Photographer at War

By Paul Stillwell

A Tragic End

That potential danger became dramatically real in late March 1945 as U.S. troops prepared to invade Okinawa in the Ryukyus. Okinawa would be the final stepping-stone before the planned offensive against the Japanese home islands later that year. For seven days the Indianapolis shot against both shore targets and attacking aircraft. She was credited with shooting down six planes and helping with two others. In the morning twilight of 31 March, the day before the invasion, a Japanese fighter approached. Despite heavy antiaircraft fire from the ship, the pilot dropped a bomb from a height of 25 feet before crashing into the main deck on the port side. It went through several steel decks before exiting through the bottom and exploding beneath the cruiser, killing nine crewmembers. After receiving temporary voyage repairs, the Indianapolis steamed back to the West Coast and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard near San Francisco to be made whole again. After she was fixed, she was on the West Coast when the Navy needed a ship to haul atomic-bomb components to the forward area. The pieces came aboard under heavy guard and remained there while the ship steamed to Tinian to drop them off for the Army Air Forces to use in the air offensive against Japan. Following the delivery at Tinian, the cruiser set off for nearby Guam to drop off personnel and then headed westward to Leyte in the Philippines, whence she was due to rejoin the fleet for further combat operations. But she never made it. Shortly after midnight on 30 July, the Japanese submarine I-58 launched two torpedoes that hit the mark. The Indianapolis sank in 15 minutes. At the time of the attack, Sedivi was in his photo lab, developing film and labeling prints of the atomic bomb components being off-loaded. Marine Jake Greenwald, who was helping, had left the lab shortly before the torpedoes struck the ship to grab some sleep. He survived; Sedivi did not. For days, crew members awaited rescue in the waters of the Philippine Sea. However, the Navy lacked an adequate system to report that the Indianapolis didn’t arrive as scheduled on 31 July, so no one went looking for her right away. A plane on a routine patrol spotted an oil slick and survivors in the water on 2 August, but the rescue effort wasn’t completed for six more days. In the meantime, hundreds of sailors perished from exposure, drinking saltwater, and attacks by predatory sharks. Only 316 of the 1,199 men on board survived. The failure of immediate rescue added disgrace to the tragedy. Still further insult came in December 1945 when the Navy decided to court-martial Captain Charles McVay, skipper of the Indianapolis, for hazarding his ship by not taking the precaution of steering a zigzag course to make a fire-control setup more difficult for an enemy submarine. The U.S. Navy called as a witness the commanding officer of I-58, Mochitsura Hashimoto, who testified that zigzagging would not have made a difference. In February 1946 McVay was sentenced to lose 100 numbers on the seniority list. The sentence was remitted, but the incident effectively ended his career. More than 50 years later, a Florida schoolboy, Hunter Scott, mounted a campaign on the captain’s behalf. Congress passed a resolution in McVay’s favor, and in 2001 the secretary of the Navy cleared the record of wrongdoing. Justice in this case was long delayed; McVay had killed himself in 1968. Fortunately for the sake of history, Sedivi had been sending prints of his photos home to his wife, Hazel, who was working as a teletype operator at the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft plant in Nashville. As the years passed, the photo collection went to Nickie Sedivi Lancaster, the daughter of Alf’s brother Nick, who served in the Marine Corps in World War II. For many years, Nickie kept the photo albums stored under her bed so they wouldn’t be exposed to the perils of a hot attic or damp basement. She and her daughter, Shawn Marie Lancaster Wade, made the pictures available for use in historical projects in 2013. Janis Jorgensen, manager of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Heritage Group, worked with the family as it donated the valuable collection for preservation in the organization’s photo archive. Thus it will continue to inform future generations of the contributions made by Alf Sedivi and his brothers-in-arms.

Help Preserve Sedivi’s Legacy

The Photography Collection of Alfred Joseph Sedivi, which was recently donated to the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive, consists of approximately 1,650 prints. In addition to photos of the USS Indianapolis and her crew, the collection includes images of the aftermath of the battles on Tinian, Saipan, Guam, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima. The overwhelming majority of the photographs have never been published and offer rare insights into the lives of the sailors who served, played, prayed, and fought on the ship they affectionately called “the Indy Maru.” Unfortunately, a portion of the photos were damaged when they were borrowed decades ago and improperly stored. The surfaces of several of these prints stuck together and were partially torn when they were separated. A few hundred other photos have curled and started to crack. Now that the entire collection has been reunited, the U.S. Naval Institute has launched a campaign to raise the funds needed to properly store and digitize all 1,650 photos so that they will be available for future generations. For more information or to contribute to this important preservation project, please visit www.usni.org/ussindianapolis or send an email to foundation@usni.org

 

 
 

Conferences and Events

Defense Forum Washington 2014

Thu, 2014-12-04

Newseum - Knight Conference Center

Defense Forum Washington will take place December 4, 2014 at the Newseum - Knight Conference Center in Washington, DC.

2015 WEST Conference

View All

From the Press

Guest Lecturer

Mon, 2014-11-24

CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership