The Catholic Defender: For those of you who disrespect the American Flag....


Father Lt. Thomas Michael Conway, Catholic Priest and United States Navy Chaplain served aboard the USS Indianapolis during World War II. Father Conway was well respected by his troops whom he served. On 31 July 1945, while in the Philippine Sea, the USS Indianapolis was hit by six Japanese submarine torpedoes sinking the battleship.

At 12:14 a.m. the first torpedo from the Japanese submarine, I-58, blew away the bow of the ship. An instant later the second struck near mid-ship on the starboard side, the resulting explosion split the ship to the keel, knocking out all electric power. Within 12 minutes the unescorted cruiser slipped beneath the surface of the Philippine Sea, midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf.

Hundreds of men were in the sea facing sharks, thirst, hunger, and fear. Frank J Centazzo, a survivor of the USS Indianapolis said of Father Conway:

"I was in the group with Father Conway. I saw him go from one small group to another getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued.

He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness.

He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again."

Father Conway would swim from one group to another floating on the sea as they were lost at sea. Father was encouraging hope among his shipmates.

The following was from BILL MILHOMME's research:

Lewis L. Haynes, Captain, Medical Corps, USN, recalled in an article for the Saturday Evening Post (Aug. 6, 1955), “ ... All thoughts of rescue are gone, and our twisted reasoning has come to accept this as our life until the end is reached. A life with nothing but the sky, a shimmering horizon and endless wastes of water. Beyond this we dare not imagine.“ But we have not lost everything. To the contrary, we have found one comfort – a strong belief to which we cling. God seems very close. Much of our feeling is strengthened by the chaplain, who moves from one group to another to pray with the men. The chaplain, a priest, is not a strong man physically, yet his courage and goodness seem to have no limit. I wonder about him, for the night is particularly difficult and most of us suffer from chills, fever and delirium.

“The moon has been up for some time when I hear a cry for help. It is Mac, the sailor who has given so much to so many. When I swim to him, Mac is supporting the chaplain, who is delirious. ‘Doctor – you’ll just have to relieve me for awhile!’ Mac gasps. ‘I – I can’t hold him any longer!’ I take the chaplain from him; thrust my arm through the chaplain’s life jacket so that I may hold him securely through his wild thrashing. Then I look around for Mac, for I know he needs help. He is completely exhausted, his head forward, his nose in the water. Mac! Mac! I call. There is no answer – and the last I see of Mac is his head sinking lower and lower as he drifts away in the moonlight." “The chaplain’s delirium mounts; his struggles almost too much for me. He cries a strange gibberish – some of the words are Latin – but in a little while he sinks into a coma. The only sound is the slap of water against us as I wait for the end. When it comes, the moon is high, golden overhead. I say a prayer and let him drift away, along the path to follow Mac. ... ”

Several books have been written about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, including In Harm’s Way (2001) by Doug Stanton and Ordeal by Sea (1963) by Thomas Helms.

Fr. Conway’s presence as a priest on the ship and among the survivors in the water is gleaned. Stanton writes, “The boys usually confided in Father Conway. During the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, most of them had been scared out of their wits. ... As the kamikazes dove at the ships, the boys cried out from their battle stations for the kind priest. ... Fr. Conway, in his early thirties, was relentless and fearless in his duty. Once, while saying Mass, battle stations had been called suddenly, and the astute Father shouted out, ‘Bless us all, boys! And give them hell!’ The boys loved him for this. He was a priest, it was true, but he was a priest with grit. ... (Conway) spent the bleak early morning hours swimming back and forth among these terrified crew members, sometimes dragging loners back to the growing mass ... the priest also never stopped swimming among the boys, hearing their confessions and administering Last Rites.”

Helms writes, “Father Thomas Michael Conway swam from group to group, never stopping to rest, praying with the men, encouraging those who were frightened, trying to reason with the maddened. His faith and his prayers gave solace to many ... Father Conway, like Ensign Park, Seaman Rich and many others, burned himself out keeping up a constant patrol among the men, ministering to the dying, talking reason into others who had become momentarily deranged and calming the frightened with prayers until all at once he reached the limit of his endurance, and his life drained away.”

On 2 August, 1945, after swimming three days in shark infested waters, Father Conway succumbed to dehydrated and exhaustion and drowned.

Of 1,196 men on board, approximately 900 men made it into the water, only 316 men were still alive when they were finally discovered 4 days later.

Father Conway served with the navy for three years and was reportedly the last Catholic chaplain to die in WWII.

To the NFL: Remember this story next time you want to disrespect the National Anthem and Old Glory.

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