City of Benicia honors last survivor of USS Indianapolis

The city of Benicia will pay tribute to one of its own, an unintended war hero, whose story is equal parts remarkable and unimaginable to most.

Harold Bray, 96, endured days and nights of terror on the open sea, witnessing the tragic deaths of hundreds of his fellow shipmates.

Bray represents the last remaining link to a deep and honorable national historical event—the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the Navy's deadliest disaster.

"I think I'm pretty damn lucky," said Bray.

On Friday, a bronze statue will forever honor him in front of the Benicia Clock Tower. Standing 7 feet tall, it commemorates his indomitable spirit. 

The USS Indianapolis' last voyage was top secret. In the mid-summer of 1945, the ship successfully transported crucial components for an atomic bomb to Tinian Island.

While en route to join a Task Force, the Indianapolis fell victim to a Japanese submarine attack, causing the ship and its crew of 1,195 sailors to sink. Approximately 300 people went down with the ship, while nearly 900 others found themselves fighting for their lives, desperately clinging to floating debris.

Over the course of four days and five nights, survivors endured the onslaught of white-tip and tiger sharks, which approached in waves, inflicting terror and consuming those unfortunate enough to be within their reach.

"The sharks were there. I was bumped a couple times, but, they weren't hungry at the time I guess. There was 18 of us in the group. We stayed together pretty much. Of course guys died every day. By the time we got picked up there was just only two or three of us left," recalled Bray.

Unforgiving weather conditions also took many lives.

"It was cold. Even in the daytime it never warmed up much," said Bray. Of the 900 that went in to Pacific, only 316 were rescued, including 17-year-old Bray.

Bray would go on to serve as a Benicia police officer for three decades. However, the events he endured at that time required immense strength.

"You had to be young and strong to survive what we went through in the water. I was one of the youngest, so that's part of it," Bray explained.

The sunken ship now rests three and a half miles below the ocean's surface.

Bray said he often thinks about his fallen shipmates.

"Well, why was I so lucky? I think about it every day, contemplating what could have been," he expressed.

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to support the continuation of Harold Bray's legacy and Benicia's enduring commitment to honoring veterans.