SANFORD, Maine (Beth McEvoy) — More than seven decades have passed since the U.S.S Indianapolis sunk to it's watery grave, taking along with it the lives of 883 men in the worst disaster in U.S. Naval history. On Friday, August 18, 2017, researchers discovered the cruiser’s wreckage 18,000 feet down on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
While the discovery made headlines across the nation, it also made heads turn to a sign in Sanford that now reads:
“AFTER 72 YEARS
THEY FOUND THE
WRECK OF MY SHIP
Raymond Payeur is a World War II veteran who was onboard the U.S.S Indianapolis when he was just 21-years-old as it carried parts of the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima. After delivering its classified freight to Tinian, the ship sailed to Guam. After two days in port, the U.S.S. Indianapolis began sailing toward Leyte with a crew of more than 1,000 men.
Payeur tears up as he admits that he knows he could have easily been one of the hundreds of men who died after a Japanese submarine torpedoed the vessel and it sank in just 12 minutes on July 30, 1945.
Payeur stepped off the U.S.S. Indianapolis in Pearl Harbor on July 19, 1945 just 11 days before it sank. The 92-year-old says he was one of the babies on board the naval ship and yet he remembers the men so well.
(He had previously survived the sinking of the S.S. Henry Bergh after it ran aground on it’s way to San Francisco.)
For the last several decades, Payeur remembers his friends and comrades that died when the U.S.S. Indianapolis sank from his small home in Sanford, by taking the sign that sits in his front yard and writing a little remembrance.
Payeur can’t remember how many years he has been doing this but members of his community say they have seen the sign honoring the sailors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis for more than 20 years.
Payeur is long retired from his naval career and from a career in Real Estate. That is why he has a sign in his lawn to begin with, a remnant of the business he ran from his home.
Walking into Payeur’s house is like walking into a mini-museum, with pictures of sailors and Captains, newspaper clippings tacked to the wall, a replica of the U.S.S Constitution (he whittled himself) and war memorabilia sprinkled throughout, from the kitchen to the office.
He retrieves details with skilled precision from his memory; the lengths of ships he was aboard, names of sailors and captains, dates and itineraries of events, mere notes of history for most, but for Payeur, they live as close as yesterday.
Payeur says he spends his time now volunteering at the food pantry in Sanford, as evidence by the food donations signs that adorn his home’s facade. He stays busy crafting weathervanes and lighthouses. He even makes replicas of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz from canning jars and donates them to charities for auction.
And although he spoke to us, he was reluctant to do so. “Somethings I will take to my grave,” he says. They are just too sad to share.
Raymond Payeur is one of seven brothers, all of whom served in the armed forces and of which, only two are still living.
"I am one of the only ones left," he says, speaking of all the men who fought in World War II.
His sign perched on Main Street in Sanford, however unnoticed by most, is a tribute to so many that have gave their lives in service.