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Adrift at sea: how a little-known sailor from Morgan County survived the Navy’s worst disaster

by LISA SCHAUER

“Momma always said ‘my boys will come home’ and they did,” recalls Jackie Mellott, 86, of Hancock, whose five brothers served in World War II.

Mellott grew up as Jackie Payne, the last of 14 children on a family farm on Culp Road near Mahnes Chapel in Morgan County.

“I rode on the horse sometimes when daddy was plowing. And I would get in the hay wagon and stomp down the hay while Glenn was away in the service,” said Mellott.

When Seaman Ed “Glenn” Payne came home in 1945 after World War II, he stayed with his sister Hazel, who told of the terrible nightmares Glenn experienced in the years after the war.

The oldest child of Irene May Buckner and Edward Raymond Payne of Berkeley Springs, Edward Glenjoy Payne earned a Purple Heart and other commendations after surviving the Navy’s worst disaster at sea.

S-1 Edward Payne, USN, aboard the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

Glenn Payne was only 24 when he became one of 316

survivors out of a crew of 1,200 stationed on the fleet flagship USS Indianapolis.

On the night of July 30, 1945, two Japanese submarine torpedoes struck the ship’s bow and mid-section in the South Pacific. The ship sunk in just 12 minutes. Incredibly, the ship and its crew remained missing for four days and nights. Finally, an airplane pilot happened to see an oil slick that lead to the discovery and rescue of the survivors.

Due to a series of mishaps and miscommunications, two distress calls and the itinerary for the unescorted Navy vessel were ignored. The Japanese were known to use bogus distress calls to draw more targets to a convoy route.

“He was lucky he was on the captain’s raft,” said Mellott, who recalled how her brother miraculously survived for four days and nights in the Pacific Ocean surrounded by sharks and little hope.

“It was dark. They didn’t know if the SOS went out. They leaned on each other to survive,” said Mellott.

Unbeknownst to Payne and the other enlisted men on board, the Indianapolis had just delivered the heaviest components for the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, effectively ending the war in the Pacific.

Reported on the same day as the end of the war, the story was buried and forgotten by many. Chronicled in at least a dozen books and a movie, the story of the sinking and disappearance of the USS Indianapolis was mired in controversy for many years. Its captain was court martialled and later died by suicide after receiving hate mail from the victim’s families. Payne and the other men continued to support and defend their captain at military reunions, according to Mellott.

“It was all hush-hush in the Navy,” said Payne’s daughter Christine Whitacre.

“They needed a scapegoat because no one answered the SOS,” said Whitacre, who was three when her father passed.

After the war, Payne married Opal Hewitt. They raised seven children near his old family farm, which he continued to work.

Ed “Glenn” Payne died at 45 after a brief battle with cancer.  Some family members believe his early death was brought on by his ordeal at war. He is remembered on the World War II memorial in Berkeley Springs and at the Payne family reunion in Berkeley Springs each summer in June.

1 Comment

  1. Foundation on November 11, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    USS Indianapolis Burial at Sea Project

    During his tenure as the Chief, Naval Historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), Rick Stone began examining some Indy casualties who were apparently recovered, identified and buried at sea, but who are still officially listed by the Department of Defense as “Unaccounted For.” After retiring from the Navy, researchers from the Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation began work with NHHC, USS Indianapolis Legacy and the Survivors Organizations, and other government historians to investigate the cases of  twelve members of the Indy crew who may have been buried at sea, but who still remain “Unaccounted For.” These investigations were completed on 1 May 2021 and submitted to NHHC with recommendations for referral to the Secretary of the Navy for appropriate action.

    The Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation believes that giving their loved ones and family members closure is the greatest way to celebrate and thank the sailors and Marines who lost their lives on the USS Indianapolis.  For individual stories about some of the Indy’s crew, tune in to free podcasts of NO HOME FOR HEROES at any podcast site you like to listen to.

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