For the 3.6 million men and women who served abroad in the U.S. Navy during World War II, letters and perhaps a rare phone call or visit were the only ways they could keep their loved ones informed about their sea-service life. A notable exception was Alfred Sedivi, a wily photographer’s mate in the USS Indianapolis (CA-35). He figured out ways to bypass normal procedures and send his family back in Nashville, Tennessee, photos—lots of photos—that documented life on board his cruiser as well as the battlefields he visited and Pacific-war commanders he saw. A selection of his photographs is the basis for Paul Stillwell’s cover story, “Photographer at War.”
Before the war Alf Sedivi was a printer at a book bindery who filled his free time to the brim. A talented photographer and portrait artist, he loved to fish and play baseball and even learned to fly an airplane. He also played clarinet in a local dance band, with his brother, Nick, on saxophone.
Soon after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Alfred, who had a lively sense of humor, decided to volunteer. He would joke that he went to join the Marines wearing his glasses and was turned down. So he took the glasses off and went over to the Navy.
Serving in the Indianapolis for most of the war, the photographer’s mate snapped thousands of images—both unofficial ones of shipmates and happenings on board the cruiser as well as official photos whose subjects included shore bombardments, fighting and destruction ashore, and admirals and generals. All the while he made copies of his photos, which he shared with officers and enlisted men and sent back home.
Although just a young girl during the war, Nickie Sedivi Lancaster, Alfred’s niece and Nick’s only child, vividly recalls the day her family got word that the Indianapolis had been sunk. “My grandmother and my aunt were wailing: ‘Oh Alfred! Oh Alfred!’ . . . People don’t understand the devastation suffered by a family of someone lost at sea,” she said. “There’s no body to bury. There’s no closure.”
From Tinian several days before the cruiser went down, Sedivi had mailed his last package of photos home, which were added to the thousands of his images already there. The photographs were eventually passed on to Lancaster, whose mother and aunt told her she needed to “take care of these because they’re all that’s left of Alfred.”
Lancaster, who carefully protected the invaluable collection over the years, recently decided to donate more than 1,600 of the photographs to the U.S. Naval Institute. She wanted to find a home for the photos where they would be well preserved for history and teaching purposes and would keep alive her uncle’s name and memory. Reflecting on her decision, Lancaster added, “I think Alfred has guided my hands and my heart in this.”
Richard G. Latture, Editor-in-Chief
Proceedings Goes Digital
Naval History’s sister publication, Proceedings, the independent forum of the Sea Services, dates back 140 years. In a major initiative, the U.S. Naval Institute is making available to members back issues of Proceedings in PDF and word-searchable HTML formats. The issues, accessible at www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/archive, are being rolled out monthly, decade by decade, beginning with the 1870s. To read an introduction to the project by Retired Navy Admiral James G. Stavridis, Chair of the Naval Institute’s Board of Directors, go to www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-05/digitizing-proceedings. PDF and HTML editions of Naval History will be online for subscribers later in 2014.