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Survivor of USS Indianapolis to speak at APSU

9/14/2011

Edgar Harrell. Photo contributed.

A Clarksville resident who survived the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis in July 1945 will speak extensively about the tragedy he endured at sea during an appearance next month at Austin Peay State University.

Edgar Harrell will tell about the sinking of the heavy cruiser, the largest casualty at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy, at 5 p.m., Friday, Oct. 21 in the Morgan University Center Ballroom. His talk, sponsored by the Student Veterans Organization at APSU, is free and open to the public.

The USS Indianapolis sank on July 30, 1945, after two torpedoes had ripped through the ship. A total of 1,197 people were aboard the ship; 880 of them did not survive the sinking, which lasted 12 minutes. Only 317 survived the four and one-half days in the shark-infested waters.

Harrell abandoned the ship with only a Kapok life jacket, swimming almost constantly for the next four and a-half days. It was estimated that some 900 men got off the ship, but many of them were injured from the explosion and fire and therefore did not survive in the water.

Of the 80 men in the group that Harrell was in, some 40 did not make it through the second day, and there were only 17 the third day.

The Indianapolis had just made a record speed run from San Francisco to a U.S. base on the island of Tinian in the Marianas. The cargo aboard was the components of the atomic bomb, which was to be dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Harrell’s son, Dave Harrell, wrote a book, titled “Out of the Depths,” on the sinking of the Indianapolis and the Navy cover-up that led to the bizarre court-martial and eventual exoneration of its captain.

After serving in the Marines, Edgar Harrell owned and operated the Pella Window Co., in Rock Island, Ill., for 35 years until his retirement in 1985. During the years 1970 to 1985, he served on the board of trustees of the Moody Bible Institute, in Chicago, Ill., and has been a popular Bible teacher and lay minister throughout his adult life. He currently resides in Clarksville with his wife Ola. They have two children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. -- Melony Shemberger