'I just thank the Lord that yes – I survived,' Veteran tells cadets

Saturday , November 11, 2017 - 4:00 AM

SARAH WELLIVER/Standard-Examiner

World War II Marine veteran Edgar Harrell answers questions about his service Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in a meeting area at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Salt Lake City. Harrell was among the 317 survivors of the USS Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser that was sunk in 1945 during World War II. “There’s only seventeen of us now I believe,” Harrell said.

SARAH WELLIVER, Standard-Examiner Staff

 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 Marine aboard, only 317 survived. Today that number has dwindled to less than 20 with Harrell the last Marine standing.

RELATED: Researchers find wreckage of WWII-era USS Indianapolis

“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 today at 7 p.m. at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.