WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, new evidence and documentation from veterans across the United States supporting the application to posthumously award Navy Chaplain Lieutenant Thomas M. Conway the Navy Cross – America’s second highest military decoration for valor. In May of this year, Murphy and Blumenthal joined the local efforts of Bob Dorr, Secretary of the Waterbury veterans Memorial Committee, and the entire Waterbury Veterans Committee in sending requests for stories about Father Conway to veterans organizations across the country, hoping to gather eyewitness accounts of Father Conway’s actions to help make the case for this recognition to the Navy. Dorr and the Committee worked tirelessly to gather new evidence in securing the honor that Father Conway so rightly deserves.
Father Conway, who grew up on Cooke Street in Waterbury, was a chaplain aboard the USS Medusa and the USS Indianapolis during the Second World War. On July 30, 1945, Father Conway was aboard the USS Indianapolis when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Of the 1,196 crew aboard, approximately 300 were killed in the attack and subsequent sinking of the ship.
Father Conway was among the roughly 900 sailors left in the water facing shark attacks, dehydration, and exposure. For three straight days, Father Conway swam back and forth among crew members, helping individual sailors who drifted away to rejoin their comrades, organizing prayer groups, and urging the increasingly dehydrated and delirious men not to give up hope of rescue. He died on the third day, August 2, 1945, shortly before Navy pilots spotted the survivors. Just 316 men survived, making the sinking of the USS Indianapolis the single greatest loss of life at sea in the history of the United States Navy.
The living survivors of the USS Indianapolis have made it their mission to make sure Father Conway is recognized by the U.S. Navy for his acts of heroism, saving many of their comrades’ lives at sea. In achieving this goal, Murphy met with a group of WWII veterans and introduced a Senate resolution to award Father Conway with the Navy Cross.
“Father Conway’s actions demonstrated true heroism as he administered aid, hope and last rights to hundreds of survivors that floated desperately in search of rescue. The enclosed sworn testimony and evidence now shows that Father Conway died early in the morning of 2 August 1945 after giving up his life so that others could live. His actions and heroics reflected great credit upon himself and the highest traditions of the United States Navy. We believe that Father Conway’s action satisfy the requirements of awarding the Navy Cross and ask that you reexamine the case in light of the new evidence.”
The full text of the letter is below:
The Honorable Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20305-1000
Dear Secretary Mabus:
Enclosed you will find new evidence and documentation supporting the application to posthumously award the Navy Cross to Chaplain Lieutenant Thomas M. Conway who was killed while serving aboard the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) . The Official Naval History of the Chaplain Corps incorrectly states that Father Conway died on 30 July 1945, as soon the ship was struck by a torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine. The enclosed sworn testimony and evidence now shows that Father Conway died early in the morning of 2 August 1945 after giving up his life so that others could live. Father Conway’s actions demonstrated true heroism as he administered aid, hope and last rights to hundreds of survivors that floated desperately in search of rescue.
We believe that Father Conway’s action satisfy the requirements of awarding the Navy Cross and ask that you reexamine the case in light of the new evidence. Had Captain McVay of the USS Indianapolis been aware of the actions of Father Conway after the sinking, he would have undoubtedly made a recommendation to award the Navy Cross. Father Conway’s service to the survivors was performed in the presence of great danger and at great personal risk that ultimately led him to expire in the service of his fellow sailors. His actions and heroics were beyond reproach and reflect great credit upon himself and the highest traditions of the United States Navy.
Thank you again for your service to our great nation and we look forward to working with your office to secure the honor that Father Conway so rightly deserves.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal