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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For fans of sea battles, adventures, and war stories like Unbroken, this is the incredible true story of a boy who helps to bring closure to the survivors of the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis, and helps exonerate the ship’s captain fifty years later.

Hunter Scott first learned about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis by watching the movie Jaws when he was just eleven-years-old. This was fifty years after the ship had sunk, throwing more than 1,000 men into shark-infested waters—a long fifty years in which justice still had not been served.
                It was just after midnight on July 30, 1945 when the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Those who survived the fiery sinking—some injured, many without life jackets—struggled to stay afloat as they waited for rescue. But the United States Navy did not even know they were missing. As time went on, the Navy needed a scapegoat for this disaster. So it court-martialed the captain for “hazarding” his ship. The survivors of the Indianapolis knew that their captain was not to blame. For fifty years they worked to clear his name, even after his untimely death.
But the navy would not budge—not until Hunter entered the picture. His history fair project on the Indianapolis soon became a crusade to restore the captain’s good name and the honor of the men who served under him.

Praise for Left for Dead:

Christopher Award Winner

An ALA-YALSA Best Nonfiction for Young Adults Book

“Compelling, dreadful, and amazing.”—VOYA
“This exciting, life-affirming book about war heroics and justice . . . proves without question the impact one student can have on history.”—Booklist

“Well written and well documented … this excellent presentation fills a void in most World War II collections “—School Library Journal
“Young readers . . . will no doubt be inspired by the youth’s tenacity—and by the valor of those who served on the Indianapolis.”—The Horn Book

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385730914
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 11/11/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 89,990
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(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.

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. He inhales 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.

Table of Contents

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

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Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Left for Dead, author Pete Nelson shows the reader in great detail everything Captain McVay and the men of the USS Indianapolis went through, from their missions in the Pacific Ocean, to the sinking and survival in the ocean for five days, to the court martial and later clearing of the captain¿s name. The stories about the men¿s experiences in the water were all vivid and captivating. It inspired me that a kid my own age can change history in a way grown men had been trying to do for fifty years in just five years. This book is graphic for young readers but is perfect for young adults that are interested in World War II history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This, in my personal opinion, was one of the best books I've ever read! It really gave me a great insight as to what happened in the final hours of the Indianapolis's voyage and the occurances afterwards. If you area WWII fanatic like me, I suggest that you read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
on the inndionapolis ship in 1945 during the world war 2 it was a good book to read, one of my favorite time periods there was attacking of Pearl Harbor,hunter scott, atomic bombs being delivered,life on the boat, attacking viliages, surviving in the ocean and many more it was a awesome book
Guest More than 1 year ago
Left for Dead is an excellent story about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. I was very surprised when I read about how fast the ship sunk. After the ship sunk; only about 350 men made it alive (although most were badly injured) off the ship. The author did an excellent job in describing the hell the surviving sailors had to go through while waiting for the Navy to send for help. It took the Navy 5 days until they accidentally found the sailors. A pilot was checking his antennae and glanced down to look at it out of his window when he spotted the survivors in the water. Many people blamed the captain for the sinking. The survivors, on the other hand, think otherwise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The non - fiction novel Left for Dead by Pete Nelson with, a preference by Hunter Scott was a thrilling story set in the Pacific Ocean and Pensacola, Florida in 1945 and 2006. The story begins when an 11 year old boy named Hunter Scott saw a popular movie called JAWS. In one of the scenes when captain Quint and the other two guys are telling stories about each other, one man asked about the tattoo and Quint told the story all about the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Hunter was fascinated by it he decided he would use that subject for his history fair report. Hunter won for his school and got disqualified for having footnotes. In his research he discovered the captain; Captain McVay was accused guilty for the ship sinking. Hunter decided to interview the survivors and gets many stories all the same in different ways. Hunter put there stories into one giant story from the survivors point of view. In his story the ship is torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese sub. All the people who did not get severely injured by the torpedoes are forced to abandon ship. After several days a plane spots a few hundred men in the water, he got closer and called in more ships to help along with that he landed in the water and while skimming the surface he scooped up a few men from the water. Long after the last hundred men were rescued they went to court martial and Captain McVay was accused guilty for not making sure the "sos" was sent. From lots of hate mail from people who lost loved ones he committed suicide and shot himself. Later Hunter goes to try to clear the captain's name and finally he did it THE END. There are a few reasons I think were good about this book. One positive was while telling the story the author went into great detail. Another positive is when telling the story the author took the survivors stories and told the story a few times but from different peoples point of view. Lastly is that the book tells you a terrific story but also teaches about war and includes interesting facts about the ocean. There were also a few negatives about the story. One negative is that if you miss a few words (what I did) you get completely lost and have to reread. Another negative is the beginning is hard to follow because it switches back and fourth from1945 to 2006. Lastly a negative is the story acted like a broken record player and repeated some boring parts a lot. Those area few positives and negatives about the novel I read Left for Dead. The writing style of the author is very interesting. One writing style the author had was it was hard to follow. For example the story would switch back and fourth from1954 to 2006. Another writing style the author had was it is third person point of view. For example Hunter and the survivors narrated. Finally a last writing style the author had the author is very descriptive. For example "the thick black oil surrounded us." I would and would not recommend this book to people, here's the reasons why. I would recommend this book because it is very interesting and detailed. Another reason I would recommend it because it's about WW2 (World War Two). I would not recommend it to someone because at some points it is a slow read. Those are the reasons I would recommend and not recommend this book. There are a few novels that are similar to this novel. Two of them I have read myself. The two I have read are The sinking of the Bismark, and Iron Thunder. Another similar novel is The Bombing of
edspicer on LibraryThing More than 1 year 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gives light to a situation which could have been avoided, but also on the following trial. I have a new view of the navy. Their treatment of Captain McVay was very wrong. I believe that every American from middle school on should read this book. It gives insperation for people to stand up for what is right, even in the face of the military.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Peter Nelson is a marvelous author. By taking the story of how the USS Indianapolis had sunk and emphasizing the details, Nelson not only makes us listen to the story but envision it as well. He uses the heart and soul of a young activist Scott Hunter. After watching Jaws with his father, Scott wanted to know more about the USS Indianapolis. His further research had struck a nerve with everyone that had come in contact with Scott. Research is not only recognized in this book; it is the reason for this book. The true stories in this are a whole world of images and sequences. The memories make us as the reader relive the event. The compounding details as well as the voice of this piece are not only satisfactory; they are compelling as well. The strict details obligated me to feel for the actual survivors and victims. Peter Nelson has done everyone a great deed, by making the voices and the acknowledgement of the survivors inevitable.
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Left for Dead is a very well written book, one of the better ones done by Pete Nelson. This book takes place around the time of Pearl Harbor and tells how it came to be. The Indianapolis is the main ship and on a secret mission. After being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, several hundred sailors survive the attack as sharks pick them off one by one. After not finding the ship for at least a week, the U.S. Navy needed to blame someone. They choose Capt. McVay of the Indianapolis. The crew knows it¿s not his fault, so they must clear his name. This book was based on true events. Pete Nelson does a great job in making it feel like you¿re actually there. Will McVay¿s crew clear his name? If you want to find out what happens read the book for yourself and hear about the significant memories of the crew and Hunter Scott.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was an okay book, but I'll tell you about it... It's about a ship called 'USS Indianapolis,' just after midnight on July 30, 1945, it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The ship sank in fourteen minutes. More than a thousand men were thrown into shark-infested waters. Those who survived the fiery sinking-some injured, many without life jackets-struggle to stay afloat as they waited for rescue. But the United States Navy did not know they were missing.