WWII veteran shares how he survived the worst US naval disaster in history

Edgar Harrell shares his story of how he survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the dangers that followed. (Thomas Gray/WCYB)

Horror turning into hope is the story people at Sinking Creek Baptist Church in Elizabethton heard Sunday from a 93-year-old World War II veteran.

Former Marine Corporal Edgar Harrell told how he survived the sinking of the battleship USS Indianapolis in 1945 and then was rescued after five days of swimming in shark infested waters.

"The first one that hit us, may I say, it cut the bow of the ship off," Harrell said, referring to the first of two Japanese torpedoes to strike the ship.

"If you can imagine hearing an echo: Abandon ship; abandon ship; abandon ship; abandon ship," Harrell said, describing

He described what he did before jumping overboard.

"I prayed. I poured my heart out to the lord. I told him, 'I don't want to die.'"

He survived five days swimming in the Pacific, with sharks surrounding him and his comrades.

"Can you imagine your feeling?” Harrell asked the audience. “There's a big shark out there, and they circle the group, and it isn't long until maybe someone is a straggler out there, and you hear a blood curdling scream."

Harrell and his fellow survivors were rescued after a US bomber spotted them. Of the nearly 1200 men aboard the Indianapolis, only 300 survived.

The congregation was clearly moved by his story.

"I'm so glad I got to come today and hear Mr. Harrell's story firsthand about God's providence," churchgoer Mike Taylor said.

"It's so special to see people who have served and are serving, still in uniform,” Senior Pastor Jayson Hoagland said. “We need to do everything we can to make sure that they are always appreciated."

Harrell said it took him a long time to heal from his experience.

"I had a struggle for years after I got out of service," Harrell said.

He added that it is important for veterans to share their stories.

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