It’s been 71 years since World War II ended but the fascination surrounding the deadliest armed conflict in history still lingers. This lasting interest has produced countless reference materials from books to documentaries inspired by the events surrounding the bloody six-year war.
And there are still many more to be told.
Enter USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, a true story of the ill-fated American ship bombed by a Japanese submarine on 30th July, 1945 in the Philippine Sea.
The ship – which prior to the attack delivered atomic bomb parts to Tinian Island – carried 1,200 sailors. Only 316 survived the attack and the subsequent five-day ordeal that was marred by deaths from dehydration, burns, exhaustion, drowning and shark attacks.
It’s a story with which actor Matt Lanter (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), who portrays officer Brian “Bama” Smithwick, is very well acquainted. His grandfather, Kenley Lanter, was one of the ship’s survivors.
“He was one of those guys that did talk about it a lot. Some guys shut down, other guys open up. It became family legacy,” he says about his grandfather’s experience.
“I remember him talking about it – there was a small fishing line and a hook in the little survival packet that he was lucky enough to have.
“He fortunately got into a raft, where a lot of guys didn’t even have a life vest. He said they caught several blue fish. He cut up the fish and rationed them out to the guys in his raft.”
But there were other grim details about the incident that Matt only learned about while in the middle of filming.
In a recent interview, survivor Edgar Harrell recounted seeing fierce sharks constantly circling around the water and devouring his companions accompanied by “blood-curdling screams”.
Dick Thelen, another survivor, recalled the sight of rotting flesh and madness consuming comrades, who he’d witness “just crack or swimming off to an imaginary island”.
These are memories that were understandably too painful for Matt’s grandfather to share with his family.
“The gruesome, weird stuff, he didn’t really talk about that with me,” says the 33-year-old actor.
Matt’s experiences shooting the film, of course, didn’t measure up to the real hazards faced by his brave grandfather.
“We were shooting in the ocean for like eight, ten hours a day. These guys endured so much. And I had a craft service when I got back [out of the water].”
Sadly Lanter senior will not see the movie as he passed away in 2013 and was accorded a military procession befitting a true decorated serviceman.
“I’m so proud of him,” beams Matt, “[and] what he did, accomplished for all of us.”
Also starring: Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane
Running time: 135 mins