One of the last survivors from the USS Indianapolis has died at 94. Many considered the WWII vet a hero, and he previously earned a Congressional Gold Medal. Adolfo Ulvaldo “Harpo” Celaya” died this past Thursday on Thanksgiving.
Celaya had the distinction of being one of the few remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis. The warship sank during World War II. Two Japanese torpedos struck the ship while in the waters of the Philippine Sea. The sinking happened toward the end of the war. Many consider it to be the worse naval disaster in history.
Celaya was a Mexican-American hailing from Florence, Arizona. He joined the Navy and entered the war when he was just 17. It was just last year that Celaya earned the Congressional Gold Medal. It’s a distinction reserved for just a few and proud. Other recipients throughout history include George Washington, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa.
Celaya was one of 1,200 sailors on board the Indianapolis when it sank. The sailor survived in open water for a total of five days and nights.
USS Indianopolis Remembered by WWII Vets
The USS Indianapolis sank on the evening of July 30, 1945. It was sailing to the Philippines returning from a top-secret mission regarding the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. But a Japanese submarine spotted the sea vessel and hit it directly with two torpedo blasts.
Nearly a quarter of the crew went down with the ship in the resulting chaos. As a result, 900 sailors including Celaya ended up treading water. None of them had any lifeboats, life jackets, food, or most importantly fresh water.
Edgar Harrell, a late WWII vet, was just 20 when he found himself treading water. He described the horror of approaching sharks circling the sailors. All of them were defenseless.
“You would hear a blood-curdling scream and look and see someone going under,” Harrell told The Sun. “When you get some 900 boys out there decaying in misery, sharks are gonna swim through there and they’re gonna attack what’s in their road. If I’m flopping around in their road, they’re going to take me under, and they only have to hit you once.”
Many dehydrated sailors turned to drinking salt water to try to hydrate themselves.
“You could nearly time it after they’d drunk that saltwater — within the hour their mind was completely gone, hallucinating,” Harrell remembered. They also resulted to drinking rain droplets during a rain shower one of the days.
The experience was a nightmare many didn’t survive. Of the 1,200 sailors, only 316 were rescued. Even fewer made it to a ripe old age as Celaya did. We at Outsider honor his heroism during a truly trying scenario and may he rest in peace with his fellow brothers in arms.