USS Indianapolis (CA-35) and the Kentucky Hero, Robert Earl McDowell

Seaman 1st/C. McDowell, Robert Earl (8558560). Born 12 Dec 1924 in Jackson County, Kentucky. Fourth child of Bert and Fairy (Reynolds) McDowell. Robert grew up on a farm at Horse Lick, Jackson Co. His father ran a grocery and was post master. Robert’s older sisters, Geraldine and Irene became nurses. Geraldine worked for the county and Irene for a local school. Irene (McDowell) Aichele served in US Army Nurse’s Corps during WWII. Geraldine (McDowell) Jones served in the US Army Nursing Corps during WWII and the Korean War, reaching the rank of major. Robert’s older brother Glendon joined the US Army in 1940 and served in the Army Air Corps and US Air Force through WWII, Korea and the Vietnam Wars. He earned the rank of senior master sergeant. Older brother, Raymond Clifford joined the Army Air Corps and served as a sergeant during WWII in the 789th Bomb Squadron, 467th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. Robert’s younger brother, Carlos Edwin went on to serve in the US Air Force during Korea. Only the three youngest sisters, Louis, Erma and Wilas, appear to have missed military service. Fairy McDowell had five children serving in the armed forces at one point during WWII.

However, of the many hours that members of the McDowell family went into harm’s way, only Robert made the ultimate sacrifice. He enlisted in the US Navy 31 Aug 1943 at Cincinatti, OH. Robert was assigned to the USS Indianapolis 27 Apr 1944 from the receiving barracks, Shoemaker, CA. Robert was soon introduced to the Pacific bloodletting. He was aboard the Indy for the landings on Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, Tinian and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. He was also present for duty when a Kamikaze struck the Indy on 31 Mar 1945, as she prepared for the Okinawa landings. Nine sailors were killed and more wounded. The ship was returned to the States for repairs, which brought her to the position as first in line to carry a top secret package (main components of the atomic bomb) to Tinian Island in late July. After completing that mission, the Indy left Guam en-route to Leyte to train for the probable invasion of Japan proper.

At 0004 (four minutes past midnight) 30 July 1945 the captain of the Japanese submarine I-58 sent a fan pattern of six torpedoes toward the starboard side of the unsuspecting Indy. Two torpedos struck the Indy a fatal blow. Within twenty minutes the Indy sank to the bottom with three-miles of water above her broken hull. Estimates vary, but it is believed that about 900 sailors and marines went into the water. Five days later, what every survivor swears was a miracle, a lone American plane discovered what remained of the castaways. Only 317 members of the crew survived, leaving approximately 879 crew members missing presumed dead.

No records, other than oral interviews, remain as to the disposition of the Indys men, therefore, it is unknown whether Robert McDowell went into the water alive, was killed by the initial explosions or trapped within the ship. His date of death is given as 30 July, the day Indy went down.

The location of the Indy’s resting place was not discovered until 18 August 2017. A team of researchers led by Paul G. Allen located the Indy –the first persons informed of the discovery were the living crewmen of the ship.