A 93-year-old retired Marine encouraged students who are preparing to serve as United States military chaplains with his story of deliverance from a shipwreck during World War II, November 13 at Southern Seminary.
At the event, hosted by the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization, Edgar Harrell told the group about his experience surviving the shipwreck of heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis, which is considered one of the worst disasters in U.S. naval history. Of the 1,196 men aboard the Indianapolis, only 317 were saved. While the odds of his survival seemed insurmountable, “nothing is impossible with the providence of God,” Harrell said.
After World War II started, Harrell volunteered for the Marine Corps and went to sea school, where he learned that he would be on the U.S.S. Indianapolis for the duration of the war. While on a secret mission in the Pacific in July 1945, a Japanese submarine attacked them in the middle of the night. When put in a life-threatening situation, Harrell said, “there are times when you pray, and there are times when you pray.”
As the ship sank and the marines and sailors were stranded in the sea, they all formed a circle to float together. The wounded were bleeding into the water, when sharks began attacking the ship. If a soldier wasn’t eaten by a shark, he suffered from saltwater poisoning, Harrell said. The water was 85 degrees and the soldiers were covered in oil.
They were suffering from severe sunburns and heat stroke, and even their tongues swelled. On the fourth day, in the middle of the ocean, Harrell saw some debris floating among the 8-foot-tall waves. When he swam up to it, he saw it was a crate of rotten potatoes. In his desperation, he ate them, and his fellow survivors followed suit. The soldiers were weak and tired. Many of them drowned simply because they couldn’t swim any longer.
The day they were rescued, the survivors saw a plane. Many had given up hope of someone in a plane seeing them. The pilot had already passed over them, and the survivors began to fall deeper into despair. When the pilot opened his window to fix something on his aircraft, he saw a reflection from one of the mirrors of the survivors. Through God’s providence, Harrell said, they were saved.
Bevin Center Director Jim Stitzinger said Night of Valor served to encourage, honor, and equip students training to be chaplains.
“Southern Seminary is honored to train many current and former soldiers for ministry and prepare a new generation of chaplains ready to enlist,” Stitzinger said. “As they are equipped in the classroom, events like Night of Valor exist to encourage and honor both the student and soldiers and their families. These students have counted the cost of giving their lives for our freedom, and now, as they give themselves to the work of the ministry, the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization is privileged to support them.”
Harrell wrote a book on his experience called Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. More than 120 guests attended the event, and more than 65 attended via live stream. For more on the Bevin Center, visit missions.sbts.edu.