Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis

Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780756989552
Publisher: Random House Childrens Books
Publication date: 11/28/2003
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 514,227
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Peter Nelson won the Christopher Award for Left for Dead, which is bestowed upon a novel that affirms the highest value of the human spirit. He is also the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction and has written many articles for magazines. Nelson lives with his wife and son in Westchester, New York.


From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Sailor

July 1945

The horror has seared my mind like a hot poker and I cannot forget it. After fifty years the dates and faces have lost their distinction, but the horror never gives way. The older I get, the more it bothers me. I can still hear the screams of the injured and dying.

Cozell Smith, 1994

The sailor finds himself swimming in the open ocean, wondering in shock how it came to this so suddenly. It's just past midnight. He'd been sleeping above deck, because it was too hot below and it smelled of sweat and bad breath and dirty laundry. He woke up at eleven-thirty, half an hour before his turn to stand watch. He went to the mess hall, grabbed a cup of coffee from the fifty-gallon urn and took his coffee topside. A quarter moon appeared briefly in a break in the clouds, high overhead. Now it's dark. He looks up, straining to see the moon. There's no light. The last light he saw was his ship on fire, flames, smoke, mixed with the horrible sounds of men screaming.

"I can't swim!" the man hanging on to him shouts.

The sailor wonders how they could let a man who can't swim join the navy. The sailor's name is Cozell Lee Smith, but they call him Smitty. The man whose life he's saving is named Dronet. Smith has no life jacket. Dronet has no life jacket. Smith has already warned Dronet not to get scared and grab him around the neck, that he'll leave him if he does. He'll save Dronet's life if he can, but if he has to, he will cut him loose. He's already tiring. He's a strong swimmer, but Dronet is heavy, weighing him down.

Smith swims. He gets a mouthful of seawater. He spits, coughs, keeps swimming. Heinhales fumes and feels sickened by them. He hears screaming. He wonders how many others there are. He can't see a thing. It's too dark. He can't tell what direction the screaming is coming from. He strains for breath and accidentally swallows another mouthful of seawater, but it's not just seawater. It's fuel oil from the ship's ruptured tanks, thick and gooey. Instantly he's covered in it. It goes down his throat. More fumes. He feels sick and retches. He pushes his vomit away from him in the water. Dronet is coughing.

"What is it?" Dronet asks.

"Oil," Smith gasps. "Hang on. Keep kicking."

The irony is that if Smith hadn't joined the navy, he might well have been working in the oil fields back in Oklahoma. He'd volunteered at the age of seventeen, fresh out of tenth grade. His father, a barber, signed the permission papers with the thought that joining the navy might keep his son out of the kind of trouble a boy might get into, hanging around in a small town with nothing to do.

He spits. The oil goes down his throat even when he tries not to swallow. The ship burned oil to heat its boilers, which created the steam needed to turn the turbines to drive the propellers, which seamen call screws. It was, for its size, one of the fastest ships in the world, with a flank speed of thirty-two knots. He'd been standing at his watch station in "the bathtub," an antiaircraft battery protected by a circular splinter shield, shooting the breeze with Jimmy Reid, another coxswain from his division, when they heard the explosion. The shock of the blast nearly knocked him off his feet.

"What the heck was that?" Smith asked. Reid said he thought it was a boiler exploding.

"That could be good," Reid said. Smith wondered what could be good about it. "We'll go back to the States for repair," Reid explained.

Then the ship began to list, still moving forward but tilting to starboard, five degrees, then ten. Smith thought it would stop any second, but it didn't, listing fifteen degrees, then twenty. It slowly dawned on him that the unthinkable was coming to pass. They were sinking. Were they? Impossible. Not impossible—it was happening. When the list reached thirty degrees, he climbed down from his position and scrambled to the high side, grabbing hold of the steel cable lifeline that girded the ship. Other men had nothing to grab on to and fell. One man fell backward into the number three gun turret and hit it hard with his head. His head cracked with a sound like Babe Ruth hitting a baseball. That man was dead. A second man fell into the gun turret, and Smith could hear his bones break. The ship kept rolling over on its side until it reached ninety degrees. Smith ran across the hull of the overturned ship. In the dim light, through the smoke, he saw other men scattered down the length of the ship, some running, some standing frozen with fear. He was about to jump off the keel when Dronet stopped him and asked him for help, explaining that he couldn't swim. Now they're together in the water.

A scream. Smith looks around. Where is the screaming coming from? Is a scream something to be avoided or approached? He swims. Smith is tired. His eyes sting from the oil. He looks up. The moon is again breaking through the clouds. He tries not to swallow salt water.

"Kick!" Smith commands.

The screams grow louder. They swim to a group of men, about eight in all.

Copyright 2002 by Peter Nelson

Table of Contents

Prefacexi
Chapter 1The Sailor1
Chapter 2The Boy7
Chapter 3Background: The Enemy19
Chapter 4The Men29
Chapter 5The Mission37
Chapter 6The Sinking49
Chapter 7The Ordeal65
Chapter 8The Rescue89
Chapter 9The Guilty101
Chapter 10The Court-Martial117
Chapter 11The Price139
Chapter 12The Boy's Crusade151
Chapter 13The Reckoning165
Chapter 14The Exoneration181
Acknowledgments189
Bibliography193
Index197

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Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
edspicer on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Of all the new 2002 books that I have read, both nonfiction and fiction, this book is one of my very favorites. What I like about Left for Dead is that the story really begins with an eleven year old kid who is, perhaps, watching a movie instead of working on a school report. Hunter Scott is watching the movie, Jaws and he hears a mention of the USS Indianapolis. According to the movie, the crew is left in the water while sharks circle, gradually eating most of the crew members. Scott asks his father whether this information is true and his father tells him yes. While the sharks are sure to be that lure for many readers, this book is really about persisting in the face of tremendous obstacles. In trying to tell this story for his report, Hunter runs into a massive roadblock¿the navy. The captain of the ship was court-martialed even though Scott discovers that every single survivor believes, and has tried to convince the navy, that the captain is innocent. This book documents how an eleven year old boy changes history. This book could be read aloud in just about any type of classroom, although ¿cover your ears¿ warnings may need to be given to the squeamish in the description of the sinking and its aftermath.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The novel Left For Dead by Pete Nelson is a very good book. It is a story not only of survival and the fight for justice, but also a story of courage in the face of adversity. When the Indianapolis when down on July 30, 1945, nearly nine-hundred men were stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for five days, mainly due to errors by the Navy. When the men were finally found and rescued, just over 300 were left, and then the Navy made another critical mistake, serving an injustice to the captain of the ship by court-martialing him. It took over fifty years and the work of many men, including a young man named Hunter Scott who led the charge, to finally fix this wrongdoing on the part of the Navy. It is a great book, and it should be read by everyone, especially if you want to know the whole story of the USS Indianapolis and what happened in those shark-infested waters. Pete Nelson did a wonderful job telling the story of these brave men and their fight for survival.