John Reid III, 88, Black & Decker executive

March 31, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John Reid III, a retired Black & Decker Corp. executive and World War II veteran who survived the World War II sinking of the cruiser USS Indianapolis, died of a myocardial infarction Saturday at Roland Park Place. He was 88.

Mr. Reid, who formerly lived in Stevenson and Lutherville, was one of 316 U.S. Navy seamen and officers who survived a five-day ordeal in open waters after the Indianapolis was sunk the night of July 29, 1945, by a Japanese submarine in a remote part of the Pacific. A total of 884 crew members died.

Some died in the initial attack, and while awaiting rescue, many others perished from shark attacks or in the sea from the effects of a searing sun and lack of food and fresh water.

The Indianapolis had been sailing in the Philippine Sea under sealed orders after delivering components used in the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima to the island of Tinian. Hit by two torpedoes shortly after midnight, the heavy cruiser disappeared from sight 12 minutes later.

Mr. Reid, then a lieutenant commander, was sleeping near the midsection of the 610-foot cruiser. Awakened by explosions from the torpedoes, he ran for his battle station.

"I started running for my battle station, but I couldn't get there for the fire," he told The Evening Sun in a 1975 interview. "I went aft. I don't know why. It just seemed the sensible thing to do. I didn't know where the torpedoes hit. There were explosions all around. I was lucky. I went aft. She went down by the bow.

"I was stunned and surprised. I went over the side and found myself standing on the blades of one propeller as the ship went down right beneath me. There was no suction. I pulled the CO-2 tube on my life jacket and bobbed right up in the water. I was in a sea of oil and unhappy people."

An hour after the sinking, schools of sharks began gathering.

"I saw plenty of sharks ... all during the second day," he said. "They'd swim right by, no more than a foot away. We'd gather in groups and beat the water as hard as we could. I guess it worked because I'm still here. The sharks were beautiful things, to tell you the truth, but more frightening than anything."

In addition to sharks, heat, thirst and hallucinations, sleep was the next fear survivors had to contend with.

"Sleep, in the water, meant death," Mr. Reid said. "We talked to keep awake. Not too philosophical. I worried most about keeping my head and staying alive. Men were going crazy. Fighting each other."

On the fourth day, rafts were dropped from rescue planes. Rescue ships and small seaplanes arrived the next day. In addition to overwhelming fatigue, Mr. Reid had trouble seeing from the intense glare of the sun.

"I just remember hanging on a raft and getting pulled onto a ship," Mr. Reid recalled in the interview. "I didn't do anything heroic anyone couldn't have done. I just wanted to stay alive."

Mr. Reid had enlisted in the Navy in 1941, and had served aboard the USS Hamu, USS Roamer and USS Birmingham, the illustrious cruiser that survived damaging attacks in three Pacific campaigns, and each time returned to battle.

Mr. Reid, whose decorations included two Purple Hearts, was discharged from the Navy in 1947.

"The Indianapolis haunted him all of his life," said a daughter, Joan Elisabeth Reid of Roland Park. "He always wondered why he was left alive and saved. He was always deeply troubled by it."

Mr. Reid was born and raised in New Rochelle, N.Y., and was a 1933 graduate of the Choate School in Wallingford, Conn. After earning a bachelor's degree from Amherst College in 1938, he was an advertising representative for Yankee Magazine.

After he was discharged from the Navy, he worked in Venezuela and Colombia as a representative of B.F. Goodrich and later for General Tire in Mexico. In 1957, he joined Black & Decker Corp. as Latin American sales manager and later as a sales manager in Baltimore.

After leaving Black & Decker in 1970, he joined the U.S. State Department, where he was appointed director of the U.S. Trade Center in Mexico City. He returned to Baltimore in 1973 when he joined the First National Bank of Maryland's International Division.

He retired in 1975 to New London, N.H., where he lived until moving to Roland Park Place in 2000.

In 1992, Mr. Reid addressed the Sunapee, N.H., Memorial Day ceremony. His thoughts turned to the Indianapolis.

"Our captain of the Indianapolis was court-martialed for failing to zigzag and to give the order to abandon ship after being torpedoed," Mr. Reid said. "He was a scapegoat for the press. Some years later, he committed suicide.

"Again, we were attacked by a foreign country and we did a great job despite mistakes, and who doesn't make them?" he added. "But let us remember former times, people, and sacrifices, and have pride, faith and hope."

Despite his ordeal in the war, Mr. Reid continued to love the water. He sailed his small sailboat on Little Lake Sunapee.

"Our father loved ships, the sea and sailing," Miss Reid said. "He had books on ships, and he certainly loved the ocean. I don't think the Indianapolis ever succeeded taking that away from him."

Mr. Reid was a member of the USS Indianapolis Survivors' Organization. He enjoyed cross-country skiing, bird-watching and cooking.

He was married in 1946 to the former Elisabeth Marshall, who died in 2002.

A memorial service for Mr. Reid will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 1401 Carrollton Ave. in Ruxton.

He also is survived by another daughter, Susan Reid Mills of Homeland; and a granddaughter.

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