His business card simply reads, “Donald J. Blum, P.E.” His official title is Consulting Engineer. Seems pretty inconspicuous and unassuming. Maybe that’s because Blum is, too. The Scarsdale, NY, independent businessman has spent 55 years in the design-build mechanical trades, many as a business owner, and recently doing design-build for pharmaceutical factories.

I met Blum at the recent 2002 AHR Expo. I flagged him down after spotting the name of his former ship — U.S.S. Indianapolis — on his baseball cap.


I got a chill when I saw the cap. His ship was one of the last casualties of World War II. A Japanese submarine sank the heavy cruiser, with its crew of 1,196, on July 30, 1945, just weeks before the end of the war. It was returning from a top-secret mission: delivering fissionable material for the first nuclear bomb.

The mission was so secret the U.S. Navy didn’t realize (or acknowledge) the ship was missing. It took the U.S. Navy over four days to spot the survivors — and they were found by mistake. A plane, during routine drills, spotted the heads of the sailors bobbing in the water. Of the almost 900 sailors who went into the water, over 550 lost their lives to exposure and shark attacks.

Blum, plucked from the ocean by the crew of the U.S.S. Bassett, was one of 316 survivors. I asked him how he managed to survive so long in the water. “I decided I was going to stay alive, that’s it,” he replied. “When I saw nobody else, then I’d start to worry. I was [determined] to be the last one around.”

Blum said he was aft of the ship’s second stack when the

torpedoes ripped into the Indianapolis, forcing him to the deck twice.

“It took us about eight or nine minutes to roll over and sink,” Blum said. “It turned over and went nose down, plummeting under the water. I’d heard about the suction pulling everything under and so I swam as fast as I could. I looked up and saw a propeller coming toward me, and I swam even faster.”


So, here he was on this January day in Atlantic City, seeing what was new at the AHR Expo and “staying current with cooling equipment.”

After his tour of the exhibits, he stopped in Richmond, VA, to visit with Peter Wren, who had been an ensign aboard the Bassett when Blum had been rescued.

Blum noted that the rescue might not have been completed if it weren’t for a “mutiny” on the Bassett — a fact that has never been published, according to Blum.

The captain of the Bassett thought he had made contact with a Japanese submarine, so he ordered his crew to prepare the ship to leave the scene. Survivors were still being pulled from the sea. “The ship’s executive officer took over and said ‘No, we’re going to stay here and finish picking up the survivors,’” said Blum.

Blum had originally banded with about 100 crewmates after his ship went down. By the time the Bassett picked them up, only about 40 remained. “And thirty of them were hallucinating,” he said.

“The Navy covered up everything — and then gave us an award 57 years later.”

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); johnhall@achrnews.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 03/04/2002