When Edgar Harrell learned about the recovery of the U.S. Navy destroyer whose sinking he survived 72 years ago, his first reaction was “praise the Lord!”
CBSNews.com screen capture
A team assembled by entrepreneur Paul Allen used an unmanned submarine to capture images of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which such in 1945.
“I’m so excited,” Harrell, 92, told Baptist Press (BP). “It kind of brings closure.”
The U.S.S. Indianapolis’ discovery was announced Aug. 19 by Paul Allen, an entrepreneur whose research ship located the wreckage 3.5 miles below the surface of the Philippines Sea. The Indianapolis was sunk by Japanese torpedoes July 30, 1945, after delivering the contents of the famous “Little Boy” atomic bomb to the western Pacific island of Tinian during the closing days of World War II.
Harrell, a 20-year-old Marine corporal at the time, was among 317 survivors out of a 1,200-member crew. Some 900 sailors and Marines made it off the sinking ship, but most died during four and a half harrowing days afloat in the ocean. Shark attacks and dehydration were among the leading causes of death. Survivors subsisted thanks in part to rain water and a drifting crate of rotten potatoes.
Though a distress signal was sounded as the Indianapolis sank, it either didn’t get out or wasn’t received. The survivors were rescued only after a U.S. bomber happened upon them during a patrol.
The sunken ship’s precise location had been a mystery for seven decades.
“The discovery of the Indianapolis brings back a lot of memories,” said Harrell, a Clarksville, Tenn., resident and member of Calvary Bible Church in Joelton, Tenn. “… When I was leaving the ship, I was praying and I knew the Lord was hearing. But I was hoping and praying that somehow I could survive what was ahead of me.”
CBSNews.com screen capture
The U.S.S. Indianapolis delivered components of an atomic bomb to the western Pacific in 1945 before succumbing to a Japanese torpedo attack.
In 2009, Harrell told BP he made it through the four and a half days at sea thanks to prayer, scripture quotation and thinking of his family. He also recounted pulling his feet up in the water to avoid shark attacks and feeling shark fins brush past his body at times. Harrell had received Christ as his Lord and Savior two years earlier.
The Indianapolis’ precise location remains classified, CBS News reported. Allen’s team, which used an unmanned submarine to locate the wreckage, plans to conduct a live tour of the ship’s remains in the coming weeks and is working with the Navy to honor the 18 remaining survivors.
Since the discovery was announced, Harrell “can’t get away” from his computer and phone for all the media interview requests and other contacts, he said. He has been interviewed over the past week by CBS News, The Washington Post, C-SPAN Radio and other outlets.
He told The Post the discovery “brings closure to the story. But the experience that we survived, the trauma that we felt, that still exists.”
Still, Harrell told BP God used the protracted suffering at sea as a catalyst for spiritual growth.
“All things work together for good to those who love and honor Him,” Harrell said. “I look back and have to say, ‘Lord, I wonder what might have happened to me had I not had that kind of an experience those four and a half days, but had just been picked up the next hour or so and then just passed it over as a little, short incident that happened.’”
Harrell chronicled his experience with the Indianapolis in the 2005 book Out of the Depths, coauthored with his son David, pastor of Calvary Bible Church. Edgar Harrell maintains an active speaking schedule, sharing his testimony with audiences around the nation.
“Lord,” Harrell said he prays, “I know that sooner or later I’m going to meet You face to face and be able to thank You so much for so many, many things that have transpired to Your praise and honor and glory.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)