Indy, Outland to be honored
GATESVILLE – Plans are proceeding to honor one of Gates County’s military heroes.
After months of planning, the unveiling of a memorial to the men of the USS Indianapolis and Gates County native Felton J. Outland, Sr. will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9 in the Gates County Courthouse. The public is invited.
During World War II, Outland, a native of Sunbury, was a 19-year-old Gunner’s Mate onboard the USS Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser that was part of the famed Manhattan Project – the development of America’s first atomic bomb. It was just after the Indy delivered the components of the bomb to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean where it was assembled and later dropped on Japan, hastening the end of the war, the ship was sunk by a barrage of Japanese torpedoes shortly after midnight on July 30, 1945.
For five days, those surviving the blast found themselves at the mercy of the sea, to include sharks along with no water or rations and some suffering from severe desquamation (shedding of the outer layers of the skin). Of the 1,196 men onboard at the time of the torpedo attack, 317 survived, including Outland.
“Felton still has a hard time reflecting back on that ordeal,” said fellow Sunbury resident Earl Rountree, who is spearheading the effort for Gates County local government and residents to honor Outland. “I realize that we have a lot of (military) veterans in this county. Some never made it back; some came back home minus a limb. The two I remember the most are Willis Hinton, who lost a leg on a landmine (while fighting) with my hero, General (George) Patton while in Sicily, and F.J. Outland Sr. I don’t want to slight (the actions) of any other of our county’s veterans, but the USS Indianapolis is infamous in what happened.
“He (Outland) has never been recognized in this county,” Rountree continued. “What I envision is a 2-3 foot photo of the Indianapolis, which I know we can obtain for a price from a photographer in Indiana, with a nice bronze plaque, along with a nice photo of Felton in his white, summer Navy uniform. I can get the picture and I can get the plaque and the community will pay for it through donations.”
Rountree is currently in the process of raising $1,800 to pay for the picture and bronze plaque to be placed in the Gates County Courthouse, a site chosen by the Outland family for display.
If you would like to contribute to this project, contact Rountree at 252 465-8354 or 252 333-2510. You can mail your donation to Earl Rountree at 226 Folly Road, Sunbury, NC 27979. Please make checks out to Earl Rountree. The names of the contributors will be presented to the Outland family.
After all the expenses have been paid, any remaining money will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.
“This plaque honors Felton J. Outland Sr. and all the combat men that have served our country and to the memory of the 879 men that died and the 317 survivors of the worst naval disaster in history,” Rountree said.
At its Oct. 3 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution honoring the USS Indianapolis and crew. A portion of that resolution reads as follows:
“Be it resolved that the Board of Commissioners for the County of Gates hereby honors the sacrifice of those lost due to this terrible act and furthermore recognize the living legend and priceless treasure that is Mr. F.J. Outland Sr. As a mere token of appreciation and as a resolute mandate, we order that a rendering of the USS Indianapolis and a marker denoting the accomplishment of F.J. Outland Sr. be placed in a position of prominence in a County facility.
“May the people of this great County, State and Nation never forget the sacrifices made by the USS Indianapolis nor the value that F.J. Outland Sr. has made during his life to the freedom and security that we as American citizens possess.”
Outland volunteered to serve his country by the time he graduated from Sunbury High School. He was sent to Great Lakes, Michigan for training and boarded the Indianapolis, stationed in San Diego, California, in October of 1943. He spent his Navy career aboard the Indianapolis.