Blogger dkgoodman said...

Thanks, Mike. We've already been chatting, and she's linked to my post.


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