MANATEE — As he waited for a blood test, Arthur Leenerman used a small screw driver to make a repair on his wife’s pocketbook.
Leenerman, 85, was among the first veterans to use the new Bradenton-based Outpatient Clinic, which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened this week at 5520 S.R. 64 E.
He is one of only 61 survivors of the USS Indianapolis, which was torpedoed July 30, 1945, in shark-infested waters in the Philippine Sea by a Japanese submarine.
The USS Indianapolis went down in 12 minutes, and Leenerman, a radar operator, was among 900 men who survived the initial attack.
The Navy was unaware that the ship, which had delivered critical parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian, had been lost. The bomb parts would become part of “Little Boy,” dropped on Hiroshima.
Four days after the attack on the Indianapolis, the Navy found the survivors. Only 316 were alive. It remains the worst single-ship disaster in U.S. Navy history.
Leenerman, 85, surveyed the new clinic.
“It looks real good,” he said. “It even smells new.”
Sitting with his wife, Ethel, Leenerman said he has been awarded a 50 percent disability for post traumatic stress syndrome.
“When they picked me up, they thought I was dead,” he said.
“We lost five guys this year,” he added.
But Leenerman, who has wintered in Tropic Isles for years, and used the old VA clinic in Ellenton for the past decade, said his health is good, smiling and crossing his fingers for luck.
Perry Wilson, a resident of the El Rancho manufactured home community in Bradenton, said he has been anticipating the opening of the new clinic and is transferring his care from a VA facility in Tampa, saving him a 100-mile round trip.
“I am hoping that this place will have a lot more services than they did in Ellenton,” said Wilson, 77, who served in the Navy from 1954 to 1958.
Faith Belcher, a public affairs officer for Baypines VA Healthcare System, St. Petersburg, said veterans can indeed look forward to more services in the new Bradenton clinic.
Planned this summer are the addition of dental, eye care and basic radiology, she said.
Lawrence Spellman, a Terra Ceia resident and Navy veteran, said he lived only about three miles from the old clinic, but he and his wife, also a veteran, had been looking forward to the new services the new facility would offer.
Dan Marquardt, a Linger Lodge resident, said he has been anticipating the arrival of the new clinic.
“This is my first visit, but from what I can see, it’s fantastic,” Marquardt said.
A ribbon-cutting for the new clinic is set for 9 a.m. Monday with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, scheduled to be in attendance. The ceremony will be in the clinic parking lot.
For more information about local VA care, visit http://www.baypines.va.gov/.
For more information about the USS Indianapolis disaster, visit http://www.uss indianapolis.org/.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.