How I Survived the 1945 Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

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It’s indeed an honor to come before such a wonderful group of men. And, I guess I could just ask a question. How many of you know a survivor of the Indianapolis? Anyone? Yeah, a few of you. Okay. As was announced, I’m the last Marine. There were 39 of we Marines aboard, only nine survived, and I’m the last Marine still living. There were 1197 aboard, and some 300 that went down with the ship. Only 317 survived, and of those 317 there are maybe 11 total, including me. Now, then, I have to take you back a long ways back. I’m a Kentuckian, Western Kentucky, and hearing Walter Winchell on our little Silvertone radio, tells me that something terrible is happening in the Pacific, and I tell my dad, I’m already registered for the draft but it wasn’t time to call me up.  And, I go to the draft board and I asked that they call me up. I wanted to get in the Marines, I thought. I ended up in San Diego in the Marine Corps, and from there, then, after a period of time in boot camp, for some reason they said, “Private Harrell, you’ve been selected to go to sea school.” I needed the schooling and sea school meant that I would be seagoing.

So, I go up to San Francisco and there is the big USS Indianapolis, and that’s going to be my home for the duration of the war. And soon after going aboard, we were at Kwajale, Eniwetok…I was at Saipan, at Tinian, at Guam, sea battles of the Philippine seas for task force 58 of which we were a part of. We shot down 403 Japanese aircraft that day. Then I was down at Peleliu, I was at Iwo Jima, three hour strikes on Tokyo. And lastly, I’ll tell you about my last encounter.

It had to do with the fact that we were busy doing so many, many things. And, at Okinawa, we had received a kamikaze plane and we were repairing there for the 27th Army and the six Marines to land there. And, I had a brother right next to me that was in the 27th Army. I didn’t know him there at the time, but I recall that we were in Japan’s front door, back door, too. And, everything that they had, they were throwing at us. Suicide, suicide. And I, even today, I can hear that boatsman blow the whistle and telling us that, “Emergency condition in the anti-aircraft battery.” And, I think they said was 11 or 12 seconds later, that plane hit, and one bomb went all the way through the ship, went through the mess hall, went through the water distillery plant, and the bottom of the ship, a big hole. We had to come back to the States for repair, and after repair on July the 16th, 1945, we noticed out on the dock there at the Hunter’s Point, San Francisco, all kinds of Marine brass and Navy brass.  And, we wondered, what in the world is happening? Well, a big transport pulls up and our crane reaches over and picks up a big, big crate. They picked that up and set it on the quarter deck and my Marine captain said, “Corporal Harrell, follow that into the port hanger deck and station a guard.” “Captain Parks, what are we guarding?” He said, “We don’t know.” And, he didn’t know, but a momentary later, there were a couple of proposed to be Air Force officers that came aboard, and as they came aboard, they had a little canister, a metal cage in a wire cage with a padlock on it.

And, we thought, Air Force officers, what are they doing? And, again, I happened to be the Corporal of the guard at the time and Captain Parks said, “Take them up to a certain quarters.” Our ship was a flagship of Admiral Spruance, but the flag was not aboard, so there was vacancies there. So, we take those two gentlemen up with that little, ever want they had, we had the foggiest idea, who they were or what they had. But momentary later as we were taking them up and take them in a little room there, a couple of sailors came and one of them had a blow torch or a welding torch. The other one had a long strap of metal and they step in and they spot welded that piece of metal over that, whatever that was. And it was not going to get away. Now then, to get ahead of the story, they were not Air Force officers. They were scientists from Los Alamos, New Mexico. And, what they had was half of the uranium that America owned at that time. The other half was in San Francisco, aboard a B-29, waiting for us to arrive with half of it. And, what was in that big crate was the components of Little Boy, the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima just a few days later. Okay. From there, now we make our trip to Tinian island. That’s only 5,300 miles. Would you believe we made that in a heavy cruiser in 10 days? Yes. And we arrived and unloaded that, backed up just a little bit to Guam and Captain McVay then was asking for his sighting orders. And, we pretty much knew since our ship was the flagship of Admiral Spruance that the main invasion of Japan really would take place in November of 45. We would land two million troops on Japan. It would be an invasion. Britain would join us with about a million. Okay, now, here we are. We are in Guam now waiting for word to deliver us then to the Philippines and Captain McVay asked for his sailing orders. And, they tell him, “Yeah, sure, to go to the Philippines.” He asked for an escort. They tell him, “You don’t need an escort.” But they were not telling him the truth. They could have said, you need an escort. Because four days ago we lost the Underhill Destroyer. We lost 129 boys. They don’t tell him that. They tell him you don’t need an escort. And, they could have said, you need an escort because we broke the Japanese code. We know that the Taiman group of submarines are somewhere out in those waters. They don’t tell him that, but they send us out unescorted.

Now, we head out then from Guam to the Philippines. It was on July 26th that we had delivered the cargo. And now, two days later, we have orders to go to the Philippines. And so, here we set sail. But soon after setting sail on the night of July the 29th, about 14 minutes past midnight, Commander Hashimoto was out there in that submarine. And, he knew that sooner or later someone would travel that route, petty, and so all he had to do is go and wait with his little periscope sticking up. He was not on the surface, but he knew that someone would travel that route sooner or later. And that happened to be the route we were traveling. And so, about 14 minutes past midnight that night, he has his periscope up.

He picks us up, no escorts. He wondered, “There has to be someone else with that ship,” but we obliged him when we came along. He had six torpedoes loaded and he had what they call a Kaiten, which is a torpedo device motorized that two men would be in and they would go and travel and do whatever they’re going to do. Two were in one, two wanted to get in another one, but the commander Hashimoto said, “We’ve got two good targets and once we fire you, we can’t take you back.” So, about 14 minutes past midnight, he had a good target standby. Fire! Fire! Fire! He fired six, two of which hit the Indianapolis. Now then, I had gotten off watch at 12 o’clock that night and we had been traveling earlier, you know, some 32 knots or as fast as that ship would go.

But, now, we’ve slowed down; we are going a different direction and so on. And, Captain McVay says, “It’s 110 degrees out and no air conditioning aboard Indianapolis, and so, you have permission to come topside and make you a pallet right out on the open deck.” And so, when I got off of watch, then I go down the Marine compartment and I get my blanket. Now I have on my dungarees and I go all the way forward. And the night before, I had slept on the top of number one turret, little life-raft up there. And I had a Marine buddy, Munson from Texas. He and I, we slept in that little raft, but something happened on the 29th, our top sergeant came to three of we corporals and tells us, you were just promoted to sergeant today.

Well, 14 minutes past midnight though, something else has happened, and word had not gotten off the ship that we had made sergeant. And,  so, now then, we wondered many, many things, but the first torpedo cut the bow of the ship off. And, I could wish that we had the big pictures so you could see, because I, after it cut the bow of the ship off if you can imagine a torpedo cutting, maybe 30 something feet of the ship off. And, the second one was back under number two turret, and it set the magazine off in that, and then, many, many, many explosions. But, you look at PBS, they found, you know, the Indianapolis and they called me and said, “Sergeant Harrell, we found it, we found it. We found it”

And I said, “Tell me, tell me about it. And, what do you want to know? I said, “Where was the bow of the ship?”They said, “Why do you ask that?” I said, “I have told in my books for these last nearly 10 years, if and when you find that you are going to find that bow of that ship was cut off and they couldn’t believe that that could have happened and me to have lived to tell the story.” But they found the bow of the ship a mile from the ship. It’s three and a half mile down in the Philippines seas.

Okay, now then from there.  I’m aboard the ship and that ship has been hit; explosions everywhere. The only thing, electrical power is completely knocked out. The only lights that we have is the infernos, whatever that might be exploding below or something burning from what has happened. And so, I know that I’ve got an emergency station, as always, to go to in case of emergency. And so, I began to take inventory and I’m all together. I’m singed quite a bit, but I had made me a pallet under the barrels of the number one turret. And, I was in my dungarees and I had gone below deck and had my blanket and I spread my blanket over my shoe, covered my head with that. And, that’s where I am when the bow of the ship was cut off, and all of that water just flooded me nearly at the same time. All of that firepower is going up and I know that I’ve got to make my way to the emergency station, which is back mid-ship. And as I started back, there were those who were coming out of the forward area and at that particular place, was kind of like an officer’s quarters. And, as they were coming out, you could see they are in their night skivvies and they were flash burned, or maybe they had, in coming out, they had cut, put their hand against the hot bulkhead and left the skin of the hand on the bulkhead. And so, they are coming out and they’re pleading for someone to give them some assistance. Well, really, that’s not my responsibility, really nothing in the world that I could have done and did do. And, I know that I’ve got to make my way back mid-ship, which is what we call the quarter deck and receive orders as to what I’m to do. Because even now we don’t know whether we are under attack and we are going to be firing back at something out there or what. But as I make my way back to the quarter-deck,  I realize I don’t have a life jacket. My life jacket is down in my locker and no way am I going down there because by now, I could imagine at least with that bow off, maybe 30 feet and three decks deep.

You can imagine, and those screws push, push, pushing. We’re moving all of that water coming in down below. You could feel, and nearly hear the bulkheads breaking but I’m making my way to my emergency station. I get back to the quarter deck and my Marine lieutenant there and I ask Lieutenant to offer permission to cut down a new supply of kapok life-jackets. And he said, “Not until we get word to abandon ship.” The ship is sinking. In fact, the first hundred yards to the ship on the starboard side is already under. And when I’m on the quarter-deck now, normally the quarter deck would be eight feet above waterline but there’s water on the quarter deck. And so, we are desperate for word to come to abandon ship. And we could just wish and pray again that the good captain would give word to abandon ship.

He had sent someone below deck to take inventory to see if the ship was salvageable, but that person never came back to the surface. And so, finally, word, just like an echo of someone over here saying, “Abandon ship.” You hear him, and you hear him, and that’s the way the word was coming down, “Abandon ship.”  And so, I’m on the quarter-deck, I saw a Navy commander, he came through the hatch, and I could tell that he was flash-burned, and he was in difficulty and someone said, “Get the commander a life jacket!” So, they begin to cut those down and I managed to reach in and get in an old kapok life jacket and I fastened it on, but I know that momentarily, I’m going to be leaving the ship or the ship is gonna leave me.

And, so finally word now has trickled down to abandon ship and everyone is rushing there to the port side to grab a hold of that rail, looking out into eternity, looking out at that half-inch of black oil all on the water. And, we’re going to go into that, yes! And, to get a hold of that rail though, and boys going over you and around you, and may I say, there’s times when you pray, and there’s times when you pray! And there’s a difference! As I held on to that rail, I’m praying and may I say, I knew to Whom I was praying and I knew that He was answering me. And, as I prayed, I tell Him, “I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die.” I believed really, truly, I believed this is the end of life. And, as I’m praying, would you believe that there’s a voice speaking to me? Not audibly, not something that you would hear, but I’m hearing something. I’m praying, and I’m telling the Lord, I made Him more promises than I have ever lived up to. And, He reminds me of those promises even today. But I’m praying and I’m honest and I’m sincere. And so, I tell Him, mom and dad, back home, older brother, younger, two sisters, six younger brothers, and I’m praying, and, as maybe just as a Sunday schoolboy, I hear, I hear this; ‘I’ll never leave you nor forsake you. I’ll never leave you or forsake you. Peace I give unto you, not as the world gives unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled. Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid.’ And I’m praying and I knew, I knew beyond any shadow of doubt that somehow the Lord was speaking to me and He has never, never let me forget those moments.

I’m making him promises and I tell Him also, “I want to live.” There’s a certain brunette back there that said that she would wait for me and, to get ahead of my story, and she waited. After I finally got out, I had got home, I’m a wreck but she was still waiting. We were married in 1947 and she went to be with the Lord just this past July. July; back March 6th. Okay. After 71 years, she went to be with the Lord, and one of these days, and may not be too long, then I’ll go and see her, too. likewise.

Now, then, here we are, here we are and I’m making promises and most everyone is going around me and I know that that ship is doomed. I could see that half-inch of oil and yes, I’m going to go into that. But now, the keel of the ship is the level of the deck nearly and I make two long steps down and I jumped into the water feet first. My kapok came up over my head and then I’m trying to get away from the ship. Everyone, you know, tells you, get away from a ship like that or it’ll pull you under. I’m getting away from it and to see that bow now already under, I see that fantail coming high up there, and from down here, there’s a little bit of light from explosions and far up there, but boys up there are jumping off. Those four screws are still turning. Some actually jumped into that and I remembered being told, get away from a ship when it’s sinking. You can’t get away. You are trying. And I saw the ship now as it was going under. And what I saw was something that, if you could imagine, the bow of that ship is off, it’s 200 yards long, all the decks on top are sealed, and it’s full of water. It goes under, what’s coming out of the fantail? Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, much, much, much air bubbles, not pulling me under. And yet, I’m seeing that, but I’m trying to get away from the ship and then swim out. Then finally to the first buddies out there, and as I got into a little group out there, you know, most of them are like me, had on a kapok jacket. Some had a Mae West jacket, which were no good to have in emergencies, and some did not have a life jacket, some were injured, and we took inventory, and there’s roughly 80 of us. I wanted to know if any Marines found two Marines. The first one I found was a new boy that had come aboard at Pearl, or at Guam.

So, he was completely new. He tried to tell me who he was, but he was nearly beyond even talking. He was all broken up and he basically died in my arms within the next hour. I found another Marine by the name of Spooner. And, Spooner was in my squad and I have to say that I was a squad leader and the good captain had called me aside and said, “Corporal Harrell, we got a new guy coming aboard, a little earlier now before we set sail, and Ed Spooner and he’s been Shanghaied out of three different outfits and he’s trouble, trouble, trouble. But, if you can’t handle him as a squad leader, we’ll get someone that can.” So that tells me I’ve got duties to perform. And so, Spooner and I had many conversations I treated him as I would want to be treated and made friends with him.

Now, my buddy Spooner was with me now, but he’d gone into that water headfirst and you can imagine what you look like if you dove into a half-inch of that black oil, and that was all over his face. Mine too. But, if you try to rub that out, you know what you’re gonna do, you’re gonna irritate your eyes. And if you look up at that sun and you’ve got saltwater on you, you rub that salt in your eyes. My buddy Spooner now, even the first day, he was so he couldn’t see. And, well, that’s a long, long story. But anyway, we go into that first day, we’ve got many, many boys that are injured. But we had company. At any given time, you could look out at a distance, you could see a big black fin out there. And in fairness to them, they were not attacking us, but you just let some straggler get out by himself, thrashing around in the water.

And then all of a sudden, you’d hear a blood-curdling scream and you’d look and that body is gone. Momentarily, maybe it’d come back to the surface. Other sharks come in and you dare not go out and do checks to see who your buddy might have been.  But when you do check him, you’ll find out that maybe the bottom torso is gone, or he’s disemboweled. Now, that’s going to happen many, many, many, many, many times. Okay. So, we have company there that day, but it’s 110 degrees, and you’re struggling in an old kapok jacket trying to keep your head above water. And, my buddy Spooner now is having so much problems and he tells me, “Harrell, I can’t take it anymore. I’m gonna put myself out of this misery.” And, I said, “Spooner, you’re not going to do any such thing, well, what are you going to do?” He said, “Harrell, I’ll dive down so far, I’ll drown before I’ll come back up.” And so, I have to turn his back to me, and I fastened his kapok jacket on mine and I swam with him through that night and made him make some vows to me the next day before I would let him go.

Okay, we come to the second day. Now, it’s 110 degrees. You’re swimming, you’re struggling. You’re not just in a kapok jacket floating out there and, you’re thirsty. Have you really ever been thirsty? Really? Have you been so thirsty that your tongue now is swollen in your mouth and your lips are parched open, as full of oil, and that black oil and saltwater, and your lips are all cracked and you can hardly even talk because of your tongue now is so swollen? Okay, let’s go through that first day. We’re in misery, we’re struggling, we’re losing boys just every a little bit. We go through, then the night is before the day. So, we go through the second night and then the second day; the second day,  all of a sudden, you know, as you often do here. And, I see, I’m in Alabama, you see a little rain cloud and you see it’s rainy. Look, look, it’s raining. And then that little rain cloud comes over and what do you do? I’ll tell you what you will do if you’re thirsty. You open up that mouth, you’ll take those greasy hands and you’ll funnel some of that water and you’ll get a few tablespoons full, maybe, of water and you’re so thankful for that and it goes down, but it isn’t long till it’s got to come out and it comes out, and may I say, for nearly five days, that’s all the water that I had.

Okay, let’s go through that second day. Now, we’re losing boys just every little bit. And those kapok jackets, when they get waterlogged, you know, they still have some buoyancy, but not enough to really keep your head above. You’ve got to be swimming. You’re not just floating out there in an old kapok jacket. So, the third day at noon, I can hear this one old Texan, even today I can hear him. There’s only 17 of us, 17. And he says, man, we’ve got to pray. We see our B-29s flying over at 30,000 feet bombing Tokyo, but no one’s looking for us. We’ve got to pray, or we aren’t gonna make it. And, he said, “I’ve got a son back home I’ve never seen.” And, may I say, and he never ever got to see his son.

Okay, now we’re struggling. We’re struggling with just an old kapok jacket. So, what are you gonna do? That’s all you’ve got. You take it off and you put it down under, you sit in it, it has the same buoyancy, the only thing, it’s a little down under your buttocks, and now, you’ve got to keep, keep swimming or else it will pitch you in the water; you don’t have the strength to get that back down under you. So, there’s 17 of us, and we are struggling. We’re seated in our old kapok jackets. And then, we came up on a swell and, and we saw something out there at a distance and that, we could yell at them, they back at us, and it wasn’t long until we see what appeared to be a little raft.

And, after a period of time, it got closer to us and we to it, and we are eager to find out what and who. And so, they came into our group and as they got close, we could see five sailors around a so-called raft. What was on the raft; no sailors on the raft, but what was on the raft was what we needed. And that was a kapok life jacket. I often speak to groups and have ladies and I say to the ladies, “You know, that old sponge won’t hold any more water, but if you squeeze it out, it’ll hold a lot more water. And they, those five sailors said those kapok jackets, we took off of boys that have already expired, and we’ve squeezed them out. And, they’re on that little raft and that 110 degrees sun hitting that, they’re drier than what you’re wearing. And so, they invited us to take off our kapok jackets and put them down on that little raft. They wanted to know anyone, go with us. We’ve got to get closer to the Philippines. And we didn’t know it was another 500 miles. But when you see yourself in that condition and what’s happening, I say to my buddy, “Spooner, Spooner, I’m going to go with them.” And he said, “Harrell, if you go, I’m going with you.” Two Marines joined five sailors, and we think we’re going to push that little raft to the Philippines to find; 15 sailors said, “You’re crazy.” And I said, “Yes, but there was 80 of us and now there was only 15.”

Spooner and I joined them, and we set sail. May I say, 15 sailors that didn’t go with us – not a one survived.  No. And so, here we are, making our way with that little makeshift of a raft, and we know that the Philippines is someplace out there and it’s maybe 500 miles long. So, if we go where the sun is going down, you know, the southern cross out there, we’ve got some markers out there that kind of give us some direction, but nighttime comes, and when night comes, before night came later that afternoon, they say to me, “Hey Marine, you get right up on that front corner and you keep us going, west, west, west. “So we are, we’re going someplace and we don’t know how much distance we are covering, but, at least we think we’re going toward the West. And then sometime later that afternoon, we came up on a swell and I saw something out there and I said, “Look, look, there’s something out there.”

Okay, we’re up and it’s down. But finally, I could see that there’s some debris out there and there was something saying, “Go and see what that might be.” And, I tell them, I’m going to go and check it. Yeah, a shark could get you, but no, they haven’t been around us. And so, I make my way out. And, I got within maybe, oh, six or eight feet of that old potato crate, and I saw those potatoes in there. I reached in and I got that first, I call it first Irish potato. And as I got a hold of it, it was rotten. So I’m squeezing that and as I squeezed it, it was solid on the inside. And take that potato and peel it with your hands and then peel it with your teeth and spit out the rock-solid on the inside. That’s all the food and water that I had for four and a half days plus.

Now, then, okay, we are stranded, and we’ve had a little picnic with half-rotten potatoes. And, we think that we’re making headway going someplace there in the west. And then sometime later then that night we hear voices, and may I say this honestly, there’s times when you can see and hear things that don’t exist. Yes, believe me, you can. But we heard voices and it isn’t long until we’re hollering at them and day at us and it’s dark, dark, dark, and here are Navy Lieutenant Charles McKissick from Texas, who I knew aboard ship. Here I am a corporal and I’m the captain’s orderly, and McKissick with a tag corporal. He’d give me a message and I’m to go and to repeat that maybe to the captain or whomever and I’m new aboard, you know. Even though I’d been aboard a good while, I don’t know all the nomenclature of the orders and he’d have me to repeat what he tells me, and sometimes he would have me repeat it a couple or three times before I could take that message and deliver it.

I didn’t know the nomenclature of something unidentified and moving in a certain direction at a certain speed and all those things. And that’s McKissick and one sailor. Now, just the three. Where’s Spooner? I don’t know where Spooner is. I’m not with the raft. I tied Spooner onto that raft. I knew he couldn’t get off, but things quieted down that night, and the next morning, now I’m with one sailor and McKissick and so, we are struggling. We see planes at 30,000 feet; no one’s looking for us, but we are desperate. We know that we can’t endure much longer and then, all of a sudden, look, look, look, look, look! There’s a plane and there was a plane. And what would you do? Yes, you’d do like I was doing, you’d do your best to get his attention. Okay. He’s only four or 5,000 feet up there.

He’s gonna fly over you. Yes. But what’s happening up there? Let me tell you what’s happening now. This is factual now and it’s providential too, in that we’re waving and that Ventura twin-engine plane with wheels, here he is up there. He’s flying, say, at that height, he’s looking out his peripheral vision, two and a half-mile each side, four miles ahead. He’s looking at 20 square miles, and to see a man’s hand down there, six by eight inches, impossible. Impossible! But would you believe he saw, yes, he saw here, let me take you back up. Lieutenant Gwinn flying that plane,  realizing that he had to get up 7,000 feet or so before he could reach back to Palau because he was having problems with that radio antenna trailing behind that aircraft; the stabilizer on that had come off and it was just flipping back and forth. And, he said to the copilot, “Go and take over control. I’m going to go and I’m going to pull in that antenna and put something on it or we can’t call back base.” But as he goes and opens the Bombay door, just looking down at the water down there, some, a few thousand feet maybe. What did he see?

I spoke to the hundredth anniversary of the Boy Scouts out in Spokane, 5,300 scouts. I said, “You know what he saw? He saw your little mirror.” And, he rushes back to take over control. And what did he see? A flash down there. To him, that meant there’s a Jap sub out there someplace and he rushes back to take over control and tells them, load the bombs, load the bombs; down here, we see him coming in. But he’s coming in with his bombs loaded. Yes. And as he got much, much lower, what did he see?

He said he could see boys scattered as far as his eyes would take him. Maybe, he said possibly, later, he flew over, he said you’ve probably were scattered 20 miles and he could see some boys on the float or net. He could see a shark, shark, sharks. And, I can see him today. Believe me, I can see him! As he came down over, McKissick and myself, he’s low enough, I can see, I can see, I can see his face and he’s saying, I see you. I don’t know who you are. And then he goes back up and he has to go back up 5,000 feet or so before his antenna would reach back Palau. He got in touch with Adrian Marks, a PBY pilot, and Marx tells him that I’m already getting fueled up, ready to go out on a search and destroy, but it’ll take me an hour and a half or so to get there. And, he’s coming on the scene, but Gwinn has to leave because he’s running out of fuel. Marks, as he comes in, he passes over the ship, little ship destroyer and tells Commander Kleiter, the captain of that, “What is ahead up there? Who are they?” “We don’t know.” But Marks says, “I’ll be there in a little bit.” And so, he comes on the scene and maybe he said, yes, you were scattered over 20 miles. Most of you were stragglers and there was a few floater nets with some boys on it. Two or three life rafts with one or two boys maybe in it. And so, here he’s coming in and he asked permission to do a oh no. And that would be to set a PBY down in the open sea with the six to eight-foot swells.

And they tell him, “No way,” but he, talking with his crew, they say, “We have to land. Look!” And they could see more sharks than boys. And believe me, they broke the rules and they disobeyed orders and they set that big goose down. And, as they set it down, you talked about putting a plane in a stall. Thank you. I’m getting a signal of where I am and where I am to quit. All right. There’s something that I have to read regarding these, these two gentlemen that spotted me. Marks set that plane down. He ran the swells, he picked up McKissick and I didn’t know it, but finally, they picked me up and who was aboard the plane but Spooner. He had been left tied onto that raft. And, then now here I’m aboard the plane and they’re going to do whatever they’re gonna do with me. And the destroyer is coming in, I’ll be transferred aboard that, and then they’ll give me a diesel fuel bath and wash all of that oil off. But when they do, any place that any cold had rubbed you in that jacket, it’s infected and it’s really infected, and so, I’m just rotten all over. And, then I’m bleeding, bleeding, bleeding when they washed me with that diesel fuel wash. And, then they wrap me in Vaseline gauze and okay.

Now then, as you can see that, I survived that too, but I want to read you just one thing. The possibility that Lieutenant Gwinn could be flying there and could spot us and could come in and get information to reach back and Palau to tell Marks that those boys out there, don’t know who they are. But Marks comes in, and he sets that big goose down, and here, he’s picked up some of us. We’re transferred aboard the Doyle and we were taken to Palau. I’m in the hospital in Palau, bring me back to the hospital in Guam. And, a hospital in Guam, I see our good Admiral Spruance there, pin the Purple Heart on me and another gentleman there. Seating on a kind of a cot or something, and he said, “Hey, Marine,  when did you found out what that cargo was that you were transporting?” I said, “We don’t know.” He said, “You know, today August 6th, Hiroshima, August 9th, Nagasaki, August the 12th, the Japs aboard the Missouri, the war is over.”

Now then, I’ll just, a quote here that I have that I always like to read because of a Lieutenant Gwinn and Adrian Marks.

“What were the chances that Wilbur Gwinn would fly a course which would take him directly over you, and what were the chances that his radio antenna would break while he was out on this mission? What was the chances that he would open his Bombay doors and look straight down momentarily? And what were the chances that he would look straight down on one of you? You didn’t have a chance in a million. I know that most of you prayed a lot. Yes, yes, and I know that some of you feel that it made a difference. Wilbur Gwinn is a wonderful man and a fine pilot. He never said that he heard a voice speak to him, but was there an unseen hand up on his shoulder? Did he find you by pure chance? The odds against it are one in a million. Nay, one in a billion, but somehow, he was chosen as the instrument that would overcome these impossible astronomical odds. Wilbur Gwinn looked down at a split second that would become one of the great moments of history. I, as well as you, am proud to know him as a friend. Any sensible person knows that no one can swim for four and a half days and yet, you did. For 40 years, I have reflected upon the blind courage and the unbelievable greatness of spirit that I saw when each survivor was brought aboard my airplane and I have been compelled by the evidence of my own eyes to believe in miracles.”

And yes, may I say, and yes, I, today, and all these years believe in the providence of God. The only reason that this 94-year-old Marine is here even today. Thank you so much. Thank you so much.


Want to hear more about Ed Harrell’s heroic experience? Pick up his book Out of the Depths here.


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