‘A great patriot’: Last surviving Marine of USS Indianapolis sinking, Edgar Harrell, dies

Edgar Harrell, the last surviving Marine of the USS Indianapolis, died Saturday at the age of 96.

"Ed was beloved among the group, and traveled the world sharing the story of his ship and shipmates," an organization dedicated to preserving the ship’s legacy said on Facebook. "He joined the crew as a sea-going marine in 1944, meaning he was one of the best of the best."

The group also said Harrell helped guard various components of the atomic bomb and was hailed as a hero among his shipmates.  

"He was just a wonderful father, a godly man and a great patriot," his son, David Harrell, told FOX Television Stations Saturday.

Harrell’s death came days after James Smith, another survivor, who died on May 5.

The ship, with 1,195 personnel aboard, delivered enriched uranium and other parts of the atomic bomb "Little Boy" that was later dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.

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Four days after delivering its top-secret cargo, the ship was sunk by Japanese torpedoes on July 30, 1945. Of nearly 900 men who went into the Philippine Sea, just 316 survived before being rescued nearly five days later. The death toll of 879 was the largest single disaster at sea in U.S. Navy history.

Survivors were stranded in the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water, enduring severe burns, dehydration and shark attacks.

"He didn’t talk about it a whole lot until he got older, and I got older," David said of his father.

David said his father suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder having survived the attack. However, over time, Edgar shared the horrors of being lost at sea with his son. The men chronicled Edgar’s ordeal in a book titled, "Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis."

"He never wanted to get around the ocean again. He would never watch any movie like Jaws or anything like that because it brought back too many memories," he said. "He suffered a lot from nightmares."

Last year, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest honor, to the eight surviving crew members during a virtual ceremony remembering the 75th anniversary of the sinking. The Gold Medal was dedicated to the ship’s entire crew, living and dead, and is displayed at the Indiana War Memorial Museum in Indianapolis.

"In an instant, her crew went from fighting the battles without to fighting the battles within,″ said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Retired Navy Capt. William Toti, who led a nuclear submarine named in honor of the Indianapolis, said the Gold Medal honors the crew’s accomplishments — not the fact that the ship was sunk.

The medal "recognizes a fighting ship’s crew, one that helped end the most terrible war this world has ever known,″ Toti said. He called the crew members "among the best the United States Navy has to offer.″

The organization said with the passing of Harrell, there are five remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.