published Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Survivor of USS Indianapolis ship sinking keeps story alive

by Andrew Pantazi
The USS Indianapolis was sunk in July 1945.
The USS Indianapolis was sunk in July 1945.

Sixty-six years later, Clarksville, Tenn., resident Ed Harrell and East Ridge resident Kayo Erwin Sr. still have the same flashbacks.

After returning from World War II, when former Marine Cpl. Harrell would drive his '37 Ford to railroad tracks and hear a train coming, his wife would have to calm him.

Former sailor Erwin would wake from a nightmare. Not wanting to disturb his wife, he'd sneak out of bed until he could relax and return.

Before speaking to a group of seniors at Ooltewah Baptist Church this week, Harrell made himself relive the night of July 30, 1945, when the USS Indianapolis sank. He recalled sleeping on a gun turret because, even at midnight, the heat, combined with the ship's lack of air conditioning or ventilation, made it unbearable to sleep in the decks below.

He relived how, 12 minutes after the Japanese torpedoes ripped open the cruiser, only 900 men out of the about 1,200 on board made it off the ship.

He recalled how some survivors went delirious from drinking seawater, some killing others by mistaking them for Japanese soldiers. He pictured again how men were eaten by sharks in front of him in what has been called the worst shark attack ever.

Harrell told the church group what it was like to be surrounded by floating bodies.

"There are times when you pray, and," Harrell said, raising his voice, "there are times when you pray. And there is a difference."

Of the 900 men who went in the water, only 316 survived. Now, Harrell said, only 49 of the survivors are left.

"Most of us are at that 87, 86 [year] mark," he said, "and we're living on borrowed time."

When Harrell finished talking, Erwin walked up to him to shake his hand before they departed. "Take it easy," Erwin said. "It's good to see you."

"It's good to see you, too," Harrell said. "I'll see you again in July [at the USS Indianapolis reunion]."

Harrell allows himself to relive the night because he says it's his job to make sure people know what happened to the men on the USS Indianapolis. So far, the 86-year-old has spoken in 27 states about that night. He and his son published a book, "Out of the Depths," about the sinking. And he maintains a website at with maps, photos and the names of the men on the ship.

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about Andrew Pantazi...

Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...

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