Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: Out of the Depths by Edgar Harrell

Sometimes, we forget the horrors of war. We forget that the veterans we rightly praise as heroes went through hell, time and time again.

This is certainly true for Edgar Harrell, a U.S. Marine who survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in late July 1945. Together with his son, David Harrell, Edgar relates his unbelievable story in Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

Much has been written about the USS Indianapolis as one of the worst naval disasters in U.S. history, but Edgar's story truly brings the human element to life. When the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, Edgar was sleeping on the deck of the ship. The blasts instantly woke him and before long, he, along with hundreds of other men, had to abandon the sinking ship.

What followed in the next four days could only be the stuff of nightmares. Plagued by unbearable thirst, the sun's harsh rays, and hypothermia, many men went delirious or saw hallucinations and swam away to their deaths. Others succumbed to their need for water and drank the poisonous salt water, resulting in their tormenting deaths. Shark attacks, lack of fresh water and food, dehydration, injuries, and utter exhaustion took many others.

With vivid imagery, Edgar describes the heartbreaking ordeal of watching his comrades die, of trying to keep his fellow friend and Marine, Miles Spooner, alive, of his determination to survive. Throughout it all, his faith in God kept him going, and others, as well. It was this unshakable faith that enabled him to never give up hope.

Rescue finally came, a miracle in itself,  and Edgar and his fellow survivors began the arduous journey of recovering from their experience. 317 out of 900 men survived. Unfortunately, the secrecy and deception surrounding the incident haunted them for years afterwards, and it would be decades before the truth was finally told.

This is an intimate, highly readable story. In fact, it would be quite easy to imagine Edgar telling you his tale while sitting across from you at a table in your local coffee shop. His is a gentle voice, one that can move you to tears of happiness or tears of pain. Yet over and over, the one striking element of his story is his overwhelming gratitude to the Lord for sparing him and for allowing him to share his faith with his shipmates.  It's this faith that sustained him through his ordeal, and this faith that has enabled him to live a full life blessed with a loving wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Though the memories of this nightmare still remain (he has never again stepped foot in the ocean), Edgar has found peace.

A highly readable, well-written personal account, Out of the Depths is as inspiring as it is informative.

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