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In the 1975 film Jaws, the great Irish actor Robert Shaw plays Quint, the grizzled shark hunting sea captain.

The highlight of the film is Shaw’s monologue about why his character won’t wear a life jacket. He tells the story of being on the USS Indianapolis in 1945, returning from a trip to Tinian*, delivering the Little Boy atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima. On its way back, it was struck by Japanese torpedoes.

900 men went into the water and 317 came out four days later. Why? Drowning, injuries, saltwater poisoning, but the real reason was sharks. The men were eaten alive by sharks.

Smithsonian magazine has a wonderful piece about the true story of the Indianapolis. It’s well worth your time to read. And then watch the great Robert Shaw below. He takes some artistic liberties with the story, but it’s one of the great performances in the history of cinema. That he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar is a travesty.

In real life, Shaw was one of the great actors of his generation, but he’d die 3 years later at age 51 of alcoholism. Discovery did a documentary of the making of the film, which was an epically dysfunctional shoot that became the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars came along.. It’s also well worth your time.

* My grandfather Ted Wade was stationed on Tinian. He saw the Enola Gay take off; he was told to watch by an officer. But the enlisted men didn’t understand the significance until they saw the faint echoes of the bomb’s mushroom cloud. It was the first atomic weapon ever used against people.

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