WINSIDE — One of the last survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II has died.
Dale Krueger, a Winside native, died Friday at the Norfolk Veterans Home at the age of 95. Funeral services are set for Wednesday in Winside.
As of last July, only 14 of the 317 men who were plucked out of the sea after the ship was torpedoed and sunk on July 30, 1945, were still alive.
Krueger, who was raised on a farm near Winside, was drafted in 1944 and trained at the naval training station in Great Lakes. He was a fireman on the Indianapolis, a cruiser that served as the flagship for the Fifth Fleet.
The ship had been involved in a number of significant battles, including Iwo Jima in February 1945 and Okinawa a month later, during which it sustained significant damage. It returned to California and was repaired, and in late July 1945, the ship was sent back to sea bearing important cargo.
“He said they were told it was a secret mission” to the Island of Tinian, said Krueger’s wife, Lois, during an interview with the Daily News in 2017. By then, Krueger was living at the Norfolk Veterans Home and was unable to communicate. “There were extra guards on the ship ... but they didn’t know what (the cargo) was until it was delivered.”
Indeed, the captain of the ship didn’t even know what they were carrying. Only after they departed Tinian were they told that they had just delivered parts for the atomic bomb that would soon be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
After leaving Tinian, the cruiser headed unescorted across the Philippine Sea to Leyte. Following a suggestion from higher up, the commander had the ship zigzag to avoid any Japanese torpedoes that might be in the area. Around 11 p.m., assuming all was quiet, the commander sent up an order to stop zigzagging, and he retired to his cabin.
Minutes later, a Japanese submarine discovered the ship and launched six torpedoes, two of which ripped through its starboard side.
In a 1975 interview, Krueger, who was sleeping on the deck because it was too hot below, said he was hurled 6 feet into the air by the torpedo explosions but was able to find a life jacket in a storage locker before jumping into the sea.
Around 900 of the 1,196 men on board made it into the sea. Both Krueger and the late Jack Hinken of Norfolk managed to successfully jump into the shark-infested waters.
The survivors watched the ship’s final moments as “the stern of the two-football-field-long, 10,000-ton cruiser (rose) nearly straight up.”
“It just slid right under,” Krueger said.
Krueger and his fellow survivors baked in the sun and fought off sharks before being rescued. Those with burns from the torpedo blasts didn’t last long. Others died of dehydration, while others drank the sea water, thinking it would save them when it actually killed them.
Four days after the sinking, the pilot of a scout bomber noticed an oil slick in the water below him. He descended to investigate, saw survivors floating on the water and called for help.
“It was dark,” Krueger previously said. “I can still remember those lights coming over the horizon.”
When rescued, “they had blisters ... and were covered in oil. None of them could stand. Their legs were so weak,” Lois Krueger said.
By the time rescue ships arrived, only 317 men were still alive.
A little over a month later, on Sept. 2, 1945, Japan surrendered and the war ended.