I was reading up tonight on the USS Indianapolis. Then we watched a movie about it. In between I was swarmed by military dead. I’m still not fully recovered. The story is one of heroism and shame – heroism by the men who served on the ship and shame of the bureaucrats who refused to take responsibility for their own incompetence, incompetence that caused the death of nearly a thousand men. I will tell a little of their story here.
In 1945 this ship, a heavy cruiser under the command of Charles Butler McVay III, was sent to deliver nuclear materials necessary for the bombs that were eventually dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The mission was top secret. As such, they were denied any type of escort, even though they were sailing through waters where Japanese submarines had sunk American ships only days earlier and even though the Indianapolis lacked any type of sonar by which they could detect these subs. Under normal circumstances, the ship would have been allotted at least one escort. That they were not amounts of malfeasance by the Navy brass. It gets worse.
They delivered their cargo successfully and on the way back home, while in the midst of the Philippine Sea, they were targeting by a Japanese sub, the I-58 commanded by Mochitsura Hashimoto. The resulting attack devastated the Indianapolis, immediately killing at least three hundred men. The ship went down leaving over a thousand men marooned in shark infested waters.
Three SOS calls were ignored by the American military. The men were slowly picked off by shark attacks, exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and injuries sustained during the initial attack. They were in the water for four days after the Indianapolis went down. (This was the single greatest loss of life in US naval history). Eventually they were rescued, in large part due to a routine air patrol having spotted them. Out of close to 1200 men of the original crew, only 316 survived.
Then, knowing that there would be an investigation into such great loss of life and wanting to cover its collective ass, the US Navy decided to use Captain McVay as a scapegoat and court-martialed him (against the wishes of Admiral Nimitz) for failing to “zigzag,” a common maneuver to avoid Japanese missiles. They also brought charges of dereliction of duty. It was utter bullshit. Commander Hashimoto testified that McVay acted properly and that there was nothing that he could have done differently to avoid his ship having been sunk. He was found guilty of not zigzagging anyway, though the dereliction of duty charge was a not-guilty. In fact, evidence shows that McVay did everything right.
Charles McVay shot himself on November 6, 1968. He received ongoing hateful phone calls and letters from the relatives of those of his crew who did not survive throughout his life. The men who did survive continued to push for his exoneration, insisting he was innocent of any wrong doing. Commander Hashimoto, who upon retiring from the military became a Shinto priest, also pushed for his exoneration.
While reading up on this, I found out that a twelve -year old student named Hunter Scott while working on a school project for National History Day in 1998, researched the USS Indianapolis and this event after seeing it discussed in Jaws(which ironically is what made me read up on it again – I had known most of the story before – tonight. I saw Jawstoday at a local theatre). He interviewed survivors and waded through over 800 documents pertaining to the incident and McVay’s conviction. His hard work and that of the survivors who had formed the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization, led to a Congressional Hearing where the conviction was overturned and McVay exonerated. In 2017, the remains of the ship were discovered in the Philippine Sea and in 2018 the entire crew of the Indianapolis was collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal – long overdue.
There is a National Memorial to the USS Indianapolis on Canal Walk in the city Indianapolis. Hunter Scott joined the Navy and as of 2017 was serving as a naval aviator.
Books of interest on the topic include:
“Fatal Voyage: the Sinking of the USS Indanapolis” by Dan Kurzman (who also helped push the cause of McVay’s exoneration forward)
“In Harm’s Way: The Singing of the USS Indianapolis” by Doug Stanton
“Indianapolis: the True Story” by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
There is also a movie with Nicholas Cage that is quite good: “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage”
They will be added to my shrine for the military dead and starting tomorrow, I will be doing an elevation for Captain McVay and his crew. (I felt Hashimoto’s presence as well very, very strongly as I was researching this but I don’t sense any elevation needed there. He wasn’t wronged and driven to suicide).
May these men be remembered.
May their story be told.
May they eat honey from the hands of their ancestors.
Honoring one’s ancestors isn’t just a metaphor. It isn’t about chanting their names and pouring out libations (though these things are good in and of themselves as a place from which to begin). At its core it means shouldering their debt, digging into it, eating their pain and spitting up their bitterness and finding a way out and through—for them and for yourself—to healing, reparation, and wholeness once again.
We have no humanity without our ancestors and we carry their sufferings in our flesh, in the scarred skin of our minds, in every strand of our DNA, in the rough deep well of our memories collective and unconscious. It marks our bones, twists our marrow and in the end it lifts us up. Through it all, they elevate us just as we through our rites and prayer and the grace of remembrance seek to elevate them. We carry our dead with us always and they too bear us upon their backs. It begins and ends with our dead and they can carry us to our Gods as well. They have sacrificed themselves for our enfleshment. We can shoulder the weight of their lives.
Sannion is working on a new book but he’s not been posting any previews. This morning, however, I talked him into letting me share this one, based on what happened in our hof last weekend. I cannot wait for the whole book to be out!
Something to Sing About
by H. Jeremiah Lewis
I’m perched on the edge of my seat,
my whole body rocking to the rhythm
of the drum as the apprentice of the Vitki
cleanses pollution and bad vibrations
from the room, while another sings
an Anglo-Saxon fire song,
circumambulating with a beeswax
pillar candle on a red and black plate.
I can see the face of world-breaking Loki
dancing in the flame,
and behind the apprentice,
as he winds serpentwise round the shrines
burning away the dross in the air,
a legion of those who fell in defense
of their blood and soil and ancestral traditions
against the encroachments of the giant
tyrant Charlemagne, stand at his back
lending their potency to his words and deeds.
Another passes by, sprinkling everything with
ivy-leaf chernips – everything including
the husband of the Vitki, who growls
wolfishly and shakes his head
when the holy drops splash him.
The girl smiles and rushes to finish the room,
as he goes back to chanting, “Nothing can be
so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune –
that cannot be released by the Lord Dionysos,”
and shakes a femur rattle.
The Vitki is not home.
Oh, her body is standing right there
before all of them, savagely beautiful
with shaved head, white
ash upon her face and Runes inscribed
in red ochre, blue and silver
Evil Eye charms dangling from her ears,
white shirt, black pants and a red belt
strung with bells and charms,
amulets and chaplets,
and a hand-forged blót knife
sheathed at her side.
She is pacing about like a brooding,
impatient bear who has a hell of a lot to say
and there’s a set of knucklebones,
a pad of paper, and a pen
just sitting right there on the table
waiting for him, so let’s get to it.
Oh fuck. Odin’s not just making a direct call
– he’s here, in the flesh so to speak.
The Vitki’s husband is already shooing
the apprentices out of the room, drilling
them on what will need to be done
by way of aftercare. This is a spontaneous
possession, with no time for prep.
And Odin enters rough.
I sit on the floor facing him,
give a respectful nod,
and prepare to act as sacred scribe,
as I have so many times,
and for so many mediums before.
His voice, when it comes, is crabby
and cold like the gnarled branch
of a cemetery tree after an overlong winter,
like an old man who deals in philtres,
herblore, abortions, bindings and unbindings,
does strange things with animal bits
and has suffered much to come
by his dark knowledge.
Most of all he is like something
that has gone mad on the battlefield,
and stopped being entirely human.
It was an effort to maintain eye-contact
with him as he didn’t quite sing
and didn’t quite speak
and didn’t quite caw
or furiously roar
or rant or rage
with the voice that remade
the raw viscera of his father’s corpse
into the ordered world we inhabit
– but it wasn’t not like all of that either.
No matter how experienced you are
it is always fucking nuts sitting
face to face with your Gods.
Especially when they have as much to say
as Odin did that night.
And also, he was pissed
– like p-i-s-s-e-d pissed –
especially when a little black ant
scuttled into view.
He leaned down and galdered at it.
Odin’s voice was terrible,
violent, mad, like
the shriek of a sword
or a beast’s claws
scratching at the door
– and the creature withered up on the spot.
I knew more was going on behind the curtain,
so I closed my eyes and there in the dark
stood Odin the Slaughterer, Gallows Meat,
the King upon his Mound, Storm-Bringer,
He held his spear up in greeting
and dangling from it was the corpse
of a thing that looked like an ant
but was the size of a large dog.
It did not always look that way
– we had seen its various forms
over the last couple weeks,
in our restless sleep,
as shadowy movement
out of the corner our eyes,
as the smell of shit and random spikes
in anxiety, depression and surliness
for no discernible reason,
and once as a nag with no head
standing in the mist beyond our yard.
Before I could express my gratitude
I was snapped back to myself by the Vitki
who was seething and singing
how the Runes were revealed
on the wind-swept Tree,
and I oathed to the Old Man
right there on the spot
that I would make poetry of the story
to thank him for protecting
the members of our household,
who are dearer to me than my birth family.
And so I have. I pray, Lord, may I, my Vitki
and our apprentices be always
safe, secure, prepared and immune
to the snares and attacks of our foes
in this and the other worlds,
so that our household may be
a welcoming place for you
and the Gods and Spirits
who stand with you always,
with plentiful offerings,
and acts of worship beyond counting
to please your hearts.
yesterday was the anniversary of my adopted mom’s death. I was sick and didn’t have the chance to post about it, but I want to do that today. She was the nucleus of my heart. She knit me together with love and care, taught me devotion and humility before the Gods, taught me to be a person of worth. What I am, i owe to her and I truly believe that but for her care, I would not be here now. I am so incredibly blessed and lucky to have had her in my life. Sometimes people ask me if i believe in miracles and I can only say yes, because I lived one. Hail to you, Mutti, Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza. As Sigyn is to Loki, you are my north star guiding me still. Auf Zeit und Ewigkeit.
Vandals in London have desecrated a memorial to WWII RAF fighters. This is in wake of a black studies professor calling these heroes war criminals (you know, the men who fought actual nazis. I guess they’ll give PhDs to anyone these days). This is the result of people who have zero respect for the dead, and who see western identity as a problem to be solved. I hope they catch the criminals. I would like to see them drawn and quartered, though of course in these ‘civilized’ times such punishments are no longer given. Pity. One who desecrates the military dead deserves nothing else.
(photo “Lest We Forget” by G. Krasskova)
Part of my work spiritually, as an ancestor worker, involves honoring not just my own ancestors but several specific groups of the dead. One of those is the military dead. I maintain an extensive shrine to them at which I make regular offerings and I’ve gone on pilgrimage to honor them several times. I also keep an eye out for things that they may like, at flea markets, at antique stores, and so forth. While I was at Villanova last week participating in a theology conference, I took some time out to do a bit of antiquing. I was traveling with my friend Allen, who has a real gift for finding just the right thing that one might want or need (he’s really amazing at it). As we were hunting around one store, he picked up this bright, brass box and showed it to me. I was quite taken with it immediately and thought it might be Trench Art from WWI. When I spoke with the proprietor I found out that it wasn’t, instead it was a Mary Box.
In the last year of WWI, Britain’s princess Mary raised money on her own to create and send these boxes to every single soldier serving in the British forces, from highest to lowest (officers received silver boxes, enlisted brass). They were typically filled with tobacco or sometimes, if the soldier wasn’t a smoker, candy and sweets. They’re rarely in such good condition, because they were carried and used by these men. I was really, really lucky to find one – thanks to my friend Allen – in pristine condition. Of course, I bought it.
I decided that I would dedicate it to the military dead and use it as my cigarette case. That way, every time I smoke, I would be making an offering to them. So far, it’s been working beautifully and every time I hold it or open it, I’m reminded to give thanks for them, and to reach out to them, pray to and for them. Such a small thing has made me more intensely mindful and I am grateful. Most of all, I’m grateful that the Gods have guided me wisely in this practice of honoring this group of dead. May I learn from them and may I honor them well.
“You have been paid for. Each of you, Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red—whatever pigment you use to describe yourselves—has been paid for. But for the sacrifices made by some of your ancestors, you would not be here; they have paid for you. So, when you enter a challenging situation, bring them on the stage with you; let their distant voices add timbre and strength to your words. For it is your job to pay for those who are yet to come.” Excerpt from Maya Angelou’s book Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou.
Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death and I woke from nightmares of the moment I found out she was dead. Ironically yesterday I was reading Catullus 101 with my students, a poem in which he mourns his brother as he’s returning his brother’s ashes home for funeral rites and grief just washes through the words. When I woke, that is what immediately came to mind, that and the moment I learned she had died, the uncertainty and grief in the eyes of those around me, the moment my heart died.
Catullus talks about crying out to the mute ash of his brother and bids him hail and farewell but ash is not mute, our dead are not gone. I awoke with the knowledge that in having Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza as an adopted mom, and as a deep and dear friend, in my life at all i had experienced something of profound grace, something unspeakably sacred. The world is poorer for her corporeal absence now and so am I; but the echoes of who and what she was, of her holiness, of her devotion remain like ripples on a pond and continue to work their magic. I am the daughter of a sancta and I can only hope and pray that my own soul and character were in some way formed by her.
Some of you have wondered over the years why I never post pictures of her. The answer is simple: she *loathed* having her photo taken and if she did not know how important it was for me to have pictures of her, would have asked that they all be burnt when she died. One day she will have a prayer card — numerous people who venerate her as a sancta have asked for one — but only once she agrees and I know it without a doubt through my own divination. She would always prefer that anything of that sort go to Sigyn. So I’m going to end this with a prayer she wrote for Loki, for Mutti was a fervent devotee of both Sigyn and Her Husband and carried Their blessings with her wherever she moved. When I honor her, I honor Sigyn too because she would have it no other way. Today I remember both my beloved mother and the Gods she loved best. Ave, Mutti. as we always used to say: ich habe dich unendlich gern auf Zeit und Ewigkeit.
I love You powerful, and I love You powerless.
I love You young as flame, and I love You
decrepit as the dying ember.
I love You in Your greatness, and I love You
in Your meanness.
I love You in Your beauty, and I love You
in Your hideousness.
I love You changing, and I love You changeless.
I love the force that drives You, and I will love
You if You lose it.
I love You famous; and I love You unknown.
I love You kind, and I love You cruel.
I love You sane, and I love You mad.
Because I love You, show me how to love You.