MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s last survivor of the infamous shark attacks after the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis has died.
Erwin Hensch, 93, of Burnsville, died on October 15th in Crosby, Minnesota from complications with Alzheimer’s diseases.
On July 30, 1945, Hensch’s ship, the U.S.S. Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. The crew had just delivered the first operational atomic bomb to the island of Tinian, Guam in the South pacific.
Hensch was among 1,196 sailors on the ship. About 900 initially survived the torpedo attack many wearing life jackets. Over the next five days, hundreds died after being attacked in the shark-infested waters.
Hensch’s daughter Susan Eklund, now 66, says her father rarely spoke of the experience.
“Up until I was probably in my early 20s I really didn’t hear much about it,” said Eklund. “I think it was still pretty fresh in his mind and he didn’t want to dwell on it.”
She does recall her father saying during those five days as he floated in the water he recited biblical verses and thought of his wife, Helen. They had been married Christmas Day a few years before the incident.
Occasionally, her father would give some disturbing details on crew members survived.
“I remember him saying they took life jackets off of people who had died,” said Eklund. “They had to stay together in groups. Because if anybody went off that’s who the sharks would get.”
Out of almost 900 who went into the water, 317 survived after being spotted by a pilot in a Bomber.
Eklund says the experience changed her father’s outlook on life and made him thankful for each day he lived there after.
“If you think you have a problem, you really don’t have a problem compared to that whole experience,” Eklund said. “It put things in perspective.”
A memorial service for Erwin Hensch will be held on Nov. 23 in Crosby, Minn.