Marine vet promotion to sergeant officially recognized 73 years after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis

Cpl. Edgar Harrell, a Marine vet, finally gets officially promoted to sergeant after a wait of 73 years.

(US Marine Corps)

Good things come to those who wait. And wait. And wait.

In the case of the Cpl. Edgar Harrell, a promotion to sergeant in 1945 it was finally officially 73 years later.

A chance conversation with Captain Scott Montefusco, while both were part of a recent Veteran’s Day Parade in Salt Lake City led to Harrell received, finally, the documents are sergeant rank official, Aug. 9.

Harrell, who is 93, and a Tennessee resident, told Montefusco about his time on the USS Indianapolis — how he would sleep on the lifeboats because the heat under the deck was too intense.

He stopped, slipped out to the lifeboats after his not-recognized promotion because he doesn’t want his new title to be stripped from him, he told Montefusco.

Montefusco, an organizer of the Utah Military History of the Group thought that it is not acceptable to Harrell to continue to go without official recognition of his promotion to sergeant.

I learned how this great man was never recognized for his rank of sergeant. The whole time I continued to sit there thinking that we needed to solve this.

– Captain Scott Montefusco, who led the work to Edgar Harrell the promotion recognized

“When I learned how this great man was never recognized for his rank of sergeant,” Montefusco said. “The whole time I continued to sit there thinking that we needed to solve this problem,” he said. And so he reached out to Sen. Bob Corker office to get help.

Harrell not often speak of “his” or “non-official” rank. He regarded it as “more trouble than it’s worth.”

Instead he has dedicated his life since his days in Indianapolis to speak about the exploits of the men who died when the Japanese torpedoed the ship during the last months of the second world War.

Harrell called swimming aimlessly in the salty water mixed heavily with black oil and blood — with a group of 80 other men who jumped from the fiery USS Indianapolis.

The USS Indianapolis in 1939.

(US Navy)

It was July 30, 1945, and it was 110 degrees. They had no water. Drying out their lips covered with sores, and their tongue is swollen.

By the afternoon of the third day, the group had shrunk to only 17 men. Shark fins that surrounded them. Harrell prayed constantly.

In the end, of the 1,196 men on board, nearly 900 have died. It was the largest loss of life from a single ship in the U.S. Navy, the history.

Cpl. Edgar Harrell.

(US Marine Corps)

Harrell spent months in the hospital recovering from a perforated appendix. He thought about how he was a sergeant on the ship, but it was not officially. Documents have been lost, together with the ship wreck.

But the mourning are unknown milestone was eclipsed by a sense of duty to honor the men on the USS Indianapolis, and to tell their story.

There was no fanfare when the men returned from the Pacific ocean. Soon after President Harry Truman announced that Japan had surrendered.

“I can’t tell the story without reliving what,” he said in an interview with USA Today Network – Tennessee. “I am an old man today, but the good lord is still watching over me. I hope that I have some more time to go, and tell this story.”

The church, where Harrell, the son of David, is a pastor, which was filled with his family and friends to dress up for a special occasion. They had gathered for something that has long: Harrell the official promotion.

“We have a saying that once a Marine, always a Marine. We might be a little late with this,” Maj. Gen. Paul Kennedy said in the short but emotional ceremony. “The Marines are inspired by the heritage of the (Harrell).”

The now-sergeant turned to look at the group that stood and clapped for him.

“Remain faithful,” he said simply touching on his faith that he credits to have saved him at sea.

His “little” brother, Bill Harrell, who towers over Edgar Harrell small frame, made his way to the front and hugged his brother.

“I’m so proud of you,” he whispered. He was just as proud as he felt when he saw that his brother back decades ago.

Then just 8 years old, the younger Harrell sat with their father and mother as they listened to the radio news report that the Indianapolis was sunk.

Soon after, they received a telegram that his brother was missing.

I can’t tell the story without reliving it somewhat. I am an old man today, but the good lord is still watching over me. I hope that I have some more time to go, and tell this story.

– Kpl. Edgar Harrell on his mission to pay tribute to the men of the USS Indianapolis who were killed

“We were glued to the radio for the day to hear what had happened with Edgar. When we eventually discovered he had survived, it was unbelievable,” Bill Harrell told the newspaper USA Today Network – Tennessee.

“To go and see him standing here with this recognition is beyond words.”

Harrell has written a book about his terrifying first-hand account of the Indianapolis. He shared his story with anyone who asks, still his promise to remember those who have died.

He was a celebrity, a kind of last year, when the ship wreck was finally located, after seven years of searching.

He answered as many calls and e-mails that he could of those who wanted to hear about what had happened. His calendar is filled with stops in cities such as Knoxville, Indianapolis and New Orleans.

And in what Kennedy described as the “fastest piece of legislation to be signed,” Harrell the honorary promotion is approved.

“I felt a sense of satisfaction to see this happen,” Montefusco said. “(Harrell) has dedicated his life, so that future generations do not forget about this tragedy.”

Harrell called his promotion a “double honor” and something he didn’t realize it was in the works until he was asked Monday if he might be available.

“I’m just glad and to see this run, I am very honored. It is an honor for me to live and tell of the tragedy that all of them 880 boys had to experience the freedom that is America today,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Llorente is a Senior Reporter for and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.


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