BOILERS CHURNING HOT, USS Doyle sliced through the sea with the urgency of a bullet. Over the radio, Claytor had heard that Marks collected more than fifty men, and also about the second Dumbo (a downed seaplane). This meant there were at least a hundred men still in the water on this blackest of nights. Claytor imagined their terror. How many would be lost to cold or sharks? How many would simply give up hope?
This dramatic vignette, taken from the pages of Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sarah Vladic (pages 268-269), records the race to rescue survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on March 31, 1945 in the concluding months of war in the Pacific.
Yet the story turns even more dramatic:
At 10:42 p.m., Claytor issued an order that no man aboard had ever heard before: “Turn on the searchlight and point it at the sky.”
Claytor’s officers and sailors were stunned. At night, the crew of a warship made a religion of keeping it dark, skulking around under dim red lights, even hiding the orange glimmer of their cigarettes.
Some on the bridge were aware of Marks’s warning about possible submarines in the area. Allowing any light to escape the ship was like painting her with a bull’s-eye for the enemy. Still, they understood. Doyle was more than an hour away from the survivors, and Claytor wanted the men in the water to see the light, dig deep, and hang on just a little longer.
Courage takes many forms – physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and relational. Courage can be defined in many ways, such as “Holding on ten seconds longer.” Another way to define courage would be Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Staring down fear.” As well, courage is contagious, and inspires courage and hope in others. This historical account from Indianapolis certainly demonstrates courage in all its forms. Captain Claytor’s decision to turn on the Doyle’s searchlight was both courageous and selfless. This brave act gave sailors fighting for survival the hope and courage they needed. A few final words from Indianapolis to illustrate this point:
Look!’ Marks said to the men crying for water and clinging to life. That light they saw was a destroyer on its way. There was water on board, and doctors. Rescue was coming soon.
And as he watched, joy and relief washed across their faces. The settled back against the bulkheads and gazed upon that lovely light, now certain of their salvation.
Doyle’s light had a similar effect on men still in the water. Lebow and Hershberger’s group had dwindled from 130 to 35, and they had almost given up hope. But when Hershberger saw the luminous tower, he realized for the first time that he was going to make it.”
Finally, from one other grateful Indianapolis survivor,
… But when he saw Doyle’s beacon, it was as though a light switched on in heaven. Around him, fresh fire surged in the men, a sudden, burning will to live.
Such sacrificial courage on Captain Claytor’s part gave a “burning will to live” to those who saw his tower of hope in the sky. Prayerfully such inspiring acts motivate us towards courage and hope in our own lives.
Whatever your particular circumstance, the good news is that God is always shining His searchlight on our behalf. In fact, His Son Jesus is the ultimate searchlight of hope for all of us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” -Hebrews 6:19a
Perhaps you are adrift in an ocean of doubt or despair. May you draw hope and help from the light that God and others shine your way. Or perhaps you are a leader, parent, coach, or mentor in a position to give courage and hope to others. May God give you the motivation and creativity to turn on your searchlight to inspire, guide, and empower many. Sometimes it is a simple act like turning the switch on a searchlight, or a kind word in season, or a timely high five, or simply a listening ear, or an inspiring example of courage like Captain Claytor’s.
May each of us have the courage to shine light which puts “fresh fire” into others, which helps others “hold on ten seconds longer,” which gives them “a sudden, burning will to live.” Sometimes it will truly make the difference between hope and despair, or between life and death.
Turn on your searchlight, and point it at the sky!
Learn more about how you can help support our veteran community
Visit our donation page to learn how you can help make an impact in the lives of our Nation’s Warriors. Partner with us and together we can continue to save lives, restore families & change legacies.