Students in Gulf High School NJROTC classes listened intently on November 20, 2001, as Troy Nunley of New Port Richey described an ordeal he survived as a sailor during World War II.
Seaman Second Class Nunley, then 19 years old, was among the crew of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945, when the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea.
The ship sank in 12 minutes.
Of 1,196 men on board, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remainder, about 900 men, were left floating in shark-infested waters with no lifeboats and most with no food or water.
The ship was never missed. Four days later, the survivors were spotted by accident. Most of the sailors had died, but Seaman Nunley was among the 316 who had amazingly survived the ordeal.
Nunley said that he is thankful he was only 19, because the younger sailors were the ones who were more likely to survive. He had no food. He said that, while in the water, he punched an attacking shark with his fist but he was so hungry that he grabbed a pilot fish swimming with the shark and took a bite out of it. It made him so sick that he does not eat seafood to this day.
A cadet asked him what kept him going during the ordeal. He said that he thought constantly about his mother and father, and he added jokingly, “all my girlfriends.”
Another cadet asked him whether he hallucinated, and Nunley said that he occasionally imagined that he could see an island nearby. He would ask others around him, and they would tell him there was no island. When the plane that spotted the survivors arrived, Nunley thought at first it was a hallucination.
He said that he had sores all over his body when he was rescued. He used a wheelchair for a time in the hospital he was taken to in Guam.
Nunley, now 76 years old, has lived in the Golden Acres subdivision since about 1960. He says he believes about 71 of the men are still alive.
He recently attended a reunion of survivors of the USS Indianapolis. He met the wife and daughter of the captain of the Japanese sub that torpedoed the American ship. He said he holds no animosity because the Japanese captain was doing his job and he was doing his job. (The Japanese captain is no longer living.)
The captain of the USS Indianapolis was among the survivors. He was court-martialed and convicted of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag.” However, earlier this year the Navy exonerated the captain after evidence was presented indicating he was not at fault.