tv Oral Histories World War II Veteran Harlan Twible CSPAN August 8, 2020 10:56pm-12:01am EDT
that would be used on the city of the hiroshima. crew members, only 317 out of 1196, were not rescued for several days. the national world war ii museum recorded this interview. harlan: i was born in gilbert bill, massachusetts, march 10, 1922. >> you just recently had a birthday, huh? harlan: yup. >> did you grow up in gilbertville? harlan: the first 18 years i was in gilbertville, and i have not spent any time since then. >> is it where you would consider to be your hometown? harlan: it would be considered to be my hometown. >> how many brothers and sisters did you have growing up?
what would your for -- what was your family's size makeup? harlan: two brothers and one sister. >> where did you fit in? harlan: i was number three. before we started recording we were talking about your family and growing up during the depression years, could you tell me a little bit about what life was like for you coming up during that time? was an my father irish-american. he emigrated from ireland to the united states to find a better place to live. hered his family came over andi looked at their papers found up they had $600 to the whole family when they emigrated to the united states. spent most of his life
.n the cloth industry he was either a loan fixer or a or a weaverom fixer in these mills. say your father was education minded when it came to the children? harlan: yes. i can recall at a very early age, when my father was going to talk about what would happen in the future. college theish following will happen. his ambition was that everyone of his children would get the education he did not get. >> and all of you did go on to get it.
harlan: two doctorates and two masters. been 19 yearsave old, almost 20 when the japanese attack pearl harbor. you are andl where what you were doing when you heard the attack? harlan: i was walking through the united aircraft factory and hartford, connecticut. at 12:30 in the afternoon. >> where you working for united? harlan: no, this was a sightseeing tour they had arranged and i wanted to go on. >> what was your reaction to hearing that news? what was your reaction to hearing about the
harlan: world war i had already been fought. we knew some of the survivors, and there were very few stories on about war, so when we heard that the japanese had struck us, we were astounded. interviewer: had you been following what was going on in europe? yes, we were very much interested. following inof it, the schools. kittler --hitler was a real horror to all of us. host: -- interviewer: after high school, you started college on your own, correct? harlan: after graduating from
high school, i got a job. earned a great some of $100, and i had $75 left to go to i told my dad and mom i was going to go to college , and they did not resist and said, ok. but i did not have the funds, and i went to college on $75. i survived. i paid the tuition. i paid my living expenses. and the spring of my first year readingge, i remember in the paper you could take an exam to the naval academy and if you want you got an appointment to the academy. this sounded like heaven to me.
clothing and a job after i get done. in second the first time i took the exam. the next time i took the exam, i came in number one. interviewer: when was it that you took the exam? harlan: in the spring. year?iewer: what do you recall? harlan: the first one would have -- i really cannot tell. march or april, somewhere around there. it was the same time next year. interviewer: how old were you at the time? harlan: i was 19 for the first and -- i have to do a
little bit of arithmetic. the firstr: you took exam before the u.s. got into 1941, and then 1942. harlan: i took the second exam, and i one --won. this is a great thing in my really, because it showed me you could do anything if you work hard enough at it. interviewer: tell me about life in the naval academy. the navale life at academy was kind of severe those days. the plague years of the academy were awfully rough.
very strict. very demanding. and, of course, i will never the -- and chairwoman were saying shake hands to the man to the right of you into the man to the left of you. what if you will not be here next fall. he was telling us it was going to be tough. get ready for it. interviewer: did it end up being as tough as you were expecting it to be? academically, i think it was as tough as i thought it was going to be. as far as discipline was concerned, i did not realize
discipline could be that severe. interviewer: what did you specialize in at the academy? , mechanicalneering engineering. make anyer: did you lifelong friends while you were at the academy? of them.h yeah, a lot i cannot recall all of them. my roommate, he passed away about 20 years ago, maybe 15 years ago. cantwell, he went on to become a captain in the navy. he died several years ago. them if ime a lot of sat down and thought about it. interviewer: when you took the exam to get into the academy,
were you doing so with the intention of making the navy your career? harlan: i thought it was the greatest opportunity in the world. a full-time job after you graduated and a job until you wanted to get out. interviewer: when did you graduate from the academy? 1945.: do -- wasr: did you a -- didn't you have to do tour aboard a ship? harlan: we had cruises every year, and that was to train us aspects ofical so it was a ship, very good training.
you --ewer: and when once you graduate, you are commissioned. where were you assigned? sent afteryou graduation? harlan: the uss indianapolis. only 12 of us were assigned to capital ships at that time. assigned to the indianapolis. compatriot [indiscernible] i was the only one that went into active duty as far as i know on the indianapolis. interviewer: were you able to go graduation?e after harlan: 30 days.
interviewer: your parents must have been proud to see their son. course they were, and of , i was thrilled to death. my girlfriend i had all this time agreed we were going to get married and we got married on june 14. interviewer: while you were home on leave? , she was 21 and i was 23. and it was a marriage that lasted 72 years. interviewer: what was her name? harlan: alice. interviewer: on june 14, you said. harlan: yes, flag day.
what, only: that is five weeks later that the ship was sunk. oflan: right, on the 29th july. interviewer: when and where did you report aboard the indianapolis? i cannot name the seaport on the pacific coast. ?nterviewer: in san francisco harlan: note, what is the other one. interviewer: san diego? harlan: it was near san diego. i cannot remember the name of it. coronado?r:
harlan: no, one more. there that iit was reported aboard ship, and , our ship had me been chosen to carry the first atomic bomb to the pacific. interviewer: so you knew absolutely nothing? harlan: we saw these two sailors and slungthe dock, between them on a pole was this thing. they mustthe chief, have a lot of damage in the pacific. that looks like a radium flask to me. , when it came time for the
court to inquire as to who knew when. henson plywood said he knew what it was. he said it was a radium flask. interviewer: what was your first impression of the indianapolis when you first reported? harlan: beautiful ship. i have been on several ships before that, but that was a beautiful ships. interviewer: can you describe her a little bit for me? had your command division and then you had the secondary division, and i was in secondary.
-- in secondary with the ship, the bomb blew up. ,t blew up the bow of the ship and the ship began to sink. officer whitney said he was going to go down and see what the orders would be from the chief executive officer, from the executive officer who was red flynn, and he went down, and never came back. ladder, and ie reported to red flynn, and he in together and make them stay together. i did that.
and, finally, i knew this was an impossibility and i gave the order to abandon ship. came along. 325, 151 survived. interviewer: what were you doing when the torpedoes hit? watch, when you are on you are always observing. to see observing the sea if there is an enemy approaching , if there was any real reason for caution. we did not see the enemy. it was cloudy. visibility was almost nil.
interviewer: just prior to the ship being sunk, when you stopped at tinian to deliver the parts. harlan: when we stopped where? interviewer: at tinian. harlan: oh, ok. interviewer: did you see the parts being removed? i was on deck when they were unloading it. no big action on board the ship, but on the dock, there were admirals. of importance on tinian wasn't there. bronze. out it was the interviewer: were you able to go
ashore while you were on tinian or no? harlan: no. , we took off to join the fleet. interviewer: so you were on 29th?the night of the to 12:00, theter torpedo -- as i recall, it was a quarter to 12 when the torpedo hit. torpedoes, not one. started out the bow and the immediate sinking of the ship. interviewer: were you aware the ship had stopped zigzagging?
yes, of course i was aware. everybody on the ship knew what the ship was doing. zigzagging, and we had so -- slowed the ship down. interviewer: did that concern you at all? no, it did not. i am not absolutely positive we stopped all of the zigzagging. we slowed down to 22 knots. probably stopped zigzagging pretty much. recall.ot zigzag as i i cannot recall now. it has been a long time, 70 years. torpedower: so when the
hits, there is a big flash. yeah, you know we had been hit. you know it was a torpedo? harlan: i had no reasons for knowing it was a torpedo. i was on the letter coming down skyaft, and then the second one hit. we knew we were in trouble. so you gathered 325 ship, the back end of the you said? harlan: i did not gather them. i told them to hang onto anything they could hang onto, including the lifelines.
greathe tilt became too to hold on. i gave the order to abandon ship. then i yelled, follow me. at bodies came in so fast it was unbelievable. and we swim away from the ship. and then, we looked back and the ship was down. interviewer: you saw the ship go down? harlan: yes, we saw it go down. about 50, 60 yards from us. i do not know how many yards. it is hard for me to remember at this point, this date, but we could see the image of the ship going under. interviewer: what is it going through your mind when you look back and see your own, even though you had only been aboard the ship for a few weeks? harlan: i had been at the naval
academy and trained. they trained their officers well , and my first thought was, where there any senior officers around? and there were no senior officers. so i took command. sailors did, the not really want anybody to tell then --, to do, and who is the real hero of my group said, you heard what the officer said. do what he wants you to do. so they all did. point to holdhat them type -- tight to the life nets in the water. of three to five were
pretty well tied up. interviewer: how did you determine there were three to five men in your group? off -- counted, turned count off. the 151i get from the people on board sure. off.25 was counting we counted off three to five. interviewer: you had the guys died? tolan: we had the guys died the rope. we had four of them in the water. we tied the rope together and the men tied themselves to the rope and get inside the rope. wanted to do, i wanted them to be attached. interviewer: did you all have
life rafts or lifeboats? rafts. we had three there were so many clearly injured people. we put them in the life rafts. recall, i do not think there were any people in the life rafts that were hurt real bad. interviewer: you yourself had been wounded. thean: oh yeah, but by grace of god, i had a big wound in my side from shrapnel. it did nott, but take on --, so it healed itself
i do not know the length of time. when you all got into the water that first night, what were some of the problems you all faced? fright, woundsr, , i would state that was all we had. there was not any fighting. there was not any turmoil of that type. but everybody was scared to death. these are all 18, 19-year-old kids. interviewer: you are leading or in command of a group of three to five guys and you are, what, 23? harlan: 23, but i was well
trained. i would say that the naval academy is fabulous. interviewer: were you all confident that you would be picked up fairly quickly? no, that was a big problem that we had was to try to keep the men thinking that they would be saved, but there was no way on gods green earth that i knew we were going to be saved. in fact, when we were saved, the hadr -- my lifejacket become so starting with water it was almost up to my lip was i was in the sea, so i 15 hours.maybe 10 to
that allave presumed but a few would have gone under. interviewer: you were wearing pocket?he k k pocket.ah, the it is supposed to last 90 hours. the following morning, the morning of the first day is when the sharks showed up, correct? harlan: right. interviewer: what was your first indication that this was going to be a problem? harlan: they grabbed some of our people who had broken free from the net. everybody tied to the net the
sharks did not attack. every time the sharks were coming in, we would kick and scream and do things we thought would drive the sharks away, and they did drive them away. off -- as only picked far as i could see the sharks only picked off to eat or to provideple who would themselves no protection around them. interviewer: could you see or hear any of the other groups of guys? harlan: none. interviewer: so as far as your new. as far as you knew, you're the only other survivors. up asd at some point set shark watch.
harlan: right. interviewer: what did you have them in doing? harlan: whenever they saw as shark, two young shark and start screaming. i do not know whether the hell that was effective or not. at the sharks did not like us, so they would leave us, but the groups.they attacked in human beings are not designed to outmaneuver sharks in the water. harlan: no, there is no way you could. interviewer: you also had a deal wounded men dying. how did you deal with that? harlan: pardon me. interviewer: you also had a deal
with wounded men dying. how did you deal with that? harlan: they had been in rafts. we had been taking care of them, and when they died i just cut them loose from the group and let them float out to sea. i did not want the bodies around. interviewer: do you think that would have more of an effect on the men in the group. am sure they, i were glad to see the bodies go. interviewer: did you all have any kind of supplies at all as far as medical goes or food? harlan: i cannot recall. there was no food. i cannot recall if there was any water flask. there were a couple, but i do not think they were in our group. they were in another group. you all were floating in a big oil slick, correct? harlan: pardon me.
interviewer: you all were floating in a big oil slick, correct? harlan: yeah, that was a blessing because it helped us from getting sunburned. i'd everybody spare themselves with oil. and they did, and it stopped them from dying of sunburn. interviewer: i actually read that the oil, the fuel also may have contributed to keeping the sharks away. harlan: i would suspect. a shark expert, but they did not -- they never attacked the group. they only attacked single people. interviewer: how did you keep the guys from, because you guys did not have freshwater.
how did you keep the guys from drinking saltwater? harlan: well, i just told them what would happen. i have no recollection of anybody resisting the fact that i told them do not drink the saltwater. dayrviewer: after the first , once you start getting into days two or three, and how are you keeping your group under control? harlan: they were also scared at that point. command woulduld have been able to commend them. strangely enough, i had several officers in this group of people that stayed with me, and i never
knew it until after we got out of the sea. interviewer: these were guys who ?ere higher in rank than you harlan: pardon me. interviewer: these were officers higher in rank than you? harla : weren: i would say they higher in rank to me. , and ithem came up to me say you take over. and he said, i cannot. me -- i said,to tie yourself to me, and i will take care of you. ofwent in and out nationality. he remembered that i had --
remembered that i had told him what to do, and he told his family, and to this day i get forers from his family saving vic's life. i do not save it. he just did what i told him. interviewer: i guess, especially by the third day, after having been out in the heat or the sunlight that long with no food, no water you probably had quite a few guys who were going in and -- of harlan: sanity? interviewer: yeah. could. we saved all we somebody who was or lose hisgo under
senses, we would try to take care of him. washey thought there nothing we could do to stop the fighting. ofy did not like the idea other -- of someone telling them what to do. interviewer: what was your biggest fear during those few days you work in the water or those four days you were in your water? pardon me. interviewer: what was your biggest fear in the water? my fear was for the men, not for myself.
i never feared for my. i was too busy. i did not go to sleep in the five days, five nights rather. my biggest concern always was the people that we could save that we save them. there were some we could not save. they were blown apart. we sort of nurse them as best we , but we could not do anything better than make them feel good. interviewer: and you stayed awake the entire time, correct? believe -- illy look back so many times.
i really think i stayed awake all the five days. interviewer: by the time you were rescued, there were 151 guys left? harlan: yeah. interviewer: were just the other some hundred odd guys that badly wounded that they pass? the -- wethink that 30, 40 pounds 25, . from 1512 --151 to 129. that is my actual weight by the way. interviewer: that is a lot of weight to lose in just a couple of days. harlan: you were not bringing any liquid in, and liquid is going out. interviewer: another issue you
all faced was hypothermia. harlan: right. interviewer: a lot of people do not realize. you think the balmy south pacific water is 85 degrees, but your natural body temperature is 98.6. harlan: i think a lot of the -- there was no way we could tell, that i could tell what caused their death. that was not my objective. my objective was to keep them alive. interviewer: how were you all located? how were you all found? airplane flew over us . it is in my office.
us, andane flew over thought we were an enemy and came in a second time to bomb us . yelledt sure who it was that his men in the water. i do not know who the hell it was. one of the crew yelled those are our men. those are men in the water. pass and another notified the navy and the navy came out of the ships 18 hours later. wen'sviewer: that was g plane? the captain ofs
the plane that spotted us. interviewer: they flew over your group? harlan: yeah. --checkwin, he is the hero of the crowd. interviewer: it took 18 hours for your crew was located? harlan: yeah. interviewer: what were those 18 hours like knowing that you had ?een cited? --sighted harlan: there was a lot of joy. maybe, i can only speak for myself personally. , to keepi had to do alive, somebody has found me to pick me up. at what point did you realize, i am going to make
it through this? harlan: never thought of it. had -- i was imbued with this great responsibility they put into you at the naval academy, and my thoughts were all of the time about my crew. together and them how do i protect them? interviewer: when did you find out that there were other survivors as well? on, i think we got it was -- i do not know where it was, but it was after we got on land. interviewer: and tell me about your rescue. what ship pick you up? how did you get out of the water
? harlan: pardon me. interviewer: tell me about your personal rescue. harlan: a typical navy tradition. everybody estranged. --ade sure everybody was everybody in my group was on board ship before i got on. they carried me out of the water . i really do not know, to be thest with you, who did counting of the 151 men were left. interviewer: which ship pick you up? geez.: oh, knew. i
this is what old age has done to me. my memory on these items is scarce. ringgold or the bassett? harlan: the bassett. interviewer: what happened to you after they pick you up? to feed mey started water teaspoon by teaspoon, and andn recall lying in a bunk taking my naval academy ring off , andutting it beside me they took me away to clean me up a little bit. butto really make me clean to scrape some of the crud off. i came back in my wing was still
was still there. my fingers had swollen up so bad i could not stand the pressure of the ring on them. were you allhow treated by the sailors aboard the bassett who had pick you up? harlan: they thought we were jewels.wels -- prize they treated us so well it was unbelievable. interviewer: i guess you assuming you am passed out after you got aboard ship if you had been awake for -- harlan: oh yeah. as soon as they laid me down on a bunk, i was gone. i can recall that. time stayed awake all that . i do not know how long i slept.
it must've been a long time. i was not not interested in food or water. i was just interested in sleep. what did you do or what happened to you in the days following your rescue? well, i could recall we were isolated from the rest of the people in the camp that we were brought to. we were isolated for a long time. -- and i forget who the were knownas, we
yelled the scope of power, and we went up and signed out a jeep . i will never forget that. we signed out a jeep and we were not supposed to sign out a jeep. we took off and explored. we had a hell of a time. interviewer: this was on callaloo? harlan: we had a real good time. --dick wasappy happy. he was cleaned up. his wounds were cleaned up and so. interviewer: were you all ever debriefed at any point? harlan: were we debriefed? oh yeah, there was a lot of debriefing. , i do not know why.
i was chosen to get a metal --medal. nobody talked to me about it. later, i washalf called on board and awarded the nmedal. am i destroying this? interviewer: you got a purple heart for your wounds. harlan: and then i got a medal for bravery. , i think i was the first member of my class to get a major medal. admiral sprillens gave me my purple heart.
all tolder: were you not to talk about the loss of the ship? harlan: i do not recall now to be honest with you whether we were or not. i did not want to talk about it to anybody, including my wife. anybody to know what the heck we had been through. it was a horrible experience. share thewant to rotten experience with them. where were you when the war ended? harlan: let's see. where the heck was i? jesus. interviewer: were you still on pellalu? harlan: yep, i think we were.
u whene still on pellal the war ended. ,t ended after the second bomb which was 14 days later. inould say we were still pellalu. returnewer: when did you to the united states? let's see. i do not know. i do not know how long we spent in the hospital, but we spent a long time in the hospital. we probably returned to the states in november. . am guessing these dates, you know. interviewer: and when you came in theid you remain
service for any length of time? harlan: oh yeah, for sure i did. i think i got out in 1989. --, whichon limited ability, which will for your career i. they put me on limited ability. i wanted either to be admiral or wouldg, and limited duty not give me that opportunity, so , i was on limited duty for about a year and a half to a year before i decided, this is not for me. interviewer: were you questioned
what you call it. they took a brief break in the court-martial, and they came back, and the captain was in command. how the hell can i be in command of anyone in the water? only until --t senator smith heard my story. 2000, 2001,as in and he had a hearing, and i will senator, after we had the hearing, he came down and put his arm around my shoulder and said when i came into this room i feel one way. coming out i feel another. i knew that i had won.
the captain had been exonerated. interviewer: so that is when congress passed the resolution? yeah, i think it was 201. interviewer: most of the survivors thought that mcveigh had been railroaded? harlan: i think everybody did. interviewer: he was the only ship captain in the ward to be court-martialed for losing his ship? harlan: yeah. stories as to why he was court-martialed. [indiscernible] interviewer: did you have any trouble after the war with nightmares or what we now know
is post-traumatic stress? harlan: well, i do not. i cannot tell you. so many years ago. thing i coulder not handle. . was with my wife she was a fabulous woman. when did you get off active duty? harlan: when did i get off active duty? the second time? interviewer: no, the first time. , jesus, ithink it was cannot remember the dates. 1948 or 1949 been
the first time and the second -- jesus, i do not know when the second time was. interviewer: what rank were you when you finally retired? harlan: 1953 was the second time. . was a full lieutenant interviewer: after you left the service and left active duty, did you have any trouble transitioning back to civilian life? harlan: no. interviewer: were you able to
use your g.i. bill benefits and go to school or buy a house? yeah, i think i used g.i. benefits to get my masters degree at chicago. interviewer: and you served during the korean war in intelligence in london? harlan: yeah. interviewer: what were some of your duties? a -- in the korean war. i cannot tell you what my duties were. for 27o sign a thing years i would not say something. interviewer: you would not reveal what you were doing? harlan: i would not reveal what
i was doing. if it was that important, it was that important. this was a very interesting time. i could have written books about it. before the 27 years , you want to write a book about it. harlan: then i have lost the facts. yourviewer: how did and youces of the war are surviving the sinking of the indianapolis affect your life afterwards? first of all, let me talk about my marriage life.
i had the most fabulous marriage a man has had, could have ever want to have. i have 73 years of absolute maybe,ith my wife, and, this is all caused by the fact that we realized there were more important things in life then living.ust i do not know what it was, but we had a fabulous living life. , what decision i could ever make that was anywhere as a important as the decision to tell those men to throw their lives into the water?
biggest -- probably if i went back in life, maybe that was one of the biggest decisions i ever made. because i was gambling everybody's life that we were going to land. interviewer: giving the order to abandon ship? harlan: yeah. >> this is american history tv on c-span3 where each weekend we feature 48 hours of programs exploring our nation's past. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> this sunday on the presidency, michael lambert
talks about the personalities and stakes involved in the 1945 potsdam conference, convened during the end of world war ii. here is a preview. >> this is the office for this study that harry truman use. truman was a particularly sympathetic figure to me, because when he became president of the united states in april 1945, despite the fact that president roosevelt was in, truman is kept almost completely in the dark on what american policy is, and it is back when he became president, he has two cd transcript of the yalta conference or we could figure out what the united states had done that delta only to find out this transcript did not exist. truman is having to figure out what america agreed to add delta by talking to people who were there and getting contradictory information and contradictory reports. auman as senator and found
gap in the defense department budget that he challenged the u.s. army on. he challenged the secretary of war. he understood truman was a senator but he could not sure what that was for. it is only after truman became president -- pulled to the side and explain what the men had project was. that is what truman it's doubled earlier in the war. one thing harry truman is interested in is trying to get a handle on what his new responsibilities are. he is interested in what we would call a reset of relations with the soviet union. he thinks if he can look the soviet leaders in the eyes, he can deal with them. defeating a help in japan in the pacific theater. he wants to be sure the soviet union will participate fully in the united nations and some other organizations at the united states is trying to build, and he wants to create a balanced europe that means that the united states does not have to send an army back to europe for a third world war. it is for this reason truman
tried to delete the conference for as long as he could both to give himself time to get up to speed on all of these issues and hopefully to give the scientist into mexico a little more time to work on the manhattan project. >> learn more about the potsdam conference this sunday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, 5:00 p.m. pacific has unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events. you can watch all of the -- c-span's public affair programming online or visit on our free radio app and be part of the national conversation through c-span's daily washington journal programs, or through upper social media feed. c-span, created by america's cable television company as a public service. brought to you today by your
television provider. >> you're watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. >> on lectures in history, davidson college professor sally -- sally mcmillen teaches a class about the polio did -- polio epidemic. including one in 1916 that started in brooklyn, new york, that killed more than 6000 people. it also talks about president franklin roosevelt to help find a cure, in part by starting the march of dimes organization. she details what led to the successful vaccine created by doc or jonas. -- dr. jonas. prof. mcmillen: okay. i just wanted to explain in this ad