A few months ago, a friend approached me concerning a possible program here at the Museum of the Albemarle. As always, I welcomed the idea but even more when I learned the program would focus on a member of the greatest generation who had survived what is called “the greatest naval disaster at sea”, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
I enjoy reading about personal experiences, what it was like to live during a particular time period and the people of the greatest generation stand out for me. I have read books that tell the stories of the men and women who served, planned programming for both preschoolers and school-aged children explaining what life was like for children during World War II.
This includes the role children had in fighting the war at home while loved ones served in the military or went to work in factories to support the war effort.
World War II affected everyone and changed the future of many families. Sacrifices were made by all. However, to listen to someone who is a member of the greatest generation tell their experience will be a memorable experience and I have this opportunity along with everyone wishing to attend on Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 2 p.m. F. J. Outland, Sr. will be a guest at the Museum of the Albemarle on this date, which just happens to be his 87th birthday.
Mr. Outland, a native of Gates County, graduated from Sunbury High School and enlisted with the United States Navy. He was sent to Great Lakes for training and assigned to the USS Indianapolis which was stationed in San Diego, Calif.
Gunner’s Mate Outland was one of 1, 196 men serving aboard the heavy cruiser when it was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-58 just shortly after midnight on July 30, 1945. The heavy cruiser had delivered key components for the world’s first operational atomic bomb to the island of Tinian, in the South Pacific, and was returning to the Philippines. In just 12 minutes the USS Indianapolis sank taking with her 297 men and leaving approximately 900 men floating in darkness and shark-infested waters.
The heavy cruiser was never reported missing due to communication problems. Of the 900 men floating in the water, 317 survived.
The survivors were spotted four and a half days later when a plane out on submarined patrol happened to spot the survivors floating in the water and radioed for help.
Survivors were recovered as far as 20 miles apart from each other.
After the war, Mr. Outland returned to Gates County where he began his civilian life as a farmer.
His story, like the stories of so many of the greatest generation, is captivating.
Too many similar stories go untold and as a society we must work to capture them and recognize the individuals who are willing to share their stories.
This will be especially true for us as we listen to this local hero.
Lori Meads is an education coordinator at Museum of the Albemarle