History & Headlines

Were You Alive in July 1945?

News Headlines & Trivia From July 1945: The first atomic bomb test takes place; a B-25 bomber crashes into the Empire State Building; the USS Indianapolis sinks in shark infested waters

First Atomic Bomb Test

The first atomic bomb was detonated as a test on July 16, 1945, forever changing the course of World War II and entering the history books for baby boomers and future generations to study in school.

On July 21st U.S. President Harry Truman approved the order for atomic bombs to be used against Japan.

B-25 Bomber Crashes into Empire State Building

The Empire State Building in New York City was enveloped in thick fog on July 28, 1945 when a U.S. Army B-25 bomber crashed into the building between the 79th and 80th floors. There were 14 casualties, including all of the airplane’s flight crew. 

world war ii accident, wwii plane crash, empire state building, b25 bomber crash, july 28 1945, new york city, news headlines, (Front Page Headlines, Buffalo Evening News, July 28, 1945)

“First reporters to fight their way up past the smoke-clouded 69th floor found the cowling of the plane still stuck to the side of the building. The point where the plane struck was near a bank of 10 elevators. All floors from the 69th to the 79th were littered with debris. Eye-witnesses said the plane zoomed down Fifth avenue, apparently in trouble. Nanette Morrison, typist in the office of Carl Byor Associates, publicists, was gazing out the window as the plane approached. Not realizing her peril at first, she leaned from the window and started to wave to the crew members, she said…One of the first dead to be identified was Paul Deering, 40, a reporter for the Buffalo Courier-Express. Deering’s body was recovered from a window ledge on the 72nd floor, and police believed he died trying to escape from an upper floor.” – Manhattan Structure, Tallest in World, Rocked by Explosion, by Jack Rowles, The Windsor Star, July 28, 1945

betty lou oliver, elevator operator, empire state building, july 28 1945, b25 bomber crash, survivor, (Betty Lou Oliver and Husband, December 1945)

Empire State Building elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver (age 19) was working on the 80th floor and survived the plane crash. She was in the elevator and survived a 75-story fall (1,000 feet) when the elevator cables failed after the building was struck. 

“The B-25 snapped off all the supporting cables of Betty Lou’s car. One of its engines also crashed through the electrical safety devices of the elevator. Elevator inspectors say the car cut loose at the 71st floor, with nothing to slow its drop but accumulated air pressure. Parts of the airplane’s motor dropped through the roof of the car. Blazing cables came twisting through the same hole. And finally, when the car reached the bottom of its shaft, it crashed completely through a concrete floor.” – Courageous Comeback of the Sunshine Girl, by Gwen Brewster, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 23, 1945

In addition to shock and double vision, Betty Lou had a concussion, fractured spine, broken kneecap, and burns. Despite all this, 16 weeks later she walked out of the hospital on crutches, her husband by her side, and told Brewster,

The doctors tell me it’s up to me. I have to learn to walk all over again. But that will be fun – since I know I can do it. And I have so many reasons to want to walk. My husband and I have so many places we’ve planned to see together, including the top of the empire state building. I want to show him the new elevator they’ve put in place of the one that didn’t kill me…I’m not going through life with a complex on elevators. I’ve never been above the 80th floor, and I want to go all the way up. But I don’t want to come down as fast as I did the last time.“.  

Betty Lou Oliver was a senior citizen when she died March 8, 1994, age 68.

Sinking of the USS Indianapolis in Shark-Infested Waters

Japanese submarine forces on the I-58 torpedoed the USS Indianapolis in the Philippines on July 30, 1945. The bombing caused the largest single incident loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy when the ship sank within 12 minutes. 300 of the crew went down with the ship, and almost 900 jumped into the Philippine Sea. It was 4 days before the wreck was spotted in the ocean by rescuers.

Only 316 crew members that jumped into the sea survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. In July 2015, 14 of the remaining living survivors gathered for a reunion and shared their stories, as captured in this National Geographic documentary clip:

Shark attacks, dehydration, exposure, and saltwater poisoning were attributed to the deaths of all but 316 of the USS Indianapolis crew.

A Portland-class heavy cruiser for the US Navy, the USS Indianapolis had launched in 1931, and was in service throughout WWII. In early July 1945, the ship had completed a top-secret, record speed sailing from San Francisco’s Naval Shipyard to Tinina Island, part of the Northern Mariana Islands located between the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea. The cargo had been components for the “Little Boy” nuclear bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945, and helped end WWII.

At the time, news coverage of the Hiroshima bombing and subsequent WWII events overshadowed the story of the rescue of the Indianapolis survivors. Gradually, reports began emerging of the sinking, including these brief accounts:

“Richard Roland Knupke, 33, Machinist Mate, Third Class, is listed among those ‘missing in action’ aboard the USS Indianapolis reported lost int he Pacific since July 30, according to word received from the War Department by his wife, Corinne Keefer Knupke, 1211 Sycamore Line. Having enlisted in the Navy Jan. 26, 1944 he received his basic training at Great Lakes, Ill., where he was a member of the Navy choir. Following his boot leave he was sent to Camp Schumacher, Cal., where he was stationed until he was assigned to the USS Indianapolis and shipped to the Pacific on May 1, 1944..During his last leave in May his wife joined him in California where she visited him for two months. He is the possessor of four major battle stars, which decorate his Asiatic-Pacific theater ribbons…He has three sisters and six brothers, three of whom served in World War I. He is the only member of the family taking part in World War II.” – Sanduskian Among “Missing” Aboard USS Indianapolis, The Sandusky Register, August 15, 1945

Knupke is not among those listed as survivors of the sinking, while Charles Hoyt Tawater was luckier.

“Charles Hoyt Tawater, fireman 1-c, was one of the survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, his mother, Mrs. John Dickerson, said today. Mrs. Dickerson was informed Monday by the war department that her son had been injured in action in the Pacific on July 30, but was asked to withold the name of his ship and details of his condition until the announcement was released. The telegram stated that he had been immersed in the water for some time. Overseas two years, the Chickasha navy man took part recently in the naval bombardment of Kyushu and Honshu. His ship was credited with downing nine enemy planes and sinking one ship.” – Tawater Survives Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, The Chickasha Daily Express, August 15, 1945

Since then, the USS Indianapolis sinking has been immortalized in films, notably

  • Captain Quint (Richard Dreyfus) gives a memorable monologue in the movie Jaws (1975)
  • The 2015 feature film USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2015) starring Nicolas Cage as the Indianapolis Captain McVay (McVay survived but was wrongly vilified but some and subsequent exonerated). Also in the cast are Thomas Jane, Tom Sizemore, Matt Lanter, James Remar, Brian Presley, and others. Actor Lanter’s grandfather Kenley Mackenzie Lanter was one of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis sinking.

Note: This article was first published in November 2015. It has been updated with new & additional content.

*Images are believed to be in the public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons, Vimeo, or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & writer Anita Hamilton's articles are inspired by real historical events, places, and people. Her travel experiences, a lifelong keen interest in history, art, vintage music, books, silent films, classic movies, "golden age" television shows, fashion, & entertainment in general - combined with years of research - make her a subject matter expert with acquired knowledge & expertise on these topics. This, and a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

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