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Essay Contest on USS Indianapolis Offers Scholarship

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Students at Pensacola High School could win one thousand dollars for college, with a winning essay on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. The kickoff for the “Dream Builders Scholarship Fund” was held Friday morning at PHS.

In July, 1945, the cruiser Indianapolis steamed to the U-S air base at Tinian, to deliver parts for the atomic bomb that would fall on Hiroshima.

On her return trip, just after midnight on July 30th, she was hit by torpedoes from a Japanese sub and sank in the Philippine Sea. For more than four days, the crew endured a lack of food and water -- and shark attacks which claimed hundreds.

Out of an 1,100-member crew, only 317 survived.

“The story of the Indianapolis has been a part of my life, since an early age,” said Jane Goodall, who along with her husband is providing initial funding for the scholarships. Her father, Lt. Chuck Gwinn, was a Navy aviator and spotted the Indianapolis survivors in the water while on a patrol. Goodall came to know the survivors and their families.

“I listened to them in awe when they would talk about what had happened with them and how they survived four long days in the water with only life jackets that were so waterlogged by the time my dad spotted them, that only their eyeballs and nostrils were above the water” said Goodall.

The ship’s captain, Charles McVay, was court-marshaled – the only skipper in Navy history so tried after losing his ship to enemy fire.

The “Dream Builders” Scholarship is the creation of Jane Goodall and Navy Lt. Hunter Scott – PHS Class of 2003. As a sixth-grader, Scott selected the Indianapolis as a history fair project, after seeing a reference to the sinking in the movie “Jaws.”

The project snowballed into an effort to exonerate Capt. McVay, culminating with a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1998. Scott at the time was the youngest witness ever to appear at such a proceeding, which lasted four hours and was a success for the survivors and young Scott.

“The Navy had refused to look at any of the information that the survivors and I (sic) had uncovered, and was unprepared for this testimony. Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the committee, reprimanded the Vice Chief of Naval Operations at the end of the committee, and told him how disappointed he was.”

McVay – who committed suicide in 1968 -- was exonerated posthumously by Congress and President Clinton in 2000.

After the assembly at PHS, Lt. Hunter Scott said the first rule in the essay contest is to stick to the topics.

“The topics are developed systematically, according to themes,” said Scott. “The true cost of freedom; what the sacrifice of the Indianapolis means to you. [We’re] looking for good quality writing; a good storyteller, and who has heart and passion for service.”

As for him personally, Lt. Hunter Scott says his relationship with the survivors of the USS Indianapolis is the reason he’s in the Navy.

More information on the Dream Builders Scholarship can be found at:

http://www.cfnwf.org/news/community-foundation-of-northwest-florida-receives-25-000-gift-to-establish-the-dream-builders-schol

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.