GI Film Festival rolls through San Diego

Posted at 6:46 PM, Sep 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-12 21:46:48-04

SAN DIEGO - The GI Film Festival kicks off in San Diego on Wednesday, and it will feature 28 films for, by and about military members.

The film "USS Indianapolis: The Legacy" is a jaw-dropping story of survival. Retired Navy Capt. John Woolston, who is one of the men featured in the film, asked that he not be called a hero for this story.

Woolston was one of nearly 1,200 people on the USS Indianapolis when it sunk during World War II. A torpedo tore through the very spot he had walked away from.

"There was a big hollow boom," Woolston explained. "These huge whirling caterpillars of flame were shooting through the door."

Then, death nearly nabbed him again.

"It singed all my hair, and eyebrows and eyelashes," he added.

Woolston grabbed life vests and helped sailors into the water.

"Most of the people were in their skivvies," he said.

About 800 people made it through morning. With no help on the horizon, Woolston saw some friends fall asleep for the final time and watched sharks ripped others apart.

"They would grab and haul you down and quite often people would pop up again," he explained. "Obviously, they were screaming because they had lost something vital, and the shark would come back and take them down, and that was it."

He thinks his gray uniform made him less of a target. With no food for nearly five days, he actually wanted to sink his teeth into a shark.

"I took one of my socks off and waved my foot at it, and I started to go down towards it," Woolston said with a chuckle. "I looked at that thing. I said that's not a very good idea, so I put my sock back on."

There were 317 people who lived long enough to be rescued. Loved ones of the dead and missing asked what Woolston knew.

"You either tell a fake story or say you don't remember," he explained.

Woolston is one of only 23 survivors left, and he is helping to tell the story.

"What we did was we took a great ship to sea and lost it," he said. "I think people should know about it and know what some of us went through to keep this country free."

Woolston served for 32 years. He dedicated himself to designing and building Navy ships to keep sailors safe.

"There's no need to make hero talk about it," he said. "The country is worth what you have, including your whole life."

"USS Indianapolis: The Legacy" is one of 28 films playing throughout the county from Sept. 14-18.

Learn more about the film festival at