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Remembering the Worst Naval Disaster In American History—A Story Featured in the Movie "Jaws"

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 27, 2023 3:03 am

Remembering the Worst Naval Disaster In American History—A Story Featured in the Movie "Jaws"

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 27, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Robert Shaw's "Quint" told the world about what happened to the USS Indianapolis in the hit movie "Jaws." The late Edgar Harrell, the last surviving Marine from the downed ship, tells the real-life story of that fateful day. It's a story you won't soon forget.

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So grab your headphones, raise your tray table, and relax with iHeartRadio and Southwest Airlines. And we continue with our Memorial Day special here on Our American Stories. Up next, the story of America's worst naval disaster. It took a movie about a shark terrorizing a small New England town in the summer of 1975 for millions of Americans to discover the story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. It was the night scene in Jaws in the cabin of the Orca as the intrepid shark hunters used some much needed downtime to drink some booze and swap some fish stories. It's a scene anyone not living under a rock for the past half century has seen, and it's worth sharing before telling the rest of the story of that fateful day back in late July of 1945. In the cabin sharing those fish stories was the town cop played by Roy Scheider, the New Age shark hunter played by Richard Dreyfuss, and the old school sea captain named Quint played by Robert Shaw. The scene begins with some laughs, but when Quint tells the guys he'd been a crew member of the USS Indianapolis, everything turned somber. He proceeded to tell the boys one of the most brutal fish stories of all time.

Here's Robert Shaw. I was a teenager when I saw that scene, and I was not unfamiliar with the costs of war. My mother's only brother volunteered to join the army in 1944. He never came home.

He was buried in a grave site in Saint Laurent, France. The next day I went to my local library and started reading up. Remarkably, the scene was accurate in almost all aspects. It turns out the U.S. Indianapolis was no stranger to adversity. The ship, commissioned in 1930, was struck by a kamikaze attack during the Battle of Okinawa. The ship was sent back to California for an overhaul and was soon at sea again, this time on a top-secret mission transporting critical components of the atomic bomb to Tinian Island, 1,500 miles from Japan. The uranium on the ship was nearly half of the total U.S. supply. The crew was unaware of the nature of the cargo or its intended use, but the commanding officers knew something urgent was happening. They were under direct orders from President Truman that the ship was not to be diverted from its mission for any reason. What was on that ship?

Well, a week later the world would know the answer. The Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on a city that was until then pretty much unknown, Hiroshima. After completing its mission, the Indianapolis headed back to sea. Shortly after midnight on July 30th, halfway between Guam and Leyte Gulf, a Japanese sub blasted the unescorted Indianapolis, sparking an explosion that split the ship and caused it to sink in 12 minutes with 300 men trapped inside.

The 900 crew members not trapped in the wreckage found themselves in the water. One of those men, a real-life quint, was Corporal Edgar Harrell, a 20-year-old Marine. He and the surviving seamen were left out in the Pacific in the sweltering summer heat with nothing but a small capon life jacket to keep them afloat.

Here is Harrell at Stanley Heights Baptist Church not long after he wrote his memoir, Out of the Depth, talking about that first day lost at sea. The next morning, the first day, we had company. When I say we had company, at any given time you could see a big fin cutting around and around. There were about 80 of us, and you can imagine the fright from that.

We had trouble staying together. So we said, you know, hook your jacket on to the next person in this form of circling and try to keep everyone in. And when we'd go up on a swel, then you'd kind of drift together.

But it isn't long until someone begins to hallucinate. Maybe he's been injured, and he can see in his mind, he can see an oasis out there. I had one to swim up to me. Hey, Marine, see that island over there? I just came from there. Captain Parks, Lieutenant Stauffer's over there.

They're having a picnic. I want you to come over there. Come and join them. I knew better, but nearly convincing. And then I'd just see him swim away then to his imagination and hear a blood curdling scream and see that kapok go under. And then momentarily, a kapok would bring the body back to the surface. But you dared not to go and check who your buddy is because you could see all kinds of fins coming to the blood.

And you steered clear completely. But sometime later, maybe you took the dog tag off of that whomever that was. And in checking him, you find out the bottom torso is gone or he's disemboweled. Harold then told the story about the second day lost at sea and about his Marine buddy Spooner. Spooner said to me, he said, Harold, we don't know who word got off the ship.

No one's looking for us. And Spooner said, I can't take this anymore. He said, I'm I'm going to commit suicide. Spooner, you're not.

How are you going to do it? He said, I'm going to swim down so far. I'll drown before I come back up. I said, Spooner, there's only two Marines in this group and there's going to be two Marines when the help comes and help will come. By day three, only 17 of the original 80 men in Harold's group remained alive. Here is Harold about that third day.

Things were looking grim. About one o'clock there that third day, we heard voices. Now, may I say from experience, there are times when you can hear something that's not there. There's times when you can see something out there that's not there.

Believe me. Third day at noon, 17 of us and we are praying. Everyone that would pray audibly would pray.

Some of us knew to whom we were praying. I remember this one sailor. God, if you're out there, I don't want to die.

I've got a son back home I've never seen. We were desperate. The next day, day four, while on a routine patrol in his PV-1 Ventura, Lieutenant Chuck Wynne spotted Harold and his fellow seamen and Marines floating adrift in the Pacific and immediately dropped a life raft and radio transmitter. Soon, all air and surface rescue units were dispatched to the scene.

Of the 1196 crew members on board the Indianapolis, only 316 survived. News of the tragedy wasn't released until August 15th, V-J Day. Questions remain about why the rescue took so long. Some argue that no distress signal was sent. Others argue that it was fear that the messages were originated by the Japanese in an attempt to ambush rescue ships. Others still that communications lag because of the top secret status of the ship's mission.

The answer is still unclear. One thing is certain. The sinking of the Indianapolis was not just the worst naval disaster in American history. It was the worst mass shark attack in world history. And that's no fish tale.

Farrell's autobiography can be found in On the website is a piece of scripture from Psalms he thought was worth sharing and is worth ending this story with. Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.

Harold died on May 8th, 2021, in Murray, Kentucky, at the age of 96. He was the last surviving Marine from the USS Indianapolis. Corporal Edgar Harrell's story, the crew members of the Indianapolis's story, the story of so many seamen lost at sea and in battle.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-27 04:17:47 / 2023-05-27 04:22:11 / 4

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