The Congressional Gold Medal Award
On July 30, 2020, the United States Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal—its highest civilian honor—to the Final Crew of the USS Indianapolis CA 35 during a ceremony at the Indiana War Memorial. The virtual ceremony was held on the 75th anniversary of the loss of the vessel.
The specially cast gold medal has a unique design that commemorates all 1195 crew members of the USS Indianapolis CA 35. Created by the U.S. Mint, every Congressional Gold Medal is one-of-a-kind solid gold, unlike any other one in the world.
The Congressional Gold Medal for the USS Indianapolis CA 35 is housed at the Indiana War Memorials Museum, providing countless opportunities for approximately 100,000 citizens each year to educate future generations about these heroes and their sacrifice. Visitors can see the medal on display and experience the USS Indianapolis radio-room as it was originally on the ship, made from original WWII radios.
Gratitude and Recognition Well Deserved
“We can never forget the astounding grit and bravery shown by those who lived to tell the tale,” said Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite. “Your service, your sacrifice embodied the core tenets of our Navy: honor, courage and commitment. We the Navy salute you out of respect and admiration, and thank you for your service to make us stand a little taller, a little prouder, for all you did. Bravo Zulu, shipmates.”
Honorary Survivor Brig. Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin (USAF Ret.) concurs, adding
“The story behind the presentation of this national award is one of this country’s most historic military missions,” he said. “Yet the crew and families of this highly decorated combat WWII naval vessel have never received the recognition they so richly deserve, which is why this presentation showcases the gratitude to all those who were touched by this amazing story.”
General Goodwin went on to say that no words adequately describe the sacrifice made by those who survived, were lost at sea and their families, so we could all live free today.
Few Survivors Remain
Of the 316 survivors, eight remained at the time of the ceremony. The award was accepted on behalf of the entire crew by General Goodwin because the Medal is displayed at the Gallery.
“On behalf of the 1,195 Sailors and Marines who served aboard the USS Indianapolis, it is an honor to receive a Congressional Gold Medal,” Harold Bray, 93, the youngest remaining survivor and chair of the USS Indianapolis CA 35 Survivors Organization. “Eight survivors remain today*, and we are proud to represent our shipmates who are no longer with us. We are very grateful to Congress for this special recognition.”(https://news.usni.org)
Bestowed for Major Achievement on American History
Congressional Gold Medals are bestowed on those “who have performed an achievement that has had an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
The highly prestigious award requires legislation to be co-sponsored by two-thirds of the membership of both the House of Representatives as well as the Senate. Once achieved, the legislation moves forward to committees in the House and Senate for consideration. If the committees agree, it is awarded by an Act of Congress. Minted by the U.S. Mint, the medal was designed by the USS Indianapolis CA 35 Survivor Organization.
A Costly but Historic Mission
The USS Indianapolis CA 35 was crucial in supporting the end of World War II. As the fastest cross-Pacific transit on record—a record held still today—the USS Indianapolis CA 35 secretly delivered the key components for the atomic bomb before being struck by Japanese torpedoes on July 30, 1945, in the Philippine Sea casting her crew into the dark abyss.
The heavy cruiser held 1,195 personnel aboard. When the USS Indianapolis CA 35 sank, there were numerous effects on those personnel—instant death, life threatening burns, broken bodies and emotional distress. Surviving crew members endured four-and-a-half days of strong seas and shark attacks with no food or water—and little hope that they would be rescued. After five days at sea, 316 men survived. The death toll of 879 was the largest single disaster at sea in U.S. Navy history.
The Congressional Gold Medal is currently on display at the Indiana War Memorial Museum. The Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 9 to 5 and admission is FREE.
*Survivor, Robert “Bob” Witzig passed away on September 29, 2020 following the ceremony.