Richard Nowatzki, a 95-year-old veteran thought the $40 he lost during the Battle of Santa Cruz Island was lost forever, at least until now.
In January 2019, the Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel discovered the wreckage of the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier where Nowatzki was stationed during the Second World War.
“If you go down to my locker, there’s 40 bucks in it, you can have it!” Nowatzki said
to CBS The Morning.
Nowatzki was an 18-years-old gunner when the ship was blasted by Japanese torpedoes and bombs, eventually sinking to the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean on Oct. 25, 1943 along with the 440 crewmen that didn’t make it.
The wreck was founds 5,400 metres below surface in the Pacific Ocean, near the Solomon Islands. The exact location of the ship will be kept secret to protect it.The expedition crew that made the discovery was funded by the late Paul Allen, the, co-founder of Microsoft.
Video and images captured by the R/V Petrel show the damaged aircraft carrier coated in algae. One image appears to show a soldier’s coat caught in a door. They even found a man’s washing kit complete with a toothbrush.
“I know I’ve been a very fortunate man,” Nowatzki said in a televised interview on CBS The Morning. “The actual fact that you can find these ships is mind boggling to me … I want to thank you for honouring me this way.”
Wayne L. Culler of Colville, Washington also survived. His written account of Oct. 25 describes the day of the sinking as the “longest day of his life.”
He wrote: “A chill ran through me when I heard the announcement “enemy planes at 9,000 feet, stand-by to repel attack”. A bomb exploded on the forward hangar deck and reality set in, this was NO DRILL!”
He also describes jumping into the ocean and swimming away from the ship destined to sink.
“Finally I took a deep breath and dropped off the ledge into the South Pacific,” Culler wrote. “My life jacket started to choke me. The top tie was not secured. I inflated the swim master belt.
Culler died on Feb. 8, 2005 at age 81.
The survivors, including Nowatzki and Culler, clung to life rafts in the ocean or simply floated until the USS Anderson came to rescue them.
Before it sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, the USS Hornet played a key role in two important U.S. victories against the Japanese. The first airborne attack of Japan, including Tokyo was launched from the Hornet and it was there in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.