ABERNATHY, TX (KCBD) - A special alum visited Abernathy High School to speak to students about his time in World War II on Tuesday.
Cleatus Lebow graduated from the school in 1941, just two years before he entered the war and served on the USS Indianapolis.
On July 30, 1945, a Japanese submarine torpedoed the ship, leaving hundreds of men in shark-infested waters with no lifeboats, food, or waters for days.
1,196 men stepped onto that ship. Only 317 made it home. Cleatus was one of them. He says he feels lucky to still be here.
"After we got hit by a suicide plane in Okinawa, I was on leave, I was home, and they called and I had to go back to the ship three days earlier than I was supposed to," Cleatus said.
He still remembers every moment from the day their ship was hit. He recalled his mother's words as it started to sink.
"When the ship got hit by the torpedo and I was walking down the side, I was a scared young man. And I just said a short prayer. Lord help me. And a warm feeling came over me, just like everything was going to be okay. I was either going home to Abernathy, or I was going home to heaven. And it didn't make a difference, I was ready," Cleatus said.
Just 18 of the survivors are still alive today. Cleatus is now the only Texas survivor still here to tell his story.
"We lost 881 men, so there's that many families out there that really...I feel sorry for them. I feel like the good Lord answered my mother's prayers and made me lucky," Cleatus said.
The Mayor of Abernathy proclaimed this day, November 14, 2017, as Cleatus Lebow Day because of his service in World War II, his dedication to American values, and his spirit of selflessness and sacrifice.