ST. JOSEPH — Fourteen-year-old Luke Phillips was among a crowd of people captivated Saturday by the story of the USS Indianapolis.
“I learned about the Indianapolis and what happened after it sank. It’s sad, but it’s good to recognize,” Luke said. “It’s important to learn history so you can understand what happened in the past and can appreciate the present.”
The teen from Niles attended Lest We Forget Saturday with his grandfather, Ray Phillips, a Vietnam War veteran.
“This is my first time attending this,” Luke said. “I like seeing all the history, and I got to ride the helicopter.”
The event, held annually to honor war veterans and hear their stories, continues today starting with an all-faith service at 9 a.m. and closing ceremony at 3 p.m. Tents are set up on the banks of the St. Joseph River at 275 Upton Drive in St. Joseph. There’s plenty of parking at the site.
The story of the USS Indianapolis was presented Saturday by Jason Kuntz, a teacher from Buchanan. He currently teaches third grade at Three Oaks Elementary School but previously taught in the Buchanan school system, where in 2014 he developed an after-school program called the Buchanan History Club for students in middle and high school.
“I tell my students, when you see a service person, whether active or a veteran, give them a firm handshake and thank them because they don’t get the credit they deserve,” Kuntz said.
A serious medical condition kept him from serving in the armed forces, but history has long been a passion of his.
“There are a lot of important stories that are left out and need to be taught. This (the USS Indianapolis) is just one of the many individual stories that, sadly, are left out of World War II history that’s taught in our schools. Freedom has never been free, and it needs to be preserved and protected,” Kuntz said. “The history I teach just isn’t in any curriculum.”
The USS Indianapolis was a U.S. Navy heavy cruiser that was sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945, shortly after delivering the internal components of the atomic bombs that were later dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The ship split in half and sunk in 12 minutes. Some 300 men went down with the ship. Up to 900 initially survived and but many were eaten by sharks and others died of dehydration and salt water poisoning.
Eventually, 316 crewmen were rescued, and 12 are still alive today.
Because its final journey was a secret mission, no distress signal went out when the ship was torpedoed, and the Navy had denied an escort across the Philippine Sea and failed to inform the crew aboard the USS Indianapolis that Japanese submarines were in the area, Kuntz said.
In a nearby tent Saturday, Master Modeler Jerry Lindquist wowed visitors with his traveling museum featuring artifacts and several base camp dioramas that have been years in the making. One includes 8,000 green pieces of Chiclets gum used as sandbags. It took four years to build, and his latest creation, a diorama of the 29th Army Division’s D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Lindquist said he built his first model 30 years ago and put it on a table at a reunion of Vietnam veterans.
“People started donating things, so I kept building things and got a mobile home that is my workshop. This is a traveling museum. This is what I do, and I have fun doing it,” Lindquist said. “No matter what you do in life, have fun doing it.”
The museum, helicopter rides and more speaker presentations will continue today.
Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa