(Photo: Public Domain)
The harrowing experiences of Edgar Harrell and the crew on the USS Indianapolis, a battleship that helped put an end to World War II, are documented in the recently released book, Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
On the way back from making their voyage to Japan to deliver components used to create the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the USS Indianapolis was attacked by a Japanese submarine and of its 1,197-man crew, only 317 survived the five-day ordeal.
Hundreds of men were set adrift in the vast Pacific Ocean. Frigid cold temperatures assailed them at night, and the blistering, burning sun assaulted them by day. All the while, strong waves and hungry sharks picked them off one by one.
Harrell, who's 89, and a retired Marine and great-grandfather, told The Christian Post that among the reasons why he's sharing the story about the USS Indianapolis is his belief that Americans are forgetting about World War II.
"The way the country is going today, I think we've forgotten our mooring of yesteryear, and to a great degree I feel that World War II has been much more," said Harrell.
"We are not paying attention to the cost of freedom that has been paid for down through the history of the U.S."
This concern over forgetting the past was echoed by Edgar's son, David, a Tennessee pastor who coauthored Out of the Depths.
"In interviewing him to write this book, I was saddened to hear about the prevailing ignorance most students have concerning World War II," wrote David.
"This only fueled my fire to collaborate with my ex-Marine father in educating readers about the heroism of our veterans and ultimately glorifying God."
Swimming with sharks
Out of the Depths follows the experiences of Harrell aboard the USS Indianapolis. The book documents the ship and its crewmen, affectionately calling it the "USS Indy," from its former prestige to battles it fought in to its role delivering components used to make the atomic bombs, to its sinking and the eventual rescue of the crew.
After delivering the atomic bomb components, the USS Indianapolis sailed through waters under the false assumption that they were safe from Japanese submarines.
Unbeknownst to the crew, Japanese submarine commander Mochitsura Hashimoto was in the area and proceeded to fire six torpedoes that quickly sank the vessel.
"I could hear the bulkheads breaking and I knew that the ship was doomed, and the ship went down in about 12 minutes," said Harrell to CP, adding that he was "dumped out at sea."
"And so they leave us out there for four and a half days literally swimming with the sharks. Providentially we were spotted by a plane that was looking for submarines."
For nearly five days, hundreds of crewmen were left in the ocean, victims of a submarine attack and a Navy command unaware of their plight.
Dehydration, hypothermia, shark attacks, untreated wounds, and other deprivations plagued the survivors.
Out of the 1,197 crewmen, only 317 survived the ordeal. Most died in the days following the sinking.
Through it all, Harrell wrote that it was "the God of the Bible, not mere religion, that saved" him and the crew.
"Luck had absolutely nothing to do with my survival," wrote Harrell, who noted of how low the probability had been for the plane to have spotted the crew at all on the fourth day.
"I believe with all my heart that it was solely by the providence of God that I lived through these dreadful days and nights."
Lost and neglected
Harrell believes that the story of the USS Indianapolis has been a story untold for various reasons, from the secretive nature of their mission to the failures on the part of the United States Navy to adequately warn the ship about the dangers posed by Japanese submarines in the area.
"The Indianapolis has been ignored by-and-large by the media, and the fact that it's a little politically incorrect, to be honest, about what happened at the end of World War II," said Harrell to CP.
"I have been critical of the fact that they are not being honest with history as to the end of the World War II and the part that the USS Indianapolis played in that."
This forgetting of the Indianapolis began even in its day, when survivors of the disaster returned to California expecting a grand reception only to find, as Harrell wrote, "a paltry Salvation Army band."
"To my knowledge, none of our families or friends greeted us. Most did not even know our whereabouts. We remained on land as we were at sea — lost and neglected," wrote Harrell.
As the war ended, due in large part to the contribution of the USS Indianapolis, the retired Marine Harrell stressed the importance of reconciliation with his former enemies.
He later learned that Hashimoto, the submarine captain who sank the USS Indianapolis, lost his entire family to the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima.
Later remarrying, Hashimoto's granddaughter and great-granddaughter became friends with Harrell, even being invited and attending one of the reunions that USS Indianapolis survivors held.
"I see reconciliation to the extent that several years ago we invited Hashimoto's granddaughter to our reunion," said Harrell to CP, adding that he and the Hashimoto family keep in touch.
"So that definitely is reconciliation."
Published by Bethany House Publishers and authored by Edgar Harrell and his son David, Out of the Depths was released earlier this month.