You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Survivors of USS Indianapolis sinking hold reunion

Jul. 27, 2014 - 10:58AM   |  
  • Filed Under

INDIANAPOLIS — About a third of the remaining 36 survivors of the worst single seagoing disaster in U.S. Navy history gathered for a reunion this weekend in Indianapolis, the city for which their doomed ship was named.

One of the survivors is Edgar Harrell, 89, a former Marine who has written a book about how he and others survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis by floating without food or water for five days in the shark-haunted waters of the Pacific.

The USS Indianapolis was halfway between Guam and the Philippines in shark-filled waters when a Japanese submarine sank it with torpedoes on July 30, 1945, in the war’s closing weeks.

Just days earlier, the Indianapolis had visited the island of Tinian in a secret mission to deliver the uranium-235 and other components for the atomic bomb later dropped on Hiroshima by the Enola Gay, which took off from the remote island.

The Indianapolis’ mission was so secret she sailed alone, unescorted by ships better equipped to detect and fight Japanese submarines.

The survivors gather in occasional reunions to make sure the story, which they didn’t talk about for years, is not forgotten. Harrell has told his story in a book, “Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis,” which Harrell republished in May after self-publishing it in 2005.

Harrell, who was a 20-year-old Marine corporal at the time of the disaster, told The Indianapolis Star he had just come off watch and was dozing on a pallet on deck when the ship was hit and split into three sections. The ship sank within 12 minutes.

“And that first morning, we had sharks,” Harrell recalled. The men would try to float together in the water, but then one would drift away and be attacked.

An estimated 900 of the ship’s servicemen survived the vessel’s nighttime sinking, but before rescuers arrived five days later, drowning, delirium, dehydration and shark attacks had claimed all but 317 of the men.

The Indianapolis’ death toll — 880 members out of a crew of 1,197 died — is the U.S. Navy’s worst single at-sea loss of life. But reports of the tragedy were buried by the news of the Japanese surrender, and interest in the ship’s story was not revived until the 1975 movie “Jaws” featured a character who told of the sinking and the survivors’ days of agony.

The ship’s captain, Charles Butler McVay III, was court-martialed but was posthumously exonerated by Congress and then-President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

From Our Blogs


The latest from PT365

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.

This Week's Army Times

This Week's Army Times

CrossFit vs. unit PT
Troops will do the training plans in a $2.5 million study

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook