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Article about Survivor Harold Eck
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PAPER TRAILS: Local man survived the Indianapolis
By Linda Caillouet
Friday, April 11, 2008

LITTLE ROCK Hurricane Katrinas waters werent the first to threaten,
then change, Harold Ecks life.

Years before high water drove the New Orleanian to Little Rock, he
fought the Pacific, bobbing in the sharkfilled ocean for five days in
World War II after his ship, the USS Indianapolis, sank 12 minutes
after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

These days, Eck, now 81, seems content to sit in an easy chair at the
Little Rock home he shares with wife, Jenny, and daughter and
son-in-law, Maria and Hugh Bullard, and their children.

His tranquility belies the hell he endured 63 years ago.

Time has taken its toll.

Ecks mind remains sharp, but a stroke in 1999 took his voice and left
him a cane and wheelchair.

That hes lived to grow old is remarkable, given the odds.

The 600-foot ship sailing the Philippine Sea from Guam to Leyte had
1,189 men aboard when it was hit near midnight July 29, 1945. About 900
lived after entering the sea. Some, like Eck, had life jackets.

Those who didnt, clung to others.

For years, he didnt talk about his ordeal but later shared it with
authors (In Harms Way, Twenty-Five Yards of War, and War Stories) and
the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Then 18 and a seaman 2nd class fresh from boot camp, Eck was assigned
to the ship two weeks before it sank.

He landed in the ocean that Sunday night in a group of about 100,
floating in a standing position and caring for the wounded.

That Monday, they battled heat and the ships scalding oil. Tuesday,
dozens of sharks began to feed, returning that day and the next two,
picking off men here and there every few hours. Eck felt sharks brush
against him.

By Wednesday, dementia set in. Some sailors drank sal****er,
hallucinated, set off to find fresh water or an island, or committed

On Thursday, ships arrived after bomber pilot Wilbur Gwinn spotted the
men. Only 316 remained.

Hes said the heroes were the men whod lost their lives;

all he did was survive, says Maria. He thought the world of the men
who saved him.

In a 1995 Times-Picayne article, Eck concurred.

I didnt think it was a big deal, he said. Things like this happen
in a war.

But it forever changed him.

Plucked from the Pacific, hes never taken life for granted.

He was always doing for others, including those he saved as a

He always felt his life was spared for a reason, Maria says.
Throughout his life, hes always thought about the men who didnt
survive, especially at events for me, my brother and the grandkids -
the recitals, graduations, and weddings. Hed think about the children
who grew up without fathers.

Eck has attended nearly all the survivors reunions. The group lobbied
Congress and had Capt. Charles McVay exonerated. Survivors and
historians agree the Navy used McVay, who later committed suicide, as a
scapegoat for its blunder of losing track of the ship when it
court-martialed him for failing to zigzag to avoid a torpedo hit.

About 75 survivors remain, with Archie Farmer of Hot Springs the only
other known Arkansan. He and Eck have never met but soon may; they
already share so much.

Paper Trails appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact Linda
Caillouet at (501) 399-3636 or at lcaillouet@arkansasonline.com.

Arkansas, Pages 13 on 04/11/2008

Copyright 2008, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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permission of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

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