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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 30

Clarence King and the USS Indianapolis

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 8:53 AM by Jenny Levins

Marie Benge Craig Roth, author of “Davie County Veterans’ Memorial” released in Nov. 2012 is currently working on a revised edition. She wishes to give brief biographies of the men listed on the Davie County war monument on the square in Mocksville. There is a name on the monument for which we cannot find a photo and in fact is somewhat of a mystery. Under the list of those who died from Davie in World War II is the name, Clarence King, Jr. All the information we have found on King, though, seems to connect him to Iredell and not Davie County. So just how did an Iredell County hero end up on a Davie County memorial? Clarence King Jr. was born in Iredell County on March 26, 1926 to Clarence and Annie Lou Simonton Moore King. Clarence Sr. was the son of Andy King and Mandy (Amanda) Lawrence. Clarence and Annie were married in Iredell County in 1914. Their first two children were Andrew (8/12/1923 – 5/13/1973) and Beatrice, (B. 1924). 

In the Statesville City Directory for 1916 Clarence and Ann L. are listed on the Taylorsville Road with Clarence working as a driver for Miller & Younger. Clarence King Sr’s World War I Draft Registration Card lists his birth as June 5, 1893 and his address as Rt. 6, Statesville, N.C.  In the 1920 Census Clarence Sr., now 28, is shown living with Annie Lou, 24, on Boulevard Rd. in Statesville. Clarence is a laborer at the brick yard. Annie Lou King was born in Iredell on June 12, 1894 and died at the age of 35 on March 15, 1929 in Iredell. Her parents were James Moore and Sallie Moore. Annie dies of TB and is listed as a widow. She is buried in the Statesville City Colored Cemetery.

In the 1930 Federal Census Clarence King Jr. now an orphan, is listed as 4 years old and living in Statesville with his uncle and aunt, Albert (57) and Hattie King (45). Living also in the household are Albert and Hattie’s children, Virginia (11) and Dorothea (3) and Clarence’s brother Andrew (8) and sister Beatrice (6). Clarence’s uncle Albert Bilton King, born October 18, 1862 dies on April 23, 1938. His aunt, Hattie Claybrook King, dies on July 28, 1935. After the deaths of their Uncle and Aunt the children are sent to the Oxford Colored Orphanage in Fishing Creek, Granville County, N.C. where Clarence now 13 and Beatrice 15 are shown living in the 1940 Federal Census.

Clarence King Jr.’s 1944 World War II draft card has him living back in Statesville at Rt. 3, Box 122, and working at Turner Manufacturing Company. His first cousin Dorothea is shown as living at the same address. Dorothea, born May 24, 1921, later marries William Dalton. Dorothea dies on Jan 24, 1964 and both she and William are buried at the Belmont Cemetery in Statesville.

Clarence is placed in the United States Navy Reserve. On Sunday, July 15, 1945 Steward’s Mate 2nd Class Clarence King Jr. of Iredell County would have been both busy and excited as his ship left the Mare Island Naval Shipyard 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. The ship had been stationed there for repairs after being hit by bomb dropped by a Japanese kamikaze fighter on March 31, 1945 at Okinawa in the Pacific.  The bomb had caused heavy damage killing nine crewmen. Now they were suddenly underway and headed to Hunters Point naval yard located just outside the city in San Francisco Bay.  While docked at Hunters Point the ship’s crane had lifted on board a large wooden crate five feet high, five feet wide and fifteen feet long along. A black metal canister about knee-high and eighteen inches wide was also brought on board hanging from a metal pole carried by a marine guard.

Clarence’s ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday, July 16, 1945 and headed out to sea. The ship had been commissioned in 1932 and had once carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt as his ship of state. The ship, CA-35, a Portland class heavy cruiser 610 feet long and 64 feet wide would have covered two football fields. Orders were delivered to the ship’s Captain by motor launch shortly after they left the dock. Capt. Charles B. McVay III’s message had come from the Commander In Chief President Harry S. Truman. The ship was to protect and deliver its cargo at all cost. Speaking to his officers Capt. McVay had told them that “every hour we save will shorten the war by that much.” Clarence and his fellow sailors did not know of their secret orders or the nature of the cargo they were carrying. They only knew that they and their ship, the USS Indianapolis, were returning to war.

On board the Indianapolis sat the wooden crate carrying the integral components of the atom bomb known as “Little Boy.” Inside the metal canister was uranium-235. After a five hour stop at Pearl Harbor for refueling they arrived and unloaded their cargo at Tinian Island on July 26, 1945. From there they went to Guam and then started toward the Philippine island of Leyte. On July 30, 1945 the USS Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58 under the command of Mochitsura Hashimoto. In 12 minutes the Indianapolis carrying 1,196 crewmen sank taking approximately 300 down with the ship. For the next four days the 900 survivors who went into the water endured shark attacks, exposure, dehydration, and saltwater poisoning before being spotted by the crew on a PV-1 Ventura patrol plane on Aug. 2nd. Only 317 of the original crew of 1,196 survived. It was the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy.

On August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb, "Little Boy" was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima after being dropped from a B-29 named the Enola Gay by bombardier Thomas Ferebee, a native of Davie County, N.C. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15. The Indianapolis was the last major warship sunk during World War II. Some have said her delivery of the atomic bomb is the most important single mission in U.S. Naval history. Clarence King, Jr. was listed as missing at sea or “unrecoverable.” His death is listed as July 30, 1945, the day of the sinking. Steward’s Mate 2nd Class Clarence King Jr. is listed on the Tablets of the Missing in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila, the Philippines. He was awarded a purple heart posthumously.

One clue as to how his name ended up on the Davie County monument may lie in the Navy casualty list. With his name is the name of his brother Andrew King who is listed as being from Mocksville. Perhaps notification of Clarence’s death was sent to Mocksville. Andrew dies in Raleigh on May 13, 1973 and is buried there at the Carolina Biblical Gardens. Andrew’s World War II Draft Registration has him living at 407 E. Sharpe St. in Statesville and working at the lumber yard.  Clarence King Jr., STM2 has a muster date of July 1, 1945on the Indianapolis. His name is listed with the crew at www.ussindianapolis.org/crew.htm. To see the Davie County War Monument go to www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ncdavhgs/WarMonument.pdf. Ironically, Clarence’s name is not listed on Iredell County’s World War II monument.

Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Mystery surrounds WWII Veteran” on Aug. 10, 2014