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Report 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.

Before the 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 hearing.

Our witnesses 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.

Paul's ensuing 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.

Gil McCoy's 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 book.

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.

The admirals 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.

Senator Smith 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.

Following the 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.

Gil described 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.