Edgar Harrell, 93, was finally promoted to sergeant 73 years after he was supposed to pin on the rank because his ship, the USS Indianapolis, sank in 1945, CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Cpl. Edgar Harrell floated in the shark-infested Pacific Ocean for four-and-a-half days.
He swam aimlessly in the salt water — mixed heavily with black oil and blood — with a group of 80 other men who had jumped off the fiery USS Indianapolis after it has been torpedoed by the Japanese during the closing months of World War II.
It was July 30, 1945, and it was 110 degrees. They had no water. Dehydration left their lips covered with sores and their tongues swollen.
By the afternoon of the third day, the group dwindled to just 17 men. Shark fins and the torsos of those they had killed surrounded them. One would scream each time as they were pulled under, just for unrecognizable parts to bob back to the surface.
Ultimately, Harrell was among the only 317 of the 1,196 men on board to survive, making the incident the single largest loss of life from a single ship in the U.S. Navy’s history.
But there was no fanfare when the men returned from the Pacific as the U.S. government kept quiet about the Indianapolis until Aug. 15 in order to guarantee that the tragedy would be overshadowed by President Harry Truman’s announcement that Japan had surrendered .
Harrell spent months in the hospital recovering from a perforated appendix. He thought of how he had been promoted to sergeant on the ship, but it hadn’t been official. Documents were lost, along with the ship’s wreckage. He hadn’t been awarded the three chevrons indicating his new rank.
Harrell, now 93 and living in Clarksville, sat inside Calvary Bible Church in Joelton on Thursday and thought of those men once again.
“I can’t tell the story without reliving it somewhat,” he said in an interview with USA Today Network – Tennessee. “I’m an old man today, but the good Lord is still watching over me. I hope I have some more time to go and tell this story.”
The church, where Harrell’s son, David, is a pastor, was filled with his family and friends dressed for a special occasion. They had gathered for something that’s been long overdue: Harrell’s official promotion.
"We have a saying that once a Marine, always a Marine. We might be a little late with this one," Maj. Gen. Paul Kennedy said in the quick but emotional ceremony. "The Marines have been inspired by the legacy of (Harrell)."
And in a moment not too soon, the three chevrons were at last pinned to Harrell’s jacket. The now sergeant turned to look at the group who stood and clapped for him. Play Video
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