A local World War II veteran is telling his incredible story of survival.
This past month was the 74th anniversary of one of the worst disasters in U.S. Navy history — the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Ninety-two-year-old Harold Bray joined the Navy when he was just 17 years old in 1944, at the height of the Second World War.
“Everybody was being drafted or joining up. So, I talked my dad into signing me in,” he told FOX40.
After basic training, he was assigned to the USS Indianapolis, a ship that was being repaired at Mare Island Navy Yard at the time after being damaged by a suicide pilot in Okinawa, Japan.
The ship was soon delivering important cargo it picked up in San Francisco.
“It was in a crate, about 8 feet by 4 feet, and Marine guards were on it,” Bray recalled. “Everybody tried to guess what it was. Nobody, of course, even knew about atomic bombs in those days.”
The USS Indianapolis took the “Little Boy” atomic bomb to the island of Tinian, where it was later flown to Japan.
After the delivery, Bray and his shipmates went off to Guam. Two days after leaving port, on their way to the Philippines, the Indianapolis was spotted by an enemy submarine.
“The torpedoes hit right under me on the opposite side of the ship,” Bray said.
Bray recalls running along the side of the Indianapolis as the ship began taking on water and rolling to its side.
“By that time, the mast was in the water and I jumped off and swam away,” he said.
For the next five days, Bray was one of more than 800 men stranded in the open ocean with no food or water and few lifeboats. He and around 150 other men clung to a floating net to survive.
“We saw airplanes every day, they flew over us every day, it was just too high,” Bray told FOX40.
Facing exposure, dehydration and saltwater poisoning, Bray recalled many men not making it in those first couple of days.
He also said sharks were attacking constantly.
“They hit most of the guys that were wounded or all by themselves,” Bray said.
On the fourth day in the water, Bray recalled the hope of seeing a low-flying plane.
“He just came right at us and everybody starts screaming and hollering,” Bray said. “And he went straight up and I thought, ‘Oh, he missed us. He’s not going to see it.’ But what he did he had to go up to radio his base.”
Hours later, a ship pulled Bray from the water and took him to recover at a hospital in Guam.
He was one of only 316 survivors out of the nearly 1,200 crew members who were originally on board.
“I don’t know, why me? Why me? You know, because I was just so lucky,” he said.
After being rescued, Bray left the Navy and joined the Benicia Police Department.
For years, he admits he was terrified to get on another ship.
“But now it doesn’t bother me that much anymore. As a matter of fact, we’re going on a cruise next month,” Bray told FOX40.