Years ago Ed Harrell and a number of other sailors were pulled from the Pacific. They had survived four-and-a-half days afloat after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. It's four days that, as you might imagine, Ed Harrell has never been able to forget.
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Out of the Depths
Day 4 of 4
Guest: Ed Harrell
From the Series: Ducks on the Pond: Rescued at Last
Bob: Sixty years ago this week, Ed Harrell and a number of other sailors were pulled from the Pacific. They had survived four-and-a-half days afloat after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. It's four days that, as you might imagine, Ed Harrell has never been able to forget.
Ed: I have not had nightmares. I've had many times that I've awakened and have a vivid scene of the happenings, and yet I think my counteraction to that is "Thank you, Lord, for sparing my life and for bringing me through all of this."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 4th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll hear how God spared Ed Harrell's life today, and we'll hear a remarkable story about a rescue in the middle of the Pacific.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, Hollywood has told some tales of castaways left on a desert island, folks surviving in the middle of nowhere, and I've seen some of those movies, and you watch them, and they're interesting. They have never come close to telling the story that we've heard this week.
Dennis: No, I agree, Bob. Ed Harrell has been with us all this week and has told a story, a compelling story of how God enabled him to survive an ordeal at sea after being a crew member on the USS Indianapolis, which was sunk on the night of July 30, 1945, by a Japanese submarine, and, Ed, I want to thank you again for your service as a veteran, but also for writing this book and for taking us there and giving us a greater appreciation not just for veterans and what they've done to protect our freedom as Americans but also for taking us there and showing us what tough-minded faith in Almighty God looks like. Because time and time again you've taken us to vivid scenes where you've been at a fork in the road where you've had to trust God, and you'd been at sea for four days in a life jacket. You'd only had a few tablespoons of water. You had some rotten potatoes that had come after you'd prayed for some food; been separated from your buddies, and on the fourth day you are virtually alone.
Ed: No question. Even with my buddy at the time and, in fact, there were three of us at the tail end there that fourth day and the one then dropped his head in the water, and he's gone, and then it's just McKissock and myself. And my mind, by now, is beginning to fail me somewhat in that – McKissock, I know, would say to me, "Hey, Marine, you ever been to the Philippines?" And, "No, I've never been there." Well, he had, and he promised to kind of take me under his wing when we got there.
And yet I knew him. I knew who he was. I'd served under him, and he was a peach of a guy, and yet, to me, he was Uncle Edwin, and I called him Uncle Edwin. I had an uncle two years older than me. I guess I was thinking of the good times in my mind with someone back home, and yet McKissock was Uncle Edwin to me.
And then it was sometime then that afternoon, you know, we had seen the planes, heard them at 30,000 feet, and I say to McKissock, "I hear a plane." And he said, "I hear one, too," and if you can imagine somewhat that you hear a plane, and you know that it's somewhere coming closer, and yet you don't know which direction it is. And we began to look all around and, finally, we could detect that it's coming from that direction.
Dennis: Was it coming toward you?
Ed: It was coming toward us, and it was flying about 8,000 feet and, well, what do you do? I tell you what you do. You scream, you splash water, you make all kinds of contortions there in the water, hoping and praying that he can see you. But here he is flying over us, and had he come any further, he would have gone over us, but when he got, like a quarter of a mile or so out here, flying at 8,000 feet, he headed it straight down toward us as if he knew we were there. But he didn't know we were there – impossible for him to see us. If we'd had on deer-hunter orange, and he knew we were there, he could not have seen us.
In fact, the pilot that later picked us up, he said the possibility of him seeing you would be the equivalent of taking the cross-section of a human hair and looking at the end of that human hair at 20 feet. He said impossible for him to see us.
Dennis: So why did he go into the dive?
Ed: Why did he go into the dive – that's the miracle of the angel coming for us, and that is the end of the fourth day. Well, I've talked to Lieutenant Guinn [ph] at different times, and …
Bob: He was the pilot?
Ed: He was the pilot, and he was flying out of Pulau, and he was flying a land-based plane, something like a B-20, a twin-engine plane, and as he was flying, he had left out that morning, and he had a problem with his antenna that kind of trails at the back of that aircraft. And the stabilizer on that antenna had come off, and they had put something on, and he went out and tried it, and it didn't work. They came back in, and then they put something on, and here they go again.
So as he is flying over us, and here, as I mentioned, here he's coming just at a point that he could nearly dive right down to us, at that point he had gone back to the bomb bay door, and he'd opened the bomb bay door, and he was reeling in the antenna, and while he had that bomb bay door open, he looks down at a split-second there in the late afternoon of the fourth day, when the sun was setting on us late in the afternoon, and he saw the little mirror, so to speak, of the sun hitting on the oil on our clothing, and when he saw that, he thought it was a submarine down there.
So immediately he rushes back to take over the controls, and the boys in the aircraft, they yelled back at him, with all that noise, you know, with the motors still revving up, you know, "What is it? What is it?" And he said, "Look down there." And they looked down, and they could see the oil slick. Well, my story is this – that we see him coming, and as if God had planned it for us, you know, here, when he gets to about a quarter of a mile from us, he heads down, and he comes down, and he circles us. And as he circles us, then he tilts his wings a few times, you know, and then he leaves us. He goes back up, and he circles us again up here.
And we wondered, "Well, what in the world is he doing up there?" Well, he can't land on the water, we knew that, but what he did, he came down, and he saw that there was someone down here. He goes up, and he breaks radio silence to declare, "ducks on the pond." He didn't know whether we were Japanese or American boys, but he broke radio silence to declare ducks on the pond. And then he comes back down, then, and he circles us again. He tilts his wings a time or two to give us assurance, you know, that we know you're there. We don't know who you are, but we know you're there.
And then he drops a life raft in, and in the meantime, then, he has radioed back into Pulau, and the next pilot, then, gets into a PBY that could land in the water, and Adrian March [ph], then, he's on his way, you know, to come and to pick us up. And sometime later, then, he arrives, and in the meantime the raft that Guinn had dropped – I know, my friend McKissock, had made his way to the raft. Then he's leaving it, and I wonder what's wrong. And I get to the raft then, and it was bottom side up. I try to get it turned over, managed to get it halfway turned over, but the CO2 on it was torn off, so I couldn't inflate it – no food, no water, no nothing – kind of a torn place in it, so it wouldn't even hold me just to stand on that, so to speak, hole in that pile of rubber.
In the meantime, then McKissock had gotten far enough away from me that the PBY landed and had picked him up, and then I wondered, well, will he tell them that there's a Marine out there with him? Well, he did, but it was a period of time that the plane seemingly – I couldn't see it, but he was running the swells – they were, like, 20-foot swells, and he'd run the swells back and forth trying to make his way over to me, and it took a period of time for him to run those to where he could get across, because if he had turned those props into the water, it would have flipped his plane. And he pulled a no-no when he landed. It was against all regulations for him to land his plane in the open sea, and yet he did, because as he landed he said he could see more sharks than he saw boys. And we were scattered over, like, a 75-mile area, and he took reconnaissance of that and could see that there are boys in life rafts, there are boys on floater nets, and there are stragglers. Then he actually saw shark attack on several boys, and he was determined that he was going to land, and he cleared it with the rest of the crew. They all voted somewhat that they could take the punishment, but we've got to land.
So they landed then and then finally then they came over me and through out a little life ring and picked me up. I recall that as they got me out of the water, I blacked out or nearly blacked out. I had no control over myself, and then they got me aboard the plane, then, and they would take me like a sack of feed and set the guy here, and the next guy just stack him against him, and they kept stacking us in there, and then finally it wouldn't hold anymore, and there were still some boys, stragglers out there, and it was getting dusk dark, and they picked up all that they could, all that they could find, and they actually fashioned them out on the wings, and then finally then sometime later in the night, the seas calmed down after night somewhat, and they shut off the motors, and we sat there and waiting until 12 or 1:00 or so in the morning when the little destroyer, Doyle, came in, and they picked us up.
When I got aboard the plane, after a moment to board the plane, then I could look across at a Marine, and I could see that it was a blond-haired guy. I could see he had the eyeballs that were just big red sores, and I knew it was Spooner, and I saw what he was doing. He had a can of green beans, and he was feeling down on the deck of the ship, and he finally found a stud bolt or something down there, and he took that can of green beans, and he kept hacking away until he knocked a hole in the can of green beans and then he was turning that juice up and drinking it. I recall saying to him, "Hey, Marine, how about some of your bean juice?"
Well, you'd have to know Spooner, but he kind of told me where I could go, and …
Dennis: This is the guy that you saved his life by grabbing him by the life jackets on day 2, right?
Ed: Yes. Then I said to him, "Spooner, you don't know who this is. This is Harrell." Well, I didn't have to say any more. He just kind of fell across the plane there toward me and kind of spilled some of his bean juice as he shared that with me.
I was transferred, then, aboard the Doyle, and sometime that night, 1:00 or so that night.
Dennis: Ed, when he lunged across the floor of that plane to give you the bean juice, was that kind of an emotional – I can't even imagine. I mean, he's alive, you're alive, it's what you'd said two days earlier. You said, "You and I are going to get out of here."
Ed: It was emotional for me as much as, I'm sure, for him – just to see that he made it, you know, because I didn't know anytime that fourth day – I knew not where Spooner might be. And then to be able to see him there and see that he was alive, and I recognized him as soon as I looked across the plane and saw those eyes, I knew it was Spooner.
Bob: When you first heard that plane, when it started to dive and was tilting its wings at you, you thought, "We're going to be rescued?"
Bob: I would think you'd just weep.
Ed: Well, you know, there's times when you weep, and there's times when you weep for joy. I look back on this, and when I look at the – well, the first day that I had every assurance that somehow, some way, the Lord is going to see me through. I felt that from the very moment that I went into the water. And then the second day, when He provided the water for me …
Bob: … the rain shower …
Ed: … you know, you have to just say "Thank you, Lord, I know that you are speaking to my heart and that somehow, some way, you're going to see me through." And then on the third day, then, when the little raft came into the group, and you know that your life jacket no longer is holding your head out of the water, and now you have a spare life jacket that He provided for you, and you have to thank Him again. And then sometime, then, the third afternoon, likewise, when you're starving still for water and for some food, and then for Him to provide half-rotten potatoes, you know, I have to thank, you know, He's still with me.
And as I look back on that, you know, I think of the water of life. You know, if you drink of this water, you're going to thirst again. If you drink of that salt water, you're not going to make it at all. But if you drink of the water that I give you, you'll never thirst again. And then the bread of life, the potatoes that I had – and then when I get to the last day, the plane that came in, well, you know, it's like the Lord says, "Let not your hearts be troubled. If you believe in God believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you, and since I go to prepare a place for you, I'm going to come again, and I'll receive you unto myself that where I am there you may be also."
And so here He's coming, for me, at that time, He came for me in the person of Lieutenant Guinn as he came. So I look back on the whole experience, and I think I have to say that it's a wonderful experience to have lived through, and I just praise and thank the Lord all the time for His mercy and and for His grace – unworthy as I am and yet He saw fit to spare my life through this ordeal.
Bob: You know, you mentioned that it was two years before you shared anything with your father. We got a letter – you may remember this, Dennis, from a woman whose husband had passed on, and she said it wasn't until the last years of his life, some – almost 50 years after the battle had occurred – that she knew he'd been on Iwo Jima. They'd gone their whole married life; she had never known that he was in that battle until near the end of his life.
And I thought to myself as I read that, it was another way that he was protecting and defending by not sharing his story, and yet she wrote, and she said, "Knowing that sure explained some of the nights when he would wake up in terror." Have you had that experience? Have you had the nightmares and the terror of remembering some of that?
Ed: I have not had nightmares. I have had, many times that I've awakened and have a vivid scene of the happenings, and yet I think my counteraction to that is that "Thank you, Lord, for sparing my life and for bringing me through all of this," and I think maybe – I like to look at it, say that the Lord reminds me even today of those incidents. And as He reminds me of those, then they help to strengthen my faith and my resolve to live a life for him today.
Dennis: You mentioned that pilot ended up finding 56 survivors on that fourth day.
Dennis: In total, there were 317 survivors. How did the rest of them all get picked up?
Ed: Well, as soon as they picked us up and found out that it was the Indianapolis, then all word went out. They broke radio silence everywhere, and any ship within a couple of hundred miles or so; that is, a destroyer or something that could move fast, they came to the scene. And when the USS Doyle, the ship that picked me up, when it got closer and closer, what did he do, Commander Claytor, he turned on his powerful spotlights up on the under part of the clouds, and you can imagine what that did to that whole area. It was just like a mushroom with lights underneath the clouds. And for the boys that were out there, they knew that rescue was there, and that gave them the hope that they needed. And some of those had to go through another night. It would be dangerous, you know, as dark as it was, to try to take some kind of a craft out there and maneuver around without hitting someone. But that gave them hope through the night until the next morning.
Now, I was picked up aboard the Doyle off the PBY. I know, as they took me aboard, there was a couple of sailors that there's no qualms about them getting dirty or anything, and, of course, we were grease monkeys, really, with all that oil and all on us. And I recall that they took my arms and put them around their neck, and they drug my feet, and they took me down below deck, and then they began to – they stripped off my clothing, and then they began to take something like a diesel fuel or kerosene, and they began to wash that oil off of me. And then they had to be so careful with all of the saltwater ulcers that I had, and then they put me in – a Marine being put in Navy skivvies. So they put their Navy underwear on me, and then …
Bob: You were okay with that, at that point?
Ed: I was okay. In fact, may I just say that I met the guy, after 57 years, I met the guy aboard the Doyle that actually cleaned me up, and he took me, then, to his bunk and gave me his bed, and then the corpsmen then came, and they had a cup of sugared water, warm sugared water, and they gave me a couple of tablespoons full or so of warm sugared water to kind of rehydrate me, I guess.
Bob: Did it taste pretty good?
Ed: It tasted wonderful, it tasted wonderful.
Bob: Sixty years after this happened, how many of the survivors are still alive?
Ed: A week or so ago, I got a report. I think there was 97 of us still alive.
Ed: Spooner's gone. There's five of we Marines. Nine of we marines survived out of – there were 39 of us aboard, and nine of us survived, and of the nine there are five of us still living today.
Bob: How about McKissock?
Ed: No, McKissock's gone. And, by the way, McKissock was not a believer at the time, and McKissock told me later, he said, "Harrell, I went home, and I got to look at all that the Lord had brought me through there," and he said, "I was a churchgoer. I went to church all the time, but I was really not a believer." And he said, "Finally, I just had to get down on my knees and thank the Lord and tell Him that I trusted Him as my Savior because I know that He had a purpose for my life." And he became a real Christian friend of mine as long as he lived. He passed away four years ago, maybe.
Dennis: Well, Ed, wow. I'm exhausted from treading water here with you. But I have to say, what a great story. What a great story of faith and redemption, God's providential care, and how you have faithfully given Him the credit and the honor for doing that. I'm grateful for your book and just pray that God will give you many great years of health and many more great-grandchildren, and I appreciate you being with us here on FamilyLife Today.
Ed: Thank you so much, my delight, my pleasure to be with you.
Bob: And, you know, if any of our listeners this week have missed portions of this story, we've got our interview with Ed available on CD. In fact, it's on two CDs, and we've been able to include on the CDs material that we weren't able to fit on the radio because of time constraints.
We also have the book that you've written, Ed, which is called "Out of the Depths." It tells the story of the sinking of the Indianapolis and of your rescue along with the rescue of the other sailors and Marines who were in the water 60 years ago this week. Go to our website at FamilyLife.com if you're interested in getting a copy of Ed's book or the CDs of our discussion.
At the bottom of your screen when you're on our website, FamilyLife.com, you'll see a little button that says "Go." Click on that button, and it will take you to a page where there is more information on Ed's book, on other resources that we're recommending this week. You can order online at FamilyLife.com, if you'd like, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and someone on our team can answer any questions you might have about these resources, or you can order over the phone as well.
1-800-FLTODAY is the number. The website, again, is FamilyLife.com, and let me encourage you, especially if you weren't able to hear the complete story, to contact us and get a copy of the book and the CDs as well.
And then let me also ask you consider this month making a donation to FamilyLife Today. We're a listener-supported program. Your donations are what keep us on the air. We are asking folks if, during the month of August, you could make a donation to help with our financial needs. We'd like to send you a thank you gift. A few months ago we had Shaunti Feldhahn in our studios, and we visited with her on a book that she's written called "For Women Only." It's based on research that she has done with more than 1,000 men all across the country asking them about what they need most from their wives.
This month we're going to make those available to you as a thank you gift when you make a donation of any amount to FamilyLife Today. You can donate online at FamilyLife.com or you can call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY to make your donation. When you do, be sure to request the CDs for women, or if you're online, when the keycode box comes up, type in the two letters "CD," and we'll know that you'd like to have the Shaunti Feldhahn CDs sent to you. And let me say thanks in advance for your support of this ministry. It is much needed, and it is appreciated.
Well, tomorrow we're going to talk about some very profound theological ideas that even a three-year-old can begin to catch onto. We'll explain what we mean tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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