Survivor of USS Indianapolis Dies

By Jeff Bossert
January 10, 2013

James O’Donnell, who survived the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis, shows his Purple Heart at his home in Indianapolis in 2007.

(Jeff Bossert/WILL)

James O’Donnell, a survivor of the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis, has died at the age of 92.

The retired firefighter was the sole Indianapolis resident among the 317 survivors of a Japanese submarine’s sinking of the nearly 1,200 man cruiser.

The Indianapolis Fire Department says he died Wednesday at a hospital in the city. 

O’Donnell was profiled during a series of 2007 stories on WILL entitled "World War Two: Central Illinois Stories." 

He said he quickly got off the ship just past midnight on July 30th, 1945.

“I woke up, all you could see when I looked forward was a big ball of fire," he said.  "I mean, you wore a little life preserver at all times, and around the ship in bags we had these k-pac life jackets, we walked over to them, and got our life jackets, and walked down the side of the ship – slid down the bottom of the ship into the water, swam a little ways, looked back, all you could see was the ship going down.”

The USS Indianapolis played a large role in the war, having delivered parts for the atomic bomb.  

O'Donnell and the others were rescued after four days adrift in the Pacific Ocean's shark-filled waters.

He was a retired firefighter in Indianapolis.

O'Donnell is survived by his wife of 70 years, Mary Alice, four children and 11 grandchildren.

Story source: WILL

WILL Highlights

American Experience: Edison

8 pm Tuesday, Jan. 27, on WILL-TV: The life of the man remembered as the genius who created the modern world.