Bryan Cahill Munson
b. 3 October 1925, d. 30 July 1945
Bryan Cahill Munson|b. 3 Oct 1925\nd. 30 Jul 1945|p145.htm|Joseph Waddy Munson II|b. 3 Oct 1896\nd. 11 May 1951|p146.htm|Myrtle Seymour Bryan|b. 14 Feb 1899\nd. 2 Dec 1993|p2825.htm|Henry W. Munson III|b. 16 Aug 1851\nd. 1 Jul 1924|p25.htm|Sarah K. Cahill|b. c 1876\nd. 1899|p2818.htm|||||||
1st cousin 2 times removed of George Poindexter Munson Sr.
3rd cousin of Laura Jane Munson.
- Family Background:
- Munson and Allied Families
Bryan Cahill Munson was born on 3 October 1925 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.1 He was the son of Joseph Waddy Munson II and Myrtle Seymour Bryan. He died on 30 July 1945 in the Philippine Sea at age 19.2 There is a memorial to Bryan at the Angleton Cemetery, Brazoria County, Texas.3
Bryan was 6'4", played football and won medals in swimming, was an accomplished horseman and expert rifleman. He graduated from Angleton High School and was a freshman at Texas A&M when, not wanting to be drafted into the Army, he joined the Marines. Because of a severe ankle injury suffered when a child, he walked with a slight limp and probably could have avoided combat duty altogether. He considered it his duty, however, to fight for his country.
Bryan was a Seagoing Marine assigned to Admiral Raymond Spruance aboard his flagship, the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis. Commissioned in 1932, the Indy was over 610 feet in length and represented the very latest technology of its day. She was the pride of the Navy, and President Franklin Roosevelt chose her as his Ship of State. Many foreign dignitaries and royalty toured her deck as guests of the United States, but perhaps her most famous peacetime duty was a Presidential cruise to South America in 1936 called the Good Neighbor Tour. It was the first time in history a sitting President of the United States visited outside of North America.
In 1940, the U.S. Fleet was moved from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor as a deterrent to Japanese agression. On 5 December 1941, with two-thirds of the Indianapolis crew ashore, a surprising order was issued to sail in one hour. There was no way to recall everyone, but the Indy got underway as ordered nevertheless. Thus President Roosevelt's favorite ship was convieniently out of port when the Japanese attacked two days later. Many credible historians believe this to be strong circumstantial evidence that FDR not only knew the attack was coming, but precisely when it would occur; that he welcomed it as an excuse to declare war.
The Indianapolis first saw combat in February 1942, and as the flag ship for the 5th Fleet, received ten battle stars for action in many engagements in the South Pacific. In the battle for Okinawa, on 31 March 1945, a Kamikaze plane crashed into the port side of the after-deck and fell into the sea doing little damage. However, a bomb released just before the crash caused tremendous damage to the ship and killed nine men and injured twenty-six. After emergency repairs were made, the Indy limped to Mare Island, Vallejo, California, for repairs, arriving there in late April 1945.
Meanwhile, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Manhattan Project had completed three atomic bombs, and a fast ship was needed to transport two of the bombs to Tinian Island where B-29 bombers were waiting to deliver them to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indianapolis was a perfect choice. Not only was she very fast, she was available and at a location convenient to Los Alamos.
PFC Bryan Cahill Munson was home in Brazoria County on leave from his ship when he was contacted by the Navy. The Indianapolis was shorthanded for an important mission. Bryan could have refused to report. He had already served two years at sea, and war or no war, a Seagoing Marine's duty was two years at sea, two years stateside. Nevertheless, he chose to go back because he was needed, saying he was "going back and hurry to get this war over with so everybody could come home."
In the early morning hours of 16 July 1945, before it was even certain that the atomic bomb would work, components of two bombs were taken aboard the Indianapolis and secured. Minutes later the third atomic bomb was successfully exploded at Alamogordo, New Mexico. With proof that the bomb worked, orders were given to sail. On board were scientists who would assemble the bombs in Tinian, but not even the Captain, Charles McVay, knew the nature of the secret cargo.
After a record-setting run that averaged 29 knots, the Indianapolis anchored off Tinian in the Western Pacific. The bombs were off-loaded and they proceeded to Guam, about 100 nautical miles south. There came orders to make a slow run to the Leyte Gulf. They were denied a destroyer screen, and messages that they were coming were never received. On their second night out, July 29, the Indianapolis was torpedoed. Of the 1,196 men aboard, about 850 got into the sea alive, but when help arrived almost five days later, including the Captain, Charles Butler McVay III, there were only 316 survivors. Bryan was not among them. Captain McVay was eventually court-martialed for negligence, and Time magazine called this "the most colossal blunder of the war." Bryan Cahill Munson was awarded the Purple Heart, posthumously, and also the World War II and the Asian Pacific medals.
Writer's note: It was a colossal blunder, all right, but not on the part of the captain. Captain McVay was made a scapegoat by the Navy, and in 1999 the U.S. Congress finally cleared his name thanks to the efforts of survivors and an unlikely supporter of their cause - the captain of the Japanese submarine that sank the Indy. The Navy fought all attempts to clear his name, but finally relented several years later and amended the record.
It's a long, intriguing story, and following are only a few of the facts:
Guam naval authorities ordered Indianapolis to take the most direct path to Leyte, and within range of that path, and only four days before the Indy departed Guam, the destroyer escort USS Underhill was sunk by a Japanese submarine. McVay asked about submarines operating in his path and this information was withheld.
Naval Intelligence knew from their code-breaking system, ULTRA, that I-58, the submarine that sank the Indy, was operating along the same path. Declassified documents prove that the Guam authorities knew of the danger, but McVay was not informed.
McVay's request for a destroyer escort was denied. The Indianapolis was the only ship unequipped with anti-submarine detection devices to be sent across the Philippine Sea without a destroyer escort during the entire war.
McVay's orders were to zigzag at his own discretion. Never was zigzagging required during poor visibility. He gave orders to stop zigzagging right before midnight because of poor visibility, and every last survivor testified that visibility was very poor. Nevertheless, "hazarding his vessel by failing to zigzag in good visibility" was one of the charges brought against him, and in fact, the one on which he was convicted.
Two torpedoes struck the Indianapolis within a minute or two of each other, and she sank in about 12 minutes. Because the second torpedo knocked out power, orders to abandon ship were given word of mouth. McVay was charged with failure to issue orders to abandon ship in a timely fashion. He was acquitted of that charge.
The radio operator believed he had gotten out several SOS signals before power was lost, but the Navy later claimed that none were received by any ship or land base in the Pacific. In fact, three were received. Declassified documents prove the Navy lied. None were acted on because one commander was drunk, another was involved in a card game and had ordered his men not to disturb him, and a third thought it was a Japanese prank.
ULTRA intercepted a message from I-58 to headquarters in Japan that reported they had sunk a large American warship. The reported coordinates were precisely in the area where Indy was expected to be at the time. Authorities ignored the message, believing the Japanese were "just bragging."
Regarding the messages, there is no real mystery. The port director at Guam sent them out to a number of authorities on Guam and Leyte. Indianapolis was supposed to meet another ship for gunnery practice in Leyte Gulf, but when the message was sent, that ship was in Okinawa. The message was garbled and there was no request that it be re-sent. Authorities at Leyte and at Guam charted the Indy's progress on a map. At Guam, authorities assumed she had arrived safely. At Leyte, the port director knew she was late but didn't report it or make any inquiries. The order throughout the war was not to report the arrival of ships. This was for security purposes, but ill advised. The result was that the Indianapolis was never missed by the Navy. It is the worst sea disaster in American Naval history, and the first they knew of it was when the first survivor was pulled from the Philippine Sea almost five days later. It was simply a lucky accident that they had been spotted by a Navy pilot who was attempting to fix a loose antenna. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of those who made it into the water alive, died of their injuries or from shark attacks, drinking salt water, from the 110 degree heat, or drowning.
Public announcement of the tragedy was withheld for almost two weeks until exactly one hour after President Truman announced the end of the war, and only hours before had telegrams begun going out to families of the victims. Many were delivered just as Truman was making his announcement or minutes afterward. It was obvious the Navy hoped the good news would push the bad to the inside pages of the newspapers.
A board of inquiry convened at Guam even though the Navy Inspector General had not finished his investigation. Admirals Nimitz and Spruance were against bringing charges against Captain McVay, and Nimitz said that he broke no rule by failing to zigzag because his orders were to use his own discretion.
A man who lost a son in the tragedy, Thomas D’Arcy Brophy Sr., was a New York advertising giant and big contributor to the Democrat Party. He vowed to destroy McVay, and he went right to the top, to Navy Secretary Forrestal and to President Truman himself. Truman asked Forrestal to investigate and Forrestal contacted Admiral Ernest King who had been reprimanded only once when he was a junior officer, and that was by Captain McVay's father who was a World War I admiral. King overruled Spruance and Nimitz and ordered the court-martial. It became the first time in Naval history that an officer was ordered to stand court martial when his immediate superiors were opposed. Also, McVay was the only captain in World War II who was court martialed for losing his ship, and over 350 Navy warships were lost.
Captain McVay wasn't informed of the charges against him until four days before the court-martial began. He was then denied his choice of counsel, and a captain with no courtroom experience was appointed for him. When counsel asked for a delay, it was denied. Furthermore, the Navy failed to provide him with crucial evidence, and he never brought up the fact that the charges stated that Captain McVay failed to zigzag during good visibility contrary to all first-hand accounts. Unbelievably, the Navy flew in Mochitsura Hashimoto, captain of I-58, to testify against McVay, gave him $100 spending money and provided him with a new wardrobe. That he testified he would have sunk the Indianapolis whether or not she was zigzagging was ignored.
McVay was convicted of “hazarding his vessel by failing to zigzag” and sentenced to lose 100 numbers of his temporary grade of captain and another 100 numbers in the permanent grade of commander. The sentence later was remitted, but the conviction stood. After the verdict was declared, McVay told the prosecutor, “Whatever the verdict, it is for the good of the service.”
For the rest of his life, Captain McVay received letters from grief stricken families. They came in huge numbers around Christmas time according to his son. One letter said, “Merry Christmas. Ours won’t be merry because you killed our son.” He remarked to a friend not long before he died that he should have gone down with his ship. In 1968, he walked outside his home, lay down, put his service revolver under his chin and pulled the trigger. He thus became the last victim of the Indianapolis tragedy.
Bryan C. Munson appeared on the 1 April 1930 Federal Census of Houston, Harris County, Texas, in the household of his parents, Joseph W. and Myrtle B. Munson.4
- [S20] Thurmond A. Williamson, The Munsons of Texas, an American Saga, First Edition manuscript (Dallas: n.pub., 1987), 232.
- [S20] Thurmond A. Williamson, Munsons of Texas, 232-234.
- [S427] Bryan Cahill Munson tombstone, Angleton Cemetery, Angleton, Texas; photographed by the writer on 5 July 2003.
- [S105] Joseph W. Munson household, 1930 U.S. Census, Harris County, Texas, population schedule, Precinct 1, Houston City, enumeration district (ED) 101-96, sheet 18A/157, dwelling 242, family 254; National Archives micropublication T626, roll 2348.