Character, someone said, is what you do when no one is looking. Edgar Harrell and the survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis exhibited selflessness and courage as they faced the long, dark nights and incredible days in the pacific ocean. Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis is an amazing story that left me near tears when I closed the last page.
The forward is written by Lt. Col. Oliver North. His definition of heroism is:
“…a person who has wittingly put himself in grave physical jeopardy for the benefit of another. Heroes are people who overcome evil by doing good at great personal risk. Through self-sacrifice, fortitude, and action, whether they succeed or fail, heroes provide a moral and ethical framework–and inspiration–for the rest of us.” What North explained in this chapter was how our re-definition of heroism is not the true definition. It is not, “the athlete who just set a new sports record,” “Nor the ‘daring’ movie star or even the adventurer out to be the first solo climber to scale Mount Everest. They may be brave–but they don’t meet the definition of hero, for whatever they achieve benefits only themselves.” (emphasis mine).
The survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis were afloat at seat with just debris or flotation devices for five days. Nine hundred, oil-soaked survivors of a torpedo attack during World War II were in the shark-infested waters, and at the end of five days, only 317 were still alive. Hypothermia, shark attacks, dehydration, and many other maladies thinned out their number. Edgar recounts those five terrifying days in morbid detail, but what rose above the terror was Edgar’s faith in a God greater than death. He kept his comrades, to the best of his ability, close, keeping them encouraged. Some tried to commit suicide, but Edgar tried to keep them from giving up. He writes of amazing peace that he found from the moment he went into the water. This is what North described as heroism.
Edgar and his men could have done a hundred things more self-serving, and yet through the five days, they tried to keep each other alive. When they were rescued and had to sit in a rescue plane while the rescue plane waited for help, many of the men, including Edgar, remained honest about their water rations so that their fellow soldiers might get their rations before the water supply ran out. In this culture, I’m not sure people would do that anymore. It seems like our everyday decisions are me-focused, for our comfort only, even if it means we lie about it. In that instance, I believe we justify a small lie to satisfy an intense desire for something or to do something. In the case of Edgar and the surviving men, severe dehydration and illness did not stop them from making sure other soldiers got first serving.
Edgar demonstrated how courage is a mindset. It’s something you put on every morning, like a coat or a shirt. In this case, Edgar read scripture. That scripture kept him strong during those horrific five days. The mindset of courage before disaster strikes is shown in Edgar’s behavior in the sea. It helped him make the right decisions under pressure. Every good moral compass needs a scriptural foundation in which to point north from. I gave this book five stars because it almost made me cry.
Buy here: Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis
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