on Senate Hearing
Prepared for Survivors Organization Newsletter
A Senate Armed
Services Committee hearing on S.J. Res. 26, legislation expressing
the sense of Congress that Captain McVay's court martial was
morally unsustainable and his conviction a miscarriage of
justice, was held in Washington on Tuesday, September 14.
Those who testified
in support of the resolution were young Hunter Scott, survivors
Paul Murphy, Harlan Twible, and Giles McCoy, and Dan Kurzman,
author of "Fatal Voyage." Navy Department officials testifying
in opposition included Vice Admiral Donald Pilling, Vice Chief
of Naval Operations; Rear Admiral John Hutson, the Navy's
Judge Advocate General, and Dr. William S. Dudley, Director
of Naval History, Department of the Navy.
Not to keep
you in suspense, the Navy sent in their big guns, but when
the day ended, we were still afloat, and the admirals looked
a bit battered.
hearing began Senator Warner (R-VA) who's chairman of the
Committee came down and asked to be introduced to all the
survivors who were sitting together at the back of the room.
They were Jim Belcher, Woody James, Mike Kuryla, Bob McGuiggan,
Paul McGinnis, Jack Miner, and Dick Paroubek. (Needless to
say, it was helpful to have Jim and Dick there, both of whom
are constituents of Senator Warner's.)
Our word was
that Warner, as a former Secretary of the Navy, would not
be friendly. We thought he would gavel the hearing to order,
make a short statement, then leave, asking Senator Bob Smith
(R-NH), the sponsor of S. J. Res. 26, to chair the rest of
the day. Amazingly, Warner stayed for almost the whole four-hour
led off, and there's no question that their testimony got
Warner's attention. Hunter Scott belted out his statement
like a pro and snapped back several good answers to questions.
Paul Murphy was to come next, but in a very generous move
Senator Warner first asked him to introduce all the survivors
in the back of the room as well as Captain McVay's son, Charles
IV. Then Senator Warner asked them all to come forward and
sit at the front.
statement was excellent, and he gave it choking with emotion
at times. Harlan Twible followed, also overcome at times with
emotion. Harlan testified that the visibility was severely
limited on that fateful night (as did all other survivor witnesses),
giving the lie to the wording of the court-martial charge
that the visibility was good.
statement was very good, but he really got his licks in later
when Senator Warner in an unprecedented move gave our witnesses
an opportunity to rebut the Navy's testimony. Dan Kurzman
gave a hard-hitting and very well delivered statement, bringing
up the facts which he had uncovered in the research for his
During the hearing
Representative Julia Carson (D-IN) arrived and, as a matter
of Congressional courtesy, was permitted to make a statement.
Ms. Carson described how she had joined with other members
of the House to introduce a companion (identical) joint resolution
in the House of Representatives (H. J. Res. 48), then gave
arguments in favor of the two resolutions with an eloquent
plea for the Senate to pass S. J. Res. 26.
When the Navy
witnesses were called up, they had an opportunity to concede
that a mistake had been made 54 years ago and admit that the
court-martial was not justified. They did not, and things
went from bad to worse for Admirals Pilling and Hutson. Not
only did Senator Smith begin to challenge their defenses of
the court-marital and conviction, but so did Senator Warner
who at one point said that he'd arrived feeling one way (obviously
in the Navy's favor) but was now moving in the other direction.
took a hard-line position that Captain McVay was the captain
and was ultimatly responsible for the ship. He did not zigzag,
and thus he was guilty, denying at the same time that he was
court-martialed for the loss of the ship. When asked if Captain
McVay would have been court-martialed on that same charge
if he had failed to zigzag that night and yet the Indianapolis
had not been lost, the admirals ran onto the shoals. They
really couldn't say yes.
emphasized several times that the joint resolution does not
ask to remove the conviction from Captain McVay's record.
It only expresses the sense of Congress, among other things,
that his court-martial was morally unsustainable. When asked
if willing to concede that point, Admiral Pilling said no,
and Senator Smith's frustration was apparent.
testimony of the Navy witnesses, Senator Warner did an extraordinary
thing. He asked the pro-McVay witnesses and any of the survivors
in the audience if they would like to make any statements
in response, giving them, in effect, a chance for rebuttal.
Perhaps the most telling points of the hearing were then made
when Gil McCoy and Jack Miner spoke.
how in 1945 Captain Ryan, the Navy prosecutor at the court-marital,
gave him a statement to read. Gil testified that he read it,
then said to Captain Ryan, "I can't read this, it's against
the skipper, and it's not true." When reminded that he was
only a Marine private, Gil said he replied, "I'm sorry, Captain,
you'll just have to have another court-martial on your hands
because I won't do it." Senator Warner seemed appalled at
this report of alleged coercion by the Navy from a survivor
who was a witness at the court-martial.
Next Jack Miner
testified that, despite Navy claims that the Indianapolis
sank too quickly to send out a distress signal, he had had
time before the ship went down to watch the "needle jump"
in the antenna meter on a transmitter in Radio Shack Two as
a warrant officer tapped out a distress signal. That added
weight to evidence that the signal was received at more than
one location but was never acted upon by responsible parties.