Reflecting on the life of James O’Donnell

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What I remember most about James O’Donnell was how appreciative he was due to your response. He had just finished riding in the CarmelFest Parade on a bright, sunshiny July 4th in Carmel. He was in an open air, vintage automobile waving to the crowd and clearly moved by the tidal appearing before him. As his car inched along the two-and-a-half-mile route, on both sides of the street the people rose to their feet; clapping, waving and shouting words of adoration.

A heartfelt, emotional outpouring passed forward along the parade route from person to person which meant so much to not just Mr. James O’Donnell, United States Navy and USS Indianapolis Survivor, but to his friends, family and the other survivors with him that day.

Mr. James O’Donnell is one of 317 men to survive the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on a secret mission and sadly, he passed away two weeks ago at the age of 92. He lived in Indianapolis and served as an Indianapolis Firefighter for 35 years before retiring. Along with the other men in the water, he survived 4 days in the ocean, fending off sharks and the nasty effects of salt water.

Mr. O’Donnell appeared in the CarmelFest Parade two years in a row, the second time braving the rain. The year before the temps were in the 90s, but approaching the age of 90 himself  did not stop him. Never a complaint even though it was getting harder for Mr. O’Donnell to move about like he used to. He believed it to be his duty to represent the men of the USS Indianapolis who did not return to port.

I was moved by the way Carmel honored all of the USS Indianapolis survivors that day. And, I want to believe that at least a few kids turned to their parents and wanted to know who that guy was. If that happened just once, then another generation of Americans will understand a little better the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for the United States of America. James O’Donnell was one of those men and the only reason why we got up on July 4th to do more than just watch a parade.

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