Louis Kayo Erwin, 93, a lifelong resident of East Ridge, Tennessee, has joined his beloved wife, Thelma of 62 years and his shipmates gone before him on heaven’s golden shores.
Kayo’s wife was the love of his life and theirs was a true love story.
Mr. Erwin is survived by a son, Kayo Erwin, Jr. and wife Brenda, a daughter, Sandra Erwin and her husband, Ted Beidler. Mr. Erwin also leaves behind four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, three sisters, two brothers, and various nieces and nephews.
As with most families in the 30s and 40s, Kayo grew up on a hard-working farm with his family, including his brother, Tom. In 1942, at the young age of 17, he made a fateful decision to go find his brother who had joined the marines earlier. He never would have imagined that this decision would impact his life in such an enormous way. Coxswain Erwin’s orders were to board the Flagship U.S.S. Indianapolis and during his brave tenure, earned eight battle stars prior to the last fateful voyage.
On July 16, 1945, at the age of 20, Coxswain Erwin along with 1,196 shipmates on the U.S.S. Indianapolis departed the San Francisco Hunters Point Naval Shipyard on a top-secret mission. The mission was the delivery of major bomb components and the enriched uranium to the Tinian Islands for the atomic bomb “Little Boy” which was dropped on Hiroshima. The U.S.S. Indianapolis’ crew set a speed record during this mission of 74.5 hours, with an average speed of 29 knots (33 mph) which still stands to this day.
With the mission successfully completed, the ship was sent to Guam to pick up replacements for crew members that had completed their tours of duty. After leaving Guam on July 28, she began her fateful journey to Leyte. At 15 minutes after midnight on July 30, 1945, two type 95 Japanese torpedoes ripped into the hull of the U.S.S. Indianapolis over the Mariana Trench. The ship was so damaged that it sank in 12 minutes over some of the deepest ocean on earth. Of the 1,196 only 317 survived the most catastrophic loss of life the Navy has ever encountered. Coxswain Erwin along with the 316 other sailors endured five nights and four days floating in shark-infested waters with only a life jackets, watching their shipmates die all around them. Coxswain Erwin survived the ordeal, was honorably discharged, and made it home to Chattanooga by hitchhiking from Memphis. The truck driver that gave him a ride back to Chattanooga remained a lifelong friend.
Once back in Chattanooga, Kayo finally got to see his brother, Tom.
Most men do not seek bravery or courage. When you least expect them, such attributes can become etched into your soul forever. Mr. Erwin was a humble man and never described himself as brave or courageous but all of these men who sacrificed so much are the true definition of both.
To this day, Naval training includes many aspects of the events of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and how those who survived with courage and persistence.
Even with such tragic events still vividly etched in his memory, Mr. Erwin became a loving husband and father or his two proudest accomplishments, his children. Mr. Erwin had a long career with local distributor, Ellis Distributing. His children Kayo and Sandy have always and continue to be so very proud of their father and Mr. Erwin was very proud of his entire family.
Mr. Erwin will always be remembered for his kind, loving heart, his firm handshake and his friendship to many. He loved telling his story with his grandchildren’s classmates at school and sharing first-hand with other civic groups who wanted to learn more about this historic event. If he could pass along anything to others it would be the importance of grasping the moment with happiness and a smile. Even at 93 with that sailor’s smile and wink of an eye, he had many Cracker Barrel waitresses smiling. With a life this full there is no room for sadness. God is receiving another angel.
The family wants to thank the employees of the East Ridge Food Lion for all of their years of kindness, Dr. Fortney, D. Anz, and the wonderful, caring staff at Tennessee Oncology.
Mr. Erwin attended Middle Valley Church of God.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to: Middle Valley Church of God Missions Fund, 1703 Thrasher Pike, Hixson, Tn. 37343.
Pallbearers will be Don Abernathy, Barrett Chambers, Jody Chambers, Marc Gentry, Abdiel Irizarry, and Doyle Johnson.
The family will be accepting friends for visitation at the Chattanooga Funeral Home North Chapel, 5401 Highway 153, Hixson, on Monday, June 11, from 2-8 p.m. and on Tuesday, June 12, from 2-4 p.m.
Funeral services will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12, at Chattanooga Funeral Home North Chapel.
Interment will follow at Hamilton Memorial Gardens.