Former Indiana Times reporter remembers meeting USS Indianapolis survivors at first reunion

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Thursday marks 75 years since the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. Each year, survivors gather in Indianapolis to remember the disaster and honor those who died. An 87-year-old former reporter remembers covering the first reunion years ago.

It was 15 years after the tragic sinking that 87-year-old Gerry LaFollette spoke with survivors for the first time. He shared raw moments and stories through the former paper, the Indiana Times.

LaFollette says most survivors were quiet and it was a hard story to cover, mostly because nobody knew each other because the ship had so many people on board. He said a few survivors detailed the ship sinking in 12 minutes. About 1,200 men were on the ship and 900 got off the vessel. LaFollette says just more than 200 survivors came to the first reunion and now, there are eight left.

“It was really kind of like pulling teeth,” he said. “I wasn’t going around asking what was it like? What was it like? What was it like? Because I think they all knew what it was like and I think they wanted to talk to these people and find out what they had been doing.”

LaFollette was with the Indiana Times from 1958 to 1965. He then went on to work for the Indianapolis News, which was an afternoon paper at the time. LaFollette was there for 24 years before retiring. Some of his stories about the reunions and history behind the sinking of the USS Indianapolis are featured in a 2018 book. It’s something he’s quite proud of.

The former reporter had 27 scrapbooks and stories from the survivors that he put together that are in the hands of the Indianapolis Historical Society.