Survivor of USS Indianapolis Dies

By Jeff Bossert

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