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Arizona veteran, USS Indianapolis survivor dies on Thanksgiving

Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya, a World War II veteran from Florence who survived one of the country's most deadly naval attacks, died on Thanksgiving Day. He was 94.
Credit: USS Indianapolis

ARIZONA, USA — Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya, an Arizona veteran and one of the few remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis sinking, has died. He was 94. USS Indianapolis, an organization dedicated to survivors of the sunken naval warship, announced Celaya's passing on Friday.

"There aren’t words to express how heartbroken we are to learn that USS Indianapolis survivor Adolfo 'Harpo' Celaya passed away on Thanksgiving," the organization wrote in a statement. "Those lucky enough to spend time with Harpo loved his quick wit and wonderful sense of humor."

Celaya enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17.

He was aboard the USS Indianapolis, which famously transported supplies needed to make the atomic bomb, on the day it was struck by Japanese torpedos on July 30, 1945.

The boat sank in about 12 minutes and nearly 300 crewmen went down with the ship. 

Celaya was one of 860 survivors left alone in the middle of the Philippine Sea with few supplies. More men died in the following days from dehydration, exposure, or shark attacks. 

Decades after the event, Celaya could recall how he felt during those days he and his crewmen anxiously waited in the water. 

“(Those days) were kind of rough,” he said. “When you heard the sharks attacking one of the sailors … you didn’t know when the sharks were going to attack,” Celaya told Cronkite News in 2017.

Celaya was one of 316 survivors to be rescued after spending nearly five days floating at sea.

Last year, Celaya was presented with a Congressional Medal of Honor at his home in Arizona. A U.S. postal office building in Florence was dedicated to Celaya in 2017. 

Two other USS Indianapolis survivors died earlier this year. According to the USS Indianapolis organization, only a handful of survivors are still alive.

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