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'Out of the Depths': WWII veteran, survivor of sinking of USS Indianapolis hopes his story will inspire faith in God

By Erica Palmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, May 26 2014 12:25 a.m. MDT

By the fourth day, it was just him and one other man for as far as he could see. He said their life jackets had lost most of their buoyancy, and they were sitting on them and paddling to keep afloat.

Late that afternoon, they saw a low-flying plane. The pilot was having some problems with the antenna and happened to open the plane door to fix it just as he was flying over the wreck. From 4,000 feet up, the pilot saw the massive oil spill in the water.

"By the providence of God, he saw the oil slick," Harrell said. He said the pilot flew lower and saw dozens of sharks among the floating men and debris as far as he could see.

Harrell remembers the feelings of immense joy and gratitude he felt when he knew he was being rescued.

"Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord," he said, recalling that day. "I was so delighted."

Harrell was finally reunited with his family after the long journey home and months in the hospital. He married the brunette and started a business, but he didn't share the details of his experience with anyone. He said it hurt too much.

However, after 9/11, his son prompted him to write his story and share it with the world. Harrell is one of the 36 of the 317 survivors of the USS Indianapolis still alive today and the only one to write a book about his experience.

His book also discusses the controversy over the ship's captain, Charles Butler McVey III. After the incident, McVey was court-martialed and held responsible for the sinking of the ship for "failing to zig-zag" to avoid enemy ships.

Harrell said he believes McVey was unjustly blamed for the tragedy. Decades after his death, McVey was acquitted.

Harrell said although it was hard, he has forgiven those responsible for the tragedy.

"It's hard to forgive, but I have forgiven," he said. "It doesn't help to feel offended."

He said Capt. Hashimoto's daughter and granddaughter came to the most recent reunion for USS Indianapolis survivors, which are held every year.

Harrell said he embraced the 6-year-old granddaughter and was able to come to terms with her mother, the captain's daughter.

"I told her, 'I want you to know that I love you and I hope that we can build from this day forward,’ ” he said.

He hopes his story can inspire people to have more faith in God and greater respect for U.S. servicemen.

"So many people around the country do not have the proper respect for those who have gone and given their lives and who are in our service today," he said. "Freedom costs. And it cost 880 of my shipmates."

He asks that people offer gratitude and encouragement to servicemen whenever they can.

"I walk around the grocery store and see a serviceman, and I give him a thumbs up," he said.

In addition to his book efforts, Harrell goes around the country and gives speeches to share his story. He said he has received feedback from many people telling him how his story has influenced them for the better.

"That has been a ministry, even for me," he said. "I've strived to live for him since that day."

Email: epalmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: erica_palmer

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