Unthinkable Courageous Stories

Years ago Ed Harrell and a number of other sailors were pulled from the Pacific. They had survived four-and-a-half days afloat after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. It's four days that, as you might imagine, Ed Harrell has never been able to forget.

Show Notes

Stranded in Shark Infested Waters - Part 1
Stranded in Shark Infested Waters - Part 2

Stranded in Shark Infested Waters - Part 3

Stranded in Shark Infested Waters - Part 4

FamilyLife Today® Radio Transcript
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Out of the Depths 
Day 1 of 4
Guest:                            Ed Harrell
From the Series:         The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis
Bob:                Sixty years ago this week on the night of July 30, 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II, a Japanese submarine launched torpedoes that would sink the USS Indianapolis.  Marine Ed Harrell was on board that night.
Ed:                  When I actually left the ship, and there I prayed that somehow the Lord would see me through what lie ahead, and yet I had the foggiest idea that I'm going to be out there for four-and-a-half days.  There's times when you pray, and there's times when you pray, and there is a difference.
Bob:                This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Of the nearly 1,200 men who were onboard the Indianapolis on that night only 317 survived.  Ed Harrell was one of the survivors, and we'll hear his story today.
                        And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  Dennis?
Dennis:          Bob, I want you to imagine with me a pretty dramatic scene.  Just consider yourself being 20 years old, you're a Marine, you're tough, you're physically fit, but you're alone, you're in the ocean, you've just lost your ship, and you and about 80 others are floating in the middle of the night in the ocean in lifejackets.  We're going to hear a story – one of the most compelling stories I think I've ever heard from a gentleman who joins us on FamilyLife Today – one of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis.
Bob:                A man who doesn't have to imagine what you just described because he lived through it.
Dennis:          That's exactly right.  Ed Harrell joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Welcome to the broadcast, Ed.
Ed:                  Thank you so much.  It's a delight to be with you.
Dennis:          Ed is not only a survivor, but he was a businessman for 38 years.  He's served as a member of the board of trustees at Moody Bible Institute, a great ministry.  He and his wife Ola, who have been married since 1947 – that's a lot of years, that's a lot of years, live in Paris, Tennessee.  They have two children, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Ed:                  That's right.
Dennis:          You've lived quite a life, Ed, but you're one of the few, one of the few survivors of that tragedy.  Take us back, first of all, to when you signed up.  Why in the world did you sign up to be a Marine?  It was 1943, is that right?
Ed:                  That's right, 1943.  I don't know that I can even know why I really did at the time, but I knew that the war was getting pretty close to home, it sounded to me.  In fact, when I heard that the Japanese and the American forces were having quite a battle at Midway, I was thinking that Midway was maybe between San Francisco and Hawaii, and so I thought, you know, they're getting pretty close to America, so, actually, I had just finished my junior year in high school, and I volunteered then for the Marine Corps.
Bob:                You were 17, 18 years old?
Ed:                  I was 18 when I – I actually became a Marine when I was 18.
Bob:                You know, Ed, my son is a junior in high school, and the thought of my son saying, "I'm going to sign up to be a Marine in the middle of this kind of conflict, as a parent, I'm not sure I'd endorse that plan.  Were your parents behind it?
Ed:                  Yes, I think they pretty much agreed.  Dad pretty much agreed.  They didn't necessarily want to see me leave, but they knew, too, the little Silvertone radio that we had was telling us quite a bit what was happening in the Pacific, and I didn't have much problem convincing them that I wanted to go.  In fact, I have two grandsons in the Marine Corps today.
Dennis:          Do you remember that time when you said goodbye to your dad?
Ed:                  I do.  My dad was 37 or 39 years old, and I thought he was an old man then, but I told him goodbye at the bus station.
Dennis:          Did you hug?
Ed:                  Yes, yes, we did.
Dennis:          Were there tears?
Ed:                  There were some tears, there were some tears.
Dennis:          What did he say to you?
Ed:                  I don't know that I can remember what he said, but I'm sure that the advice that he gave me, he was a fine Christian man, and I'm sure it was some good, solid advice that he was giving me.
Bob:                Why the Marines?  Why did you pick them instead of the Army or the Navy or the Air Force?
Ed:                  I wondered sometimes why if I picked the wrong one, but I really don't know.  I even considered, after I got in the Marine Corps, that I would be a paratrooper.  After I got through sea school, then they said – after I got through boot camp, they said, "You're going to sea school," and I didn't know what that meant, either, but I went through sea school, and then they said, "You're going aboard a large combatant ship," and so I waited, then, until the Indianapolis was in port and caught it at San Francisco.
Dennis:          Before you left to join the Marines, you made another decision that was a life-altering decision.
Ed:                  Yes, I did.  Yes, I did.  On the 1st of August, 1943, already a Marine and yet hadn't shown up even for my boot camp, I went to church on that Lord's Day morning, and seeming the Lord was saying to me, "Your last chance, your last chance," and the preacher preached a message, and he gave an invitation, he pronounced the benediction, and I sat there, I knew that my heart was not right with the Lord, and knowing that I was going into combat soon that I had to get things right with the Lord.  I know the pastor came back and sat down by me there.  Everyone else had left the building except two people – one was my wife later to be, and my mother-in-law later to be, and they were back in the back of the building there praying, and the pastor turned to a Scripture, Acts 16:31, which simply says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved."  He said, "Ed, do you believe that?"
Well, I was brought up in a Christian home and Sunday school, church all the time, but really never trusted the Lord as my own personal Savior.  And so he goes over that a time or two, and he said, "Ed, God who cannot lie, is making you a promise, and He simply says believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the finished work of Christ on the cross for you, and He promises to save you."  And then he would look at me and said, "Do you believe that?"  And I said, "Yes, I believe that," and he said, "But does the Lord save you?"  "No."  Well, he went over it a time or two and there, in the quietness of that little pew there in the church, I trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.
                        So later now, when I'm getting into the story of the actual sinking of the ship, I could really look back and rely on the faith and trust that I had in the Lord to care for me, even there in the water those days.
Dennis:          Yeah, in fact, there's a line in your book, which basically says this – "The same Jesus Christ who became my Savior was now going to be the same Jesus Christ who saved my life."
Ed:                  That's right.  When I actually left the ship, you know, abandoned the ship, I trusted the same Lord to take care of me there as I stepped over the railing and stepped into the water, and brought up in a Christ home and knew some Scripture.  But the Lord brought to mind there as I was about to abandon ship and seeing many of the boys actually jumping on each other in a desperate rush to get off the ship, and I hung onto that rail for a little while, and I prayed and oftentime I say when I give talks is that there's times when you pray, and there's times when you pray, and there is a difference.  And there I prayed that somehow the Lord would see me through what lie ahead, and yet I had the foggiest idea that I'm going to be out there for four-and-a-half days.
                        But here from memory of His Word that he brought to mind – "Peace I give unto you not as the world give unto you, let not your heart to be troubled.  Don't be afraid."  And yet I'm scared to death.  And as I left the ship, then I left with the assurance I felt – God didn't speak to me in any audible form in any way, but just the assurance that I had from repeating His Word back to my heart, I knew that He was going to care for me.
Dennis:          You did end up joining the Marines then, and you boarded the USS Indianapolis in San Francisco.
Ed:                  In San Francisco.
Dennis:          At that point, you had not been to war, you had not been in any battles, but that was soon to change, wasn't it?
Ed:                  That's right.  Of course, to get aboard a large combatant ship like that, you know, that ship, you know, was 610 feet, 8 3/4 inches, and four or five stories high, and that's going to be my home, you know, for a time.  And then after I got aboard, then to see all those big guns that I'm going to have to learn how to fire those things, and I think I say in my book the biggest gun that I'd ever fired was a double-barreled shotgun, and yet here I'm going to be firing five-inch guns and 40 millimeter guns, so I'll be trained to do those things.
                        Then I was at Saipan – actually, I was at Enewetak and Kwajalein Islands there in the Marshalls, then the first, really, combat was at Saipan then at Tinian and at Guam.  The sea battle of the Philippine Seas, that was at Palau, at Iwo Jima, at Okinawa, and later three air strikes on Tokyo and then, lastly, I was Marine guard that guarded the two atomic bomb – components of the bombs that we took over to our B-29 base on the island of Tinian.
Bob:                And you didn't know, when you got on board the Indianapolis in San Francisco Harbor, you didn't know what else was on board with you.  You didn't know that you had …
Ed:                  We did not know.
Bob:                … the two atomic bombs that were going to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Ed:                  We knew it was top-secret cargo.  We understood, even, that the captain of the ship didn't know what we had; that he had been told that what he had, we needed to get it to the forward area – that every hour would save lives, and I was a guard that guarded – or, actually, I was a corporal of the guard, and I stationed guards both on the two places that we had the components of the bomb.
Bob:                San Francisco to Tinian – how long a trip is that in the water?
Ed:                  We made a record speed run.  We traveled those 5,400 or so miles in 10 days.
Bob:                Wow.
Ed:                  So, can you imagine a heavy cruiser traveling, like, 32 miles an hour across the Pacific?  So we made a record speed run to Tinian Island and got rid of our cargo.
Dennis:          And you got rid of the cargo, made the turn, and you were to participate with another ship?
Ed:                  We received orders at CENPAC there in Guam, the Central Pacific Command, to proceed to the Philippines, but we were to – yes, we were to join up with the USS Idaho, I think, three days later, to make a gun re-practice as we went into the Philippines, because the main invasion of Japan was to take place in November of '45.
Dennis:          We're not going to go into the detail that surrounds, really, a great controversy about the USS Indianapolis, because some information was withheld about the enemy being in the waters – enemy subs – and you guys sailed into harm's way without realizing it.  But you were in the process of making your way to join up with the USS Idaho, and it was really an uneventful trip.  You weren't even going all that fast at that point, right?
Ed:                  As I mentioned, we had traveled 32 knots going into Tinian, and then when we received orders then to go on to the Philippines, Captain McVay requested, or they gave him permission to travel only at 17 knots, to slow down, because we had nearly burned the motors up, you know, getting the cargo over.  So we had slowed back to 17 knots going on to the Philippines.
Dennis:          You were one day away from connecting with the USS Idaho, and was it the middle of the night?
Ed:                  Well, we were to have met them the next day in the daytime, but we encountered Commander Hoshimoto at about five minutes after midnight on the night of July 30, 1945.
Bob:                Now, where were you when that happened?  Were you asleep in your bunk?
Ed:                  No, the Indianapolis was a pretty modern ship, but we did not have air-conditioning, and in order to get any sleep at night, you went topside.  So I was on watch 'til 12:00.  At 12:00 I went to my locker, and I got my blanket, and I went topside, and I went up under the barrels of number 1 turret, and I took off my shoes and used kind of the arch of my shoe as a pillow, and I rolled up in my blanket, and it was about five minutes or so after midnight that the first explosion, we took the first torpedo.  And about as long as it would take Commander Hoshimoto to say, "Fire one, fire two," and he fired six, but two of them hit us, and the first one cut the bow of the ship off.  If you could see the picture of the ship, you could see that those barrels on number 1 turret, forward big 8-inch guns, they're about 18 feet long, and I'm sleeping right down on the deck under the barrels of those guns and looking forward of me, maybe 25, 30 feet or so, the bow of the ship is cut off – about 50 feet.  Some said 65 feet, but I don't think it was that much.  I think it was more of a 40 feet or so.  The bow of the ship was cut off, so we became a funnel, then, as we were moving through the water, and then the second explosion then was aft of me, nearly midship and close to the marine compartment, and it made a big gaping hole.
                        And, of course, since we had no air conditioning, we were traveling at a – you might say, at an open condition in that all of our bulkheads down below were open, and they had to be open or else we would suffocate without air conditioning.  So that was a death blow, likewise, because as we were moving forward in the water, all of that water …
Dennis:          It just poured in the front.
Ed:                  It was rushing in, and even before I could get back to my emergency station, which was back at midship, the bow of the ship is already under.  I mean, the deck of the bow of the ship, like, the first 100 yards or so, is already under.
Dennis:          Was there still light on the ship at this point, or had the torpedoes knocked out the electricity.
Ed:                  All the electricity was knocked out.
Dennis:          So you're in the middle of the night …
Ed:                  But we had light in that there was an inferno below decks.  They say that number 2 turret took a hit, and the magazine in number 2 turret had exploded and came through all the way up so that it was just a big fire, a big blaze, coming up through there.  And then most other places below decks forward of midship was an inferno.  And so you get a certain amount of light, you know, from that.
Dennis:          You said when the torpedoes hit, and the boat blew up, blew the front end off, that there was a huge amount of water that went up in the air, and it drenched you and ultimately kept you from burning up?
Ed:                  I think two things – number one, of course, I believe in the providence of God, number one.  I had the blanket around me, and that protected me, no doubt, maybe from much of the blast of the fire at the first explosion, and then all of the water, then, from that first explosion that went up in the air, I don't know I could imagine 50 to 100 feet plus, then all of that coming back down.  Well, I was drenched, you know, with all the water, as it came back down, and that kind of protected me somewhat, I'm sure, from much of the flash burn that many were getting.
Bob:                Ed, when something like that happens, it's disorienting at first.  You're thinking, "Did something explode down in the engine room," you're kind of trying to get your bearings.  How long do you think it was before you realized, "We're under attack, we've been hit," and you caught a sense of what was going on?
Ed:                  I think immediately when we were hit, I wondered, "We aren't firing at anyone," and then just those three explosions, and no one now is firing back at us.  So we had to have either hit a mine or we had to have been hit by a torpedo.  And then realizing nearly immediately that forward part of the ship was cut off, and I could hear the bulkheads breaking down below and they, to me, were a death blow.  You could imagine, you know, with all that water, with the ship still moving 17 knots or so, and the funnel there coming – all of the water coming in, and the bulkheads breaking, you knew that the ship was doomed, and as I began to make my way, then, back to my emergency station, which was back to midship, and there were those that were coming from internally coming out, and that part of the ship, really, was kind of the officers' quarters up there.
Many of those were in the flash burns, and as they came out, literally, flesh was hanging from their face and from their arms, and they were in panic and begging for someone to give them some help.  But, you know, that's not my responsibility, and I have to make my way to my emergency station, which was on the quarterdeck.  And, of course, when I get to the quarterdeck, then, I'm realizing that the ship is already under forward part, and there's no question that it's sinking.  So as word actually came to abandon ship, I had made my way to the port side, and there on the quarterdeck, there's a steel cable, a rail, as we call it, and I got ahold of the rail, and I hung on there and said my prayer, you know, before I actually stepped over the rail and stepped about two big, long steps and jumped into the water feet first.
My kapok jacket then came up over my head.  If you could visualize that the deck of the ship now is listing so that you step over, and you walk down the keel of the ship, walk down the side of ship, and so I could have nearly walked to the water, but I walked down closer to the water, and then jumped in feet first and then began to come up and push that oil back that was on the water and then to try to get my head up above that, and then swam away from the ship about maybe 50 yards, and then we began to congregate, you know, in little groups.  The ship had still been moving, so boys had been getting off maybe for two or three or four minutes.  I actually watched the ship as she went under.
Bob:                Did you think this was it for you?
Ed:                  I wondered, and yet I really felt – and I don't say this in any boasting way of any kind, but I really had the assurance that somehow, some way, that I would make it.
Dennis:          You felt like God …
Ed:                  I felt assurance that – "Don't be afraid, don't be afraid.  I'm with you," and I think when you hear all of my story, you'll see the various times that He came to my assurance that "I'm still with you," all the way through – the different things that happened for the next three days.
Bob:                Yes, and we're going to hear the rest of your story over the next couple of days.  Of course, it is told in the book that you've written called "Out of the Depths," which is a compelling story of God's faithfulness in the midst of remarkable adversity, and I want to encourage our listeners, you can get a copy of the book from us when you contact us here at FamilyLife.  
                        Go to our website at FamilyLife.com.  Down at the bottom of the screen there's a button there that says, "Go."  You click on that button, it will take you right to a page where you can find information about ordering Ed's book.  Again, it's called "Out of the Depths."  We also have our conversation this week with Ed Harrell available on CD.  
                        We also have a book that our friend, Chip Ingram, has written that is a reflection on pivotal chapters from the Psalms where David experienced the same thing that you've talked about, Ed, which is the presence of God in the midst of trial and adversity.  He's written a book called "I Am With You Always."  It's a book that reminds us that the Lord is faithful to hear the cry of our heart; that He is there for us in times of great trial like you experienced. 
                        In fact, any of our listeners who wanted to get your book and Chip's book together, we'd send them the CD that has our conversation with you.  We'd send it along at no additional cost.  Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the "Go" button at the bottom of the screen.  That will take you right to the page where there is more information.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we've got folks on our team who will be happy to let you know how you can have these resources sent to you.
                        You know, speaking of resources, Dennis, one of the most requested resources we've had in our FamilyLife Resource Center this year has been two CDs from a conversation you and I had with Shaunti Feldhahn.  She wrote a book called "For Women Only."  It was based on the research she had done, conversations with more than 1,000 men about the deepest needs and the deepest longing in men's hearts.  And that conversation really resonated with a number of our listeners.  This month we are making that two-CD set available to any of our listeners who would contact us in August to make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
                        It's our way of saying thank you for helping to support this ministry.  We are listener-support, and it's your donations that keep us on the air in this city and in cities all across the country.  So this month, if you can go online to make a donation or call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, just mention that you'd like the CD set for women.  In fact, if you're donating online, when you get to the keycode box just type in "CD," those two letters, and we'll know that you want to have these CDs sent to you.
                        Again, our website is FamilyLife.com or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, and we appreciate you standing with this ministry financially.
                        Well, tomorrow we're going to begin to hear the story of how Ed Harrell and others survived for four days afloat in the Pacific.  I hope our listeners can be back with us for that.
                        I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today. 
                        FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 
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