MEMPHIS, TX (KCBD) - This week, we honor Cleatus Lebow, 88, as a Hometown Hero. Lebow was drafted into the Navy during World War Two. After he went through training, he was assigned to be a Range Fire Operator aboard the USS Indianapolis. While on the ship they delivered the atomic bomb to Okinawa and Lebow witnessed with his own eyes, the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima. However, Lebow had no idea these would be some of the last missions for the Indianapolis.
"On July 30th, a Japanese submarine hit us with two torpedoes and that ship was sunk in about twelve minutes," Lebow said.
Lebow says he remembers that day like it was yesterday.
"The ship kept turning over and over, so I said, we better get out of here," Lebow said.
Lebow quickly realized his only hope of surviving was jumping into the raging Pacific.
"I pushed off and started swimming and never I never did see any of those guys I was with," Lebow said.
Lebow spent the next five days and nights clinging to a net with 80 other men and watching hundreds of sharks swarm beneath him.
"Five days and nights out in the middle of the Pacific with no water and no food and nobody to play with but the sharks," Lebow said.
Lebow admits, there were times he thought he wouldn't make it.
"Yeah, I thought about it. And it was so hard not to duck down and start drinking water, but that was the worst thing you could do. The ones that did, didn't make it very long," Lebow said.
He says the only thing keeping him alive was his faith and the words that his mother told him before he left.
"She said, 'I can't go with you.' And I said, 'I know, but Jesus can.' And when I prayed, the feeling of calm peace just wrapped me up in a warm blanket and I knew I was either going home to Abernathy or going home to Heaven," Lebow said.
Finally, on August 4th, 1945, a plane spotted the men and came to their rescue.
"He was doing a routine patrol and spotted us out in the water. That was the prettiest airplane I've ever seen in my life," Lebow said.
Almost 900 lives were taken on the Indianapolis, and looking back, Lebow says he's lucky he made it out of those waters alive.
"I weighed 100 pounds when they checked me into the hospital and I weighed 135 on the ship," Lebow said.
Despite his acts of bravery and witnessing history first hand, Lebow doesn't consider himself a hero. Lebow is now retired and lives in Memphis, Texas. He is a strong supporter of the Honor Flight which sends WWII veterans to Washington DC to see their memorials.
For more information or to donate, please visit americasupportsyoutexas.org.