USS Indianapolis survivor speaks to area cadets

World War II veteran Edgar Harrell’s hearing isn’t what it used to be, but the Marine and USS Indianapolis survivor’s voice can still fill a room.

Surrounded by more than a dozen Utah Military Academy cadets and staff at a lobby inside the Courtyard by Marriott in Salt Lake City, the 93-year-old fielded questions about his military service, the sinking of the Indianapolis, and the nearly five days he spent floating in shark-infested waters.

“It takes a really strong willpower to survive what he survived,” said Matt Throckmorton, executive director for the academy.

Remembered as the greatest disaster in Naval history, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed on its way to the Philippines July 30, 1945, by a Japanese submarine. Of the 1,196 sailors and Marines aboard, only 317 survived. Today the survivors have dwindled to less than 20, with Harrell the last Marine standing.

“I wanted to defend my country, I wanted to be a Marine so I volunteered, they accepted me, I served and I just thank the Lord that yes — I survived,” Harrell said.

A resident of Clarksville, Tenn., Harrell tours the United States and Canada sharing his story of the tragic event as a way to honor the memories of every life lost.

It’s a mission made more meaningful after the ship’s wreckage was located in August more than three miles under the waters of the Philippine Sea. The search was financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Seeing the photos of the severed bow of the ship brought back memories of the day Harrell, then 20, went into the water. But more than anything, when he saw the photographs, Harrell felt relief.

“I just said ‘Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,’ I’m just so glad they found it,” he said.

Harrell spoke to cadets and members of the public Friday night at Ogden Eccles Conference Center, and will speak again Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.