Memorial Day, Jaws and the U.S.S. Indianapolis
There’s that scene in the movie Jaws, the one where Amity Island Police Chief Martin Brody, oceanographer Matt Hooper and Captain Sam Quint (played brilliantly by Robert Shaw) are all sitting around after dinner inside The Orca - the boat that ends up being too small - engaging in a friendly competition involving their various scars.
At one point, after listening to tales of close encounters with moray eels and thresher sharks, Brody looks forlornly down at his appendectomy scar and decides that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to share. Hooper also cracks himself up when he points to his chest, which looks unblemished, and then mourns that his poor heart was broken by a girl named Mary Ellen Moffatt. The drunken humor of the scene hardly prepares one for what comes next.
When Brody asks Quint to explain the tattoo on his arm, he launches into one of the most riveting monologues in movie history - the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Although Jaws is a work of fiction, there are probably some who don’t know that the story of the Indy’s doomed final mission is, tragically, very real.
Seeing Jaws when it first came out in 1975 - on a family vacation to the beach, no less - was when I learned that my father’s first cousin was a crew member on the Indianapolis. Unfortunately, he wasn’t one of the lucky ones.
My dad was only about nine years old at the end of World War II, so he never knew Albert R. Kelly, S2 (Seaman Second Class) all that well, but Albert and his parents, Julie and Joe, lived just a couple of doors down from my dad’s family on Flowerdale Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.
Listening to Quint tell of his harrowing ordeal, I find it quite chilling that he mentions encountering a dead shipmate from Cleveland while waiting to be rescued. Although the name is different - and there is, in fact, no Herbie Robinson listed as a crew member on the Indy - the description of the fate of this fictional young man from my hometown gives me pause. I wonder if this could have happened to Albert.