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Stewart served on U.S.S. Indianapolis in World War II

MADISON – Thomas Andrew Stewart of Madison served and lost his life at sea during World War II. 

He was born on Dec. 3, 1926 in Madison to parents Thomas Matson and Gracie Lee (Ransom) Stewart. After entering the U.S. Navy, Thomas Andrew Stewart was assigned to the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a U.S. Navy heavy cruiser on its journey from San Francisco, Calif. to Shimya in the Pacific.

The ship carried components of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945, according to Richard L. Blanton Jr. who serves as Historian of Madison American Legion, Post 229.

The Japanese submarine I-58 torpedoed the U.S.S. Indianapolis on July 31, 1945 during its return voyage from the Philippines. “Two torpedoes exploded caused massive damage. The ship quickly took on a heavy list,” Blanton said.

In less than 12 minutes, the Indianapolis “began going down by the bow, rolled completely over and then plunged down her stern rising into the air. It is estimated 300 of the 1,195-member crew went down with the ship … the remaining leaping into the sea,” Blanton said.

The U.S. Navy did not know the Indianapolis’ fate for 3.5 days when a Navy PV-1 Ventura aircraft accidently spotted survivors. “By the time rescue arrive, only 316 of the nearly 900 men survived who had jumped into the sea. The remainder had died from exposure or shark attacks,” Blanton said.

“With the bombing of Hiroshima by the A-bomb and all hysteria with Japan’s final surrender, the news of the Indianapolis’ sinking was lost to the public,” Blanton said. “The captain was court-martialed and convicted for hazarding his ship.”

Americans brought the Japanese submarine commander, who sunk the Indianapolis, to testify. “The commander was really puzzled why the Navy was doing this to the captain,” Blanton said.

U.S. submariners testified that the Indianapolis did not follow the zigzag course, as ordered, to escape torpedoes. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton posthumously pardoned the captain, who had shot himself with his service revolver in the 1960s.

The U.S.S. Indianapolis’ wreckage was rediscovered in 2017 by a team funded by the late-Paul Allen, billionaire Microsoft cofounder. The vessel was found resting upright on the bottom of the Philippine Sea at a depth of 5,500 meters or 18,044 feet.

Stewart’s remains were not returned home because either his body was never recovered or was recovered but buried at sea. Old Madison Cemetery has a cenotaph, or memorial for a person buried in a different location, to honor Stewart.

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