By the side of the Road

It’s another one of those times when, quite by accident,  I run into a column I wrote many years ago. I thought I’d share this one with those of you who care to give it a read.

By the Side of the Road

This year, I’ve resolved to take more time to smell the roses and appreciate the simple things in life, such as old friends and chats by the side of the road.

On Sunday morning, I was running errands in Wildomar. Don’t ask why, I just was.

There on the dirt shoulder of Baxter Road was a broken-down old pickup. Standing beside his broken-down old pickup was my old friend, Jim. With Jim were three other old friends, Mel, Carol and Bob.

Each of them may have been out doing errands of their own I suppose, and had stopped to make sure Jim was all right.

Actually, I suspect Jim called Carol and maybe Carol had called Mel, who lived close by, to say that Jim’s truck was stuck.

I’m not sure how Bob happened on the scene, and me, well I was just driving through Wildomar running errands. The last people in the world Jim needed to help get his old truck started were the four of us.

Jim is one of those guys who can build an internal combustion engine out of two cotton swabs, a box of paper clips and a can of garbanzo beans, but even he couldn’t get his truck started Sunday.

I’m not sure Carol could have helped. She’s originally from El Centro and probably grew up fixing tractors, but if she’s mechanically inclined, she’s kept the talent well-hidden.

Mel is in the public relations business. If Jim needed publicity for his broken down old truck she could probably have two Los Angeles television stations racing to the scene within minutes. Getting Jim’s truck to start was another story.

I think Bob is in the fire extinguisher business. As far as I could tell, Jim’s truck wasn’t on fire.

Me, heck, I’m a newspaper columnist. ‘Nuff said.

I reckon there weren’t four more useless people on the planet who could have stopped to help Jim fix his stuck truck.

But Jim was happy to see us just the same. The five of us talked for a few minutes —- “What’s new?” and “How was Christmas?” sort of stuff —- while we waited for a tow truck.

Cars whizzed by at what seemed like 200 mph —- with people too busy in their own worlds to look to see whose truck had broken down —- all on their way somewhere very important in Wildomar on a Sunday morning.

People often ask me what has changed the most in the all the years I’ve lived here. The answers are obvious —- malls, traffic, houses, people, etc.

But I’d forgotten what it was like here years ago, when almost everyone knew everyone and you could stop by the side of the road and talk with some old friends.

These days, that will get you run over.


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The Fourth in the West

Once in a while I run into a column I really like but had completley forgotten about. That’s the case with this one written in July 2011. 

The Fourth in the West

A century ago, one of America’s premier Fourth of July events was a train wreck —– literally.

I’ll explain shortly, but first let me introduce America’s foremost Fourth expert, James R. Heintze, librarian emeritus at the American University Library in Washington, D.C.

In 1995, Heintze began compiling a database on the history of Independence Day celebrations from the earliest days until the present.

I had interviewed him in 2001 and figured now would be a goodtime to check back in.

Over time, his website —-—- has become a comprehensive guide to the history of the Fourth.

“I’ve always had a love of American history,” Heintze said. “It’s nice to be able to show a slice of American heritage from all those years.”

Because I called from out West —- Heintze lives in Clarksburg, Md. —- we talked about the history of July 4 in our region.

“Around the 1840s, as people from the East moved West, one of the things really missed was the Fourth of July celebrations they left behind,” he said. “Having that celebration was a way to connect to the places they were from.”

In the West we never do anything small, and about 1876 the settlers began a tradition of blowing up mountain tops to mark the day.

The biggest explosion was on July 4, 1901, atop Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Newspaper reports say the explosion was visible 200 miles away.

Westerners blew up other stuff.

In 1884, a group of miners in Colorado were promised fireworks on the Fourth of July. When that didn’t happen, they went into town and blew up the post office.

Now, about that train wreck.

On Independence Day in 1911, President William Howard Taft was in Indianapolis to celebrate the holiday.

“This was as far West as a sitting American president had ever been to celebrate the Fourth,” Heintze said. “The people there wanted to do something that truly represented the West.”

And what’s more western, at least in 1911, than trains?

On that July 4, as Taft looked on, two locomotives were placed far apart on a single track facing each other.

“The locomotives ran at full-blown speed until they crashed into each other,” Heintze said. “Both were pretty badly wrecked.”

This was the last time such a presidential celebration was staged.

“It must have been pretty expensive,” he said.

Heintze’s new book “The Fourth of July Encyclopedia” is available at

The historian plans to attend his hometown parade on Monday.

I told him I’d be in Tucson, where it was just announced fireworks have been canceled because of fire concerns.


I’m sure the post office will be fine, but I’m staying away from the train tracks.



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Jimmy Moore — Mr. Temecula

Tonight the City of Temecula will honor one of their founding fathers. A ceremony will be held at City Hall and a plaque will be dedicated.

We lost Jimmy Moore a couple of years ago.

Someone asked my today, “who was Jimmy Moore?” 

You should all know. Here is a story I wrote a about a decade ago. 


For the man known to many as Mr. Temecula and his wife, who was a member of the first City Council, the love affair with the city they helped create continues.

On Nov. 7, 1989, —- 20 years ago —- residents voted by a wide margin to incorporate and to officially adopt Temecula as the name of Riverside County’s 21st city.

Back then, Jimmy Moore —- the leader of the group that got the cityhood question on the ballot and helped convince skeptical residents of the benefits of incorporation —- was relatively unknown, had lived in Temecula only a few years and had no experience in politics, incorporation efforts or municipal government.

Jimmy and his wife, Peg, lived in Irvine and had first traveled to Temecula in the mid-1980s to buy wine.

“My wife wanted to make wine jelly so we came out here to see about buying some wine,” Jimmy Moore said recently.

There were only a handful of wineries dotting Rancho California Road at the time. But there was something about this area that struck a chord.

“We just fell in love with the place,” he said.

In 1986, the couple moved to the small unincorporated Southwest County community known by old-timers as Temecula but called Rancho California —- the name of the modern, planned development of the one-time cattle ranch —- by most new arrivals.

A military background

Jimmy Moore, 74, spent 21 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1974. His duty assignments took him all over the world —- including a two-year stint in Vietnam —- flying helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

The Moores met in 1953 while both were students at the University of Illinois. They celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary in October.

Following his military days, Jimmy Moore and two partners started a software company in Baltimore. In 1984, the company relocated to California, where Moore wrote software used in dentist and optometry offices.

He eventually sold his interest in the software firm.

After moving to Temecula the couple formed a commercial and business brokerage that also did taxes, bookkeeping and small-business consulting. And they immediately jumped into local activities.

“The first weekend we were here, Jimmy got involved parking RVs at the Tractor Race,” Peg Moore said. “We were always involved with activities on posts in the Army. We were civic-minded all along.”

A few months after arriving, the couple got a letter from Les Adam, a Temecula businessman, who was leading the Cityhood Feasibility Committee, inviting the Moores and other business leaders to a meeting.

Cityhood on the horizon

Talk of cityhood had been bandied about in the community since the early 20th century, when Temecula was a true cow town dominated by the 85,000-acre Vail Ranch. In the mid-1970s, when most of the cows were gone and the development of the Rancho California planned community was picking up steam, cityhood was again discussed.

But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s, when businesses and new homes filled with families began arriving in droves —- bringing with them a larger tax base —- that incorporation of the community finally seemed possible.

Les Adam was a pioneer in the magnet industry who had moved his company to Temecula in 1982. He sought to build an 86,000-square-foot-building to expand his business, but was frustrated by the red tape he encountered while dealing with Riverside County.

Adam’s committee raised money and hired a consultant to produce a study that analyzed the feasibility of incorporating a new city, which would allow local control and decision making.

“That first effort was for a much smaller city, about 8 square miles,” Moore recalled. “It included mostly the Old Town area over to about Ynez Road.”

The study, which cost about $11,000, concluded cityhood was feasible. However, in September 1987, when the results were presented to the Local Agency Formation Commission —- the county agency that oversees new cities —- committee members learned an additional study also was required.

The cost of the new study was estimated at between $15,000 and $50,000, money the committee simply did not have.

“We had a wake in Adam’s office to disband the cityhood effort,” Jimmy Moore said. “But some of us said we wanted to keep (the incorporation effort) going.”

Adam eventually moved his business to Arkansas.

Bedford Properties, a developer that had purchased a large amount of property in Southwest County from the original planners of Rancho California, later offered to pay for a new feasibility study for a much larger city —- 79 square miles —- that would include most of the community of Murrieta.

“Bedford owned a large amount of property in Murrieta,” Moore said.

The developer contributed about $60,000 that paid for the study and other expenses.

Serious plans

The original plan, Peg Moore recalled, was that she would become involved in the cityhood drive and Jimmy would be active with the local Chamber of Commerce.

However, in January 1988 when the newly formed Incorporation Committee For Cityhood held its first official meeting, Jimmy Moore, who had been selected the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce Ambassador of the Year in 1987, was chosen president of the group.

“Nobody really knew who I was,” Jimmy Moore recalled. “I think they thought I had more energy than anyone else.”

Peg Moore served as the secretary for what was commonly called the “City Committee.”

The group had about 30 members.

“If you missed two meetings you were off the committee,” Jimmy Moore said. “We only wanted people who were serious about the effort.”

They were serious in Murrieta —- serious about not becoming part of Temecula.

A group of Murrieta residents quickly formed a committee to pursue a separate incorporation for that community. A border war flared between the two cityhood efforts over Temecula’s northern boundary. Eventually, the issue was decided by LAFCO —- Murrieta was removed from the Temecula plan. In March 1989, an election date of Nov. 7 was set by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to let voters decide whether a 26-square-mile city should be formed, and what that new city would be called.

The campaign begins

Once the incorporation question was on the ballot, Jimmy Moore made an effort to meet cityhood opponents to try to change their minds.

“When we first started I thought the odds were about 50-50 it would pass,” he said. “I tried to find out who was going to oppose it and take them out to coffee.”

Dissatisfaction with county services —- response time for the nearest sheriff’s station located in Lake Elsinore averaged more than an hour —- and with the number of county parks in the community —- one —- were among the major complaints.

“We discovered not many people were against the idea of incorporation,” he said. “There were some, but it was mostly people who didn’t like any kind of change.”

As Election Day neared, a newspaper poll found about 75 percent of residents favored cityhood.

A crowded field

Eleven candidates entered the race for the five council positions to lead the city should incorporation pass.

Included in that group was Peg Moore.

“I wanted to contribute,” she said. “I had lived in two planned communities before and saw what they’d done right and what they’d done wrong.”

Even with the large field there was little controversy in the council race.

“We all just wanted to be involved with the new city,” Peg Moore said.

While the cityhood committee concentrated on passing the incorporation, the nonprofit Temecula Town Association championed the name Temecula for the new city.

Banners touting “A Great Name For Over 200 Years —- Why Change it? Vote Temecula, USA” went up around the community.

The newspaper poll found that voters were less in agreement on the question on the ballot about what the new city would be named. Some 43 percent were favored Temecula, while 26 percent preferred Rancho Temecula, 18 percent liked Rancho California and 13 percent supported Temecula Valley.

Party like it’s 1989

At more than 48 percent, turnout on Election Day in Temecula was high for an odd-year election, the highest in Riverside County that day.

A crowd of about 250 people gathered at Temecula Creek Inn on the evening of Nov. 7 in anticipation of a celebration.

The party began at 8 p.m. and the first absentee ballot results were announced soon after.

The crowd waited on phone calls every half hour from community volunteer Evelyn Harker who was stationed at the registrar of voters office in Riverside, Jimmy Moore recalled.

Candidate Karel Lindemans, “spiffed up in a pin-striped suit, accompanied by his wife Lydia, who wore leopard skin glasses, boots and dress, couldn’t relax,” The Californian reported. “He jumped around the smoke-filled room with a smile, inviting everyone to his post election bash.”

Finally after 10 p.m., when most of the results were finally known, a chant of “Cityhood” filled the room.

As expected, the incorporation question passed easily with 87.6 percent in favor and only 12.4 percent voting no.

The name Temecula was also any easy winner with 69.9 percent in favor. Rancho California was a distant second among the four choices with 10.7 percent of the vote.

“It was a glorious, historical night and we got everything we wanted,” Jimmy Moore said after the results were known. “This day will go down in history.”

Ron Parks was the top vote-getter, followed by Pat Birdsall, J. Sal Munoz, Lindemans and Peg Moore.

Peg Moore’s margin of victory was just 14 votes over sixth-place finisher Glen Richardson.

“The election was square,” Jimmy Moore said. “No one stuffed the ballot boxes.”

The banner headline in the Nov. 8, 1989, “Election Special” edition of The Californian read, “Temecula, you’re a city.”

Leaving and coming home

Things did not always go smoothly in the early days of cityhood.

“Lindemans accused me of sitting in the audience at City Council meetings and signaling to Peg which way to vote,” Jimmy Moore said. “Obviously, he didn’t know Peg.”

The two men, who would become friends, did not speak for more than a year, Jimmy Moore said

Parks, who was picked by his colleagues to be Temecula’s first mayor, said the council did a good job getting the city started.

“We had a good tax base and we hired some good people,” Parks said. “We made the best decision we could. I’m very proud of what we did.”

Peg Moore served her term and did not run for re-election.

The Moores owned a condo in Maryland and when the tenant there died in 1992, and with the economy souring in the early 1990s, the couple considered relocating.

Not long after, they got an offer to sell their Temecula company to a Canyon Lake man. They accepted the deal and made the move to Maryland, where they retired and lived until 2000.

“I remember it was Dec. 1, 2000, a cold, snowy, blustery day in Baltimore,” Jimmy Moore said. “I looked at Peg and asked if she wanted to go back to Temecula and she said yes.”

The couple soon bought a home in the Paseo del Sol area of Temecula.

Both jumped right back into their community.

Jimmy Moore is the president of the Temecula Valley Historical Society, active in Kiwanis, and is a docent at the Temecula Valley Museum. Both are active in many arts and cultural activities and Peg Moore is a member of the city’s Old Town Local Review Board.

“The nicest thing about coming back to Temecula was everyone we met said, ‘Welcome home,'” Jimmy Moore said. “That really means a lot when you’ve been in the Army and traveled as much as we have.”

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Our Dog Nick

I wrote this about 2005 about our dear family dog and ran across it the other day.  

In her dreams, she chased bunnies.

Nick bounded into our lives a dozen years ago.

Rescued from the animal shelter in Escondido, we brought Nick —- a full-grown golden retriever/chow mix —- home to Murrieta where she promptly repaid our kindness by running away.

We found her a few blocks away.

That day, we bought her a tag engraved with her name and our phone number. Within days, most of the neighbors had been in touch.

For Nick —- short for Nickelodeon —- an open door was an invitation to run, and run she would. Eventually she stopped running away, but if you even looked at her leash she would dance at your feet and demand to go outside.

Nick especially loved it when we kept the dogs of vacationing friends or when they would watch her for us. Baylee, Jake and Nick would bark, run and tumble all over the yard.

Can dogs laugh? Nick could and she was a joy to watch.

At home, Nick would bark and charge the front door whenever the doorbell rang even if it was just a bell chiming on a television show.

It didn’t matter. She’d stand at the door and bark for several minutes, even with no one there.

Nick was protecting her family, though when a stranger was at the door she would usually end up licking their hand rather than trying to scare them off.

Often, when she slept, Nick would let out high-pitched yips, a sound she never made while awake. We joked she was dreaming of bounding through a meadow chasing bunnies.

For Nick, each time we came home was Christmas morning. We could have been gone five days, five hours or five minutes. It didn’t matter. She was always happy to see us, and we her.

Nick’s sight began to fail several years ago. Even so, she could navigate the house and backyard to get where she needed to go.

We took her to the vet, who told us what medicine would help, but advised what we really had here was a dog who, like the rest of us, was just getting old.

Soon, standing and walking for Nick became much more difficult. She slept all day. We’d check often to see if she was still breathing.

Lately, she wouldn’t move when anyone came home or budge when the doorbell rang.

Nick, now completely blind, tried to be a good dog, but sometimes she couldn’t get moving fast enough to get outside to do her business. You could feel her frustration; even sense her embarrassment, when this happened.

Out of loyalty, we were told, dogs often hang on for months, even years, trying not to let their family down.

That’s what Nick was doing.

Loyalty, however, is a two-way street.

On Monday, with the kind help of Animal Friends of the Valleys, Nick returned to a place where she can see her family, charge the door when the bell rings and run and laugh with her old friends.

Somewhere today, our dog Nick, is chasing bunnies.

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Snow Days

I wrote this a decade ago while my hometown was going through a blizzard.


The Internet, as most of us know, is both a blessing and a curse.

The blizzard that socked the East Coast on Sunday brought back boyhood memories of growing up in New England.

First, I called my brother in Massachusetts to let him know it was 80 degrees with a slight breeze in Murrieta.

Then, I logged on to a Boston-area television station Web site to watch news coverage of the Nor’easter. On that Web site was a list off all the cities and towns that had cancelled school Monday.

This is no fun, I thought. There was nothing better as a kid than hearing over the radio that your town had called off school because of snow.

It’s how kids in New England learned the alphabet.

In alphabetical order, the announcer would run down the list of cities and towns with no school that day. In Massachusetts, that meant places like Abbington and Acton came first.

Part of the fun came when the announcer got to a tricky name like Peabody, which you would think would sound like Pea-body, but is actually pronounced P-Bud-E.

The favorite around my house was always Athol —- home to about 8,500 Atholians —- located in Central Massachusetts. There may be a proper way to pronounce the town’s name, but we always said it with just a slight lisp.

Go ahead, try it yourself.

“No school in Athol today,” the announcer would say, and the Hunneman boys, gathered around the radio, had to giggle.

Our town was Wakefield, a W.

And so, we would wait and wait as the announcer read off town after town.

“No school in Melrose … no school in Reading (Red-ing) … no school in Saugus (Saw-gus).”

Things were looking good. Those towns bordered Wakefield.

“Finally, no school today in Walpole, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland …”


“Where was Wakefield?” we would wonder.

“I heard that,” my mother barked.

“Athol. I said Athol, Mom.”

School officials in my town were notorious for being among the last to call off classes. Every other town in the Commonwealth would cancel school, but not ours.

The list was updated and repeated over and over all morning on the radio and we’d hold out hope local officials would come to their senses.

We’d listen and listen.

“I heard it, I heard Wakefield,” finally one of us would shout.

My ever-skeptical mother would not believe it until she heard it with her own ears.

So we’d listen to the entire list again.

When Mom heard it, the day off was official. We dumped our books, grabbed the sleds and headed for the hills.

Sunday night, I watched the ‘no school’ scroll  on the television station Web site.

I just wasn’t the same.

I spotted Melrose, where my brother lives.

Well, at least my niece and nephew get a snow day, I thought.

Then, I looked for Wakefield.

“What did you say?” my wife asked.

“Nothing dear, it’s just a town in Massachusetts.”


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Hunneman Happenings 2017

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Hunneman Happenings, the first all-digital edition in the newsletter’s 20-year history. There are many reasons to go digital this year, but honestly, it’s just because John is too cheap to pay to have the newsletter printed.

Family 3

 From left to right – Adults – Damon Hunneman, Ashley Thompson (his fiancé), Chuck Merino (Voni’s brother), Catrina & Jon Hunneman, Ernie & Connie Merino (Voni’s parents) Elena Figueroa (Voni’s cousin), some old guy and his much younger wife Voni.

Kids—Eben, Caleigh and Alex Hunneman

 John & Voni

We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on November 26th and spend a long weekend at the historic Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.


We stayed in the “haunted room” where 24-year-old Kate Morgan was either killed or committed suicide in 1892. Kate still haunts the room and the hotel, but she didn’t make appearance during our three nights.

We did quite a bit of traveling this past year including to the world famous Garlic Fesitval in Gilroy, Ca. Of course, we snuck in a few trips to the Central Coast for wine tasting.

But the highlight was a Disney Cruise to Mexico with Jon, Catrina and the grandkids.

Cruise 001

Between vacations,  John continued his work as the Communications Director for California State Senator Jeff Stone, spending most of his time in his office in Murrieta, but enough time in Sacramento to absorb some of the craziness.

Voni is finishing her 12th year with Head-To-Toe apparel company as a senior account manager for the company’s key accounts. Her clients included many major companies such as Coca-Cola, Staples, as well as Major League baseball and NCAA athletics.

Follow us on Facebook at:

Jon & Catrina

Since moving back to California several years ago Jon, Catrina and the grandkids have rented several homes waiting for the right time to buy. Well, in Southern California there may never be a “right” time to buy a house, but they made the leap this summer, purchasing a large family home in the beautiful Orange County community of Placentia.


They schools are great and nearby and Alex, Caleigh and Eben are already involved in many activities like soccer, basketball and Scouts.

Both Jon and Catrina continue their work in the field of high finance that Voni and I will never pretend to understand.

They also had a great time on the cruise, especially on Pirate’s Night.



Damon & Ashley

They had another great year together. Yes, they are still “only” engaged largely because if they get married Damon makes too much money and it would screw up Ashley’s college financial aid.

Only in California.

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Damon manages one of the top producing Sun Glass Hut stores in California in nearby Temecula. Ashley is pursuing her bachelor and master degrees in speech pathology at Cal State San Marco.

Both love their dog Frankie and Hockey – she’s a Duck’s fan. He, of course, roots for the Bruins.

They also love to travel and are looking forward to a trip to New England right after Christmas

That’s a wrap

From our house to yours we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Great 2018.


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Lloyd Barto — USS Indianapolis

This week marks the 72nd anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.  On July 30, 1945, the ship was returning from delivering elements of the atomic bombs that would soon be dropped on Japan.

The Indianapolis was spotted by a Japanese submarine which fired torpedoes, sinking the ship in less than 12 minutes.

Almost 900 men were aboard. Only 317 survived.

Today just 31 remain.

This is considered the last great tragedy of of World War II.

In 2003, by chance, I met Lloyd Barto, an Indianapolis survivor who was living in Temecula. As a reporter for The Californian, I was honored to tell his story, which he had not shared with any media outlets since the war ended. 

 I updated the story in 2005 and again in 2011, when Lloyd passed away.


Lloyd Barto — U.S.S. Indianapolis



In the dream he’s had for more than 50 years, Lloyd Barto is carrying bowling balls on each shoulder, making it nearly impossible for him to tread water and keep his head above the waves.

The fire burning the fuel leaking from his sinking ship illuminates the Pacific sky enough for the 20-year-old sailor to see his shipmates struggling to stay afloat, some so badly burned their flesh hangs from their bones; others, their heads covered thick with diesel fuel, praying or calling out to their wives and family before sinking away.

Barto would wake with a start and look around, trying to get his bearings. He was safe, he was home, but he knew the dream would come again another night. He knew, because, bowling balls aside, the dream was real.

The last tragedy

 If the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor —- 61 years ago Saturday —- marks the beginning of the American involvement in World War II, the sinking of the cruiser USS Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine, at 14 minutes past midnight on July 30, 1945, marks the last great American tragedy of that war.

The Indianapolis was heading toward Leyte in the Philippines that night after delivering an atomic bomb to an airstrip in the Marianas Islands. Less than a week later that bomb would be dropped on Hiroshima.

Of the 1,196 men aboard the cruiser, about 900 made it alive into the water in the 12 minutes it took the 9,950-ton vessel to sink. But through a series of miscommunications, the ship was not reported missing.

After more than four days of drifting on makeshift life rafts, or staying afloat with life vests, the sailors were accidentally discovered by pilot Lt. (j.g.) Wilbur C. Gwinn who was flying on a routine submarine patrol.

By the time rescue crews arrived, about 600 of the sailors who survived the sinking had died, either from injuries, drowning, from swallowing diesel fuel or salt water, or in the jaws of sharks that circled and fed on crew members morning and night.

Barto, 78, was one of the 317 survivors. For him the struggle and the screams are real.

“For many, many nights I woke up with that dream,” said Barto, his voice trailing away as his eyes moisten. Barto, who moved to Temecula with his wife Mary Lou five years ago, said he doesn’t have the bowling ball dream as often any more.

“But I still haven’t slept all the way through the night since that night in 1945,” he said.

A secret mission

 On the day of the Japanese sneak attack, the Indianapolis was several hundred miles away form Pearl Harbor. The ship received the message “WE ARE AT WAR WITH JAPAN —- THIS IS OFFICIAL” and began an unsuccessful search to find the retreating Japanese Fleet.

Lloyd Barto was in high school in Gile, Wis., that day. In 1943, following graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

“I just always wanted to be in the Navy,” he said. “I thought it would be great.”

After boot camp Barto was assigned to the USS Indianapolis. A seaman first class, Barto was “striking” —- Navy parlance for training —- to be a gunner’s mate aboard the cruiser.

During his nearly two years aboard the Indianapolis Barto and his shipmates participated in some of the fiercest battles of the war. In the spring of 1945 during the invasion of Okinawa, as Barto and the other gunner’s mates fired at enemy positions, a Japanese kamikaze pilot slammed his plane into the deck of the Indianapolis causing major damage to the ship.

The Indianapolis was ordered to return to San Francisco for repairs.

On July 12, 1945, Capt. Charles B. McVay III, the Indianapolis’ commanding officer, received orders for a special mission. His ship was to carry secret equipment from San Francisco to the tiny Island of Tinian about 1,400 miles south of Japan. That equipment was loaded on July 15 and the following day the ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge headed west.

Curiosity was great among the crewmembers about the crates the ship was carrying which were guarded around the clock by Marines, Barto said.

Only a few men in the world new the contents of those crates. Among their names were Truman, Churchill and Oppenheimer.

“‘Do you have the end of the war in those boxes?’ we asked the Marines,” Barto said.

The young sailor had no idea how close he was to being correct. In one of the containers were integral parts of the atomic bomb. The other container was packed with uranium-235.

After a brief stop in Hawaii, the Indianapolis left for Tinian, arriving on July 26. Crewmembers, still unaware of what they were delivering, quickly off-loaded their cargo and the ship departed first for Guam and then for the trip to Leyte.

Lucky at cards

 Barto had been a big winner in the ship’s poker game on the night of July 29, 1945. He tucked his $700 winnings inside his T-shirt for safekeeping and went to get some shut-eye.

Underwater, about 12 miles from the Indianapolis, the sonar operator on the Japanese submarine I-58 picked up a target he couldn’t identify. The submarine’s captain, Mochitsura Hashimoto, ordered the vessel to the surface for a first-hand look.

During his four years at sea the 36-year-old submarine commander had yet to sink an enemy ship and now, knowing the war was likely in its final stage, he worried he might return home without a single kill.

When the submarine surfaced a lookout spotted the target with his binoculars, now about six miles away. Hashimoto ordered his boat to dive again, and through the submarine’s periscope it became clear, with the help of a sliver of the light from the moon, that the target was a large American cruiser.

Hashimoto maneuvered his submarine for a broadside hit. Just after midnight he ordered his crew to fire their torpedoes.

The first torpedo struck near the ship’s bow, blowing it away. The second hit near midship on the starboard side, nearly cutting the Indianapolis in half.

“I had just fallen asleep,” Barto said. “All of a sudden I flew up into the air. I couldn’t breathe. My right leg was bleeding.”

The ship’s electrical system was destroyed, making it impossible for McVay to communicate with his crew.

“I never heard the words ‘abandon ship’,” he said. “I finally just figured out it was time to get off.”

Barto reached above an air duct where he’d stashed a blow-up rubber life vest.

“I figured I might need it someday,” he said.

He jumped off the ship, hitting the side of the vessel before splashing into the Pacific. The water surrounding the Indianapolis was thick with fuel leaking from the ship.

“I swallowed a lot of fuel,” Barto said. “I swallowed so much I was vomiting bile and I couldn’t blow up the rubber vest.”

A chief petty officer swam over to Barto and inflated the vest.

“I wish I knew the name of that chief,” Barto said. “He saved my life.”

There was little to do but wait for sunrise and the rescue ships that would surely arrive.

“We thought the next morning we’d be picked up,” Barto said. “I just kept thinking if I could last through the night I’d be OK.”

Dawn came and the tropical sun soon scorched the bare heads of those bobbing in the water.

“I took my T-shirt and covered up my head with it,” said Barto. “When I did all the poker money fell out.”

The survivors had no idea that no one was looking for the USS Indianapolis.

“The next morning came and then the next morning,” Barto said. “I never gave up hope.”


 It was a day after the sinking before those still alive began to notice something bumping them from underneath. The shark attacks had actually begun the night of the sinking, but in the frenzy went unnoticed by most of those struggling to survive.

Barto, floating in the waves, saw the predators.

“The sharks were constantly under you and around you,” Barto said. “There seemed to be hundreds of them.”

For the first day or so, the sharks had been content to prey on dead bodies that were floating around, buoyed by life vests. Over time however, injuries and hallucinations caused many of the crew to thrash about in the water, drawing the attention of the sharks that by now had encircled the floating clusters of men.

“When one of the fellows was dying it seemed like there were dozens of sharks that would attack him at once,” Barto said.

Some estimates say as many as 200 men, or about 50 each day, were killed by the frenzied sharks.


Barto credits three things —- Cmdr. Lewis Haynes, Barto’s own excellent physical condition and his mother for his survival.

Barto floated with a group led by Haynes, the ship’s doctor.

“I stayed near him because he kept his head and stayed pretty cool,” Barto said. “Not many others did.”

Lifting barbells with a crewmember he remembers as “Muscles Russell” improved his stamina, Barto said.

“I was in really good shape,” he said. “When the other guys were fooling around I was boxing or doing pushups.”

Finally, Barto was worried about what would become of his mother if he died.

“Most of the guys were crying for their wives or their girlfriends,” he said. “I didn’t have a wife or a girlfriend.  I just kept worrying about what my mother would think.”


 Four days following the sinking, Gwinn’s patrol aircraft spotted an oil slick floating on the ocean surface. Descending to 300 feet for a closer look, the pilot spotted about 30 sailors floating in the waves.

The patrol plane was loaded with life rafts, vests and other emergency equipment and Gwinn —- still unsure if the men were friend or foe —- ordered his crew to drop the supplies into the water. He then radioed his position to headquarters on the island of Peleliu. Ships and airplanes throughout the area were ordered to the site.

Other airplanes arrived, some landing in the sea to pick up survivors and others dropping more rescue gear into the water. The first to be picked up by the planes identified themselves as crewmembers of the Indianapolis.

Barto was able to crawl into a life raft. Beside him was his high school friend and fellow gunner’s mate Charles Bruneau. The two had joined the Navy together.

“He was in bad shape and I put my arm around him,” Barto said. “Then he stopped moving.”

Bruneau died in Barto’s arms.

“We had to put him overboard,” Barto said. “I never had the heart to tell his parents he almost made it. I just told them I didn’t see him.”

Long after dark the USS Doyle arrived on the scene and began plucking survivors from the sea, including Barto.

It had been more than four days since he’d eaten or had fresh water.

“They gave us spoonfuls of water that tasted like sugar,” he said. “Later they covered me in salve and wrapped me up in sheets. The boys on the Doyle were sure great to us.”

 ‘In Harm’s Way’

Author and contributing editor to Men’s Journal magazine, Doug Stanton attended a reunion of Indianapolis survivors in 1999 intending to write a magazine piece on the veterans.

“I walked around informally asking them how they got off the ship and how they survived,” Stanton said last week from his home in Traverse City, Mich.

Several books and at least one movie have been made over the years about the sinking of the Indianapolis.

“I was surprised to find that many of the crew said they’d never been asked those questions,” Stanton said.

Stanton turned the magazine piece turned into the book “In Harm’s Way,” which spent over five months on the New York Times Bestseller List and brought new attention to the survivors of the sinking.

“If I’d made up the story the editors would have shot it down,” Stanton said. “The Indy was not the last shot fired, but it was the last major casualty-inducing attack of World War II.”

A full life

 Barto recovered from his wounds, got out of the Navy and spent about 40 years working for the Dunn-Edwards paint company in the Los Angeles area.

“They were the best company you could ever work for,” he said with a smile.

Now retired, he and Mary Lou —- they’ve been married for 51 years —- visited the Temecula area several times over the years before buying a home here.

“I just thought it was the greatest place in the world to live,” he said.

The couple has two children and two grandchildren.

One of about 112 remaining survivors of the sinking, Barto said he had not, until this week, been interviewed about his experience since 1946 and has never been to a reunion of his shipmates.

“If they have one in Las Vegas, I think I’ll go,” he said, with a glint in his eye, perhaps hoping he’ll get a chance to win back his $700.

2005 Update

It’s taken 60 years, but the nightmare that has gripped Lloyd Barto of Temecula may finally be behind him.

Just past midnight on July 30, 1945, a Japanese submarine sank the USS Indianapolis, which was enroute to the Philippines after delivering an atomic bomb to an airstrip in the Marianas Islands. Less than a week later, that bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Of the 1,196 men aboard the cruiser, about 900 made it alive into the water in the 12 minutes it took the 9,950-ton vessel to sink.

Through a series of miscommunications, the ship was not reported missing.

After more than four days of drifting on make-shift life rafts or staying afloat with life vests, the surviving sailors were accidentally discovered by an aircraft on routine patrol.

By the time rescue crews arrived, about 600 of the sailors had died, either from injuries, drowning, swallowing diesel fuel or salt water, or from sharks that circled, claiming an estimated 200 men.

Seaman 1st Class Barto was one of 317 men who made it out of the water. Since that day, he has been haunted by the guilt of his surviving when so many others didn’t.

So guilty, in fact, he had never attended any of the survivor reunions held over the years.

“For years, Dad would never go in a boat or go on a cruise,” said his daughter Beth Siapkas. Barto kept his story —— and his nightmares —— to himself, not wanting to burden his family. As the years went by, his daughter learned piece by piece the horror of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the waning days of World War II.

Beth convinced her father to attend the reunion marking the 60th anniversary of the sinking, which was held last month in Indianapolis. Beth booked the airfare and hotel and went along with her father.

The reunions, which began in 1969, were once held every five years. Now, given the age of those remaining, the gatherings are held every two years. Since the last reunion in 2003, 15 of the men who made it out of the water have died.

Today, just 93 survivors remain. About 60 made it to the reunion.

“I never had the guts to go back there before,” Lloyd said. “But I’m glad I went. I was able to get so much out of my system.”

Several thousand family, friends and dignitaries attended the weekend-long reunion, which included a parade through the city and luncheons and dinners, one attended by the secretary of the Navy.

“Because it was his first time at a reunion, they made a big deal about him,” Beth said. “They lined up to get his autograph.”

Barto enjoyed seeing his old shipmates.

“Some of those guys really looked darn spry,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

For Lloyd Barto, a true hero, hopefully the nightmares have been put astern.

“My daughter wants to go again in two years,” he said. “And so do I.”

2011 Update

Lloyd Barto of Temecula, a survivor of the USS Indianapolis (CA-85) —- sunk by the Japanese in the waning days of World War II after it delivered an atomic bomb to the Mariana Islands —- died in June at 85.

Barto was one of just 317 crew members —- out of a complement of 1,200 men —- who survived for four days in the water as many of his shipmates drowned or were eaten by sharks. The sinking of his ship, which Barto rarely spoke of, is considered the final tragedy of World War II.

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