Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Only 11 survivors outlived him, as he died on November 4, 2019, at the age of 95. When the USS Indianapolis went down in late July, 1945, Art Leenerman was a 21-year-old radarman. After five nights and four days in the Pacific Ocean, where many initial survivors of a catastrophic torpedo attack were eaten by sharks or succumbed to the elements, rescuers arrived. A Dumbo Catalina patrol bomber rescue plane snatched 56 survivors out of the water, thanks to a heroic pilot, Lt. Adrian Marks. Marks’ aircrew saw Leenerman’s “lifeless body in the raft and attached it by a line to the plane. At least they could return his body to his family” (Indianapolis, Vincent and Vladic, 266). They did not want to take up precious space inside the plane and on the wings of the plane, but they did not want to leave him behind. The USS Doyle ultimately raced to the area to pick up survivors, and one by one the survivors were lifted topside from Marks’ plane to the ship.
“The last Indy sailor to be pulled up was Art Leenerman, whose corpse Marks had been towing behind the Dumbo in a raft. Just as the canvas sling crossed Doyle‘s rails, Leenerman sputtered awake, shocking his rescuers. No one was more shocked than Leenerman, who had passed out lost at sea and woke up wrapped in canvas and flying across the fantail of an unknown ship” (270-271).
Sadly, the dead were left behind in many cases, but this choice to bring back Leenerman’s body was life-altering for many. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds inflicted during the sinking and his ordeal in the sea. He married in his 40s, had a son, four grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. But it only happened because someone took interest in him even when he appeared beyond hope.
Every day, we encounter those whom Scripture describes as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and “dead in transgressions” (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13). Struggling in a sea of sin, they need to be rescued–from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4), from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13), and from the wrath to come (1 Th. 1:10). The idea is of pulling from danger and delivering from peril. Soul-winning depicts such a dramatic mission.
When we take the time and interest to share the gospel, we do something more improbable than Marks and his crew did for Leenerman. We “save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20). One of the most beautiful things to behold is the transforming power of the gospel. Many of those who went from “death to life” not only survived, but they brought others to safety themselves. Heaven’s shore will be filled with those whom God’s people helped deliver from the deep!