The day spun out cruelly, the men suspended in the troughs between waves with no soothing grace, only thirst, pain, heat, blood, sharks, and the coppery rotting stench of dead men. Finally, Spooner told Harrell that he planned to end his own life.
Harrell looked into the burned and swollen death mask that was his friend’s face. “How will you do it?”
“I’ll dive down so far that I’ll drown before I come back up.”
Harrell put his hands on his buddy’s shoulders. “Spooner, listen to me. There are only two Marines left in this group, and when everyone else is gone, you’re going to be with me. I know in my heart that God is going to deliver us and we’re going to survive this together.”
‘The prayers continued. … Humble and genuine supplication, punctuated by impassioned stories about loved ones who waited for them at home.’
Harrell didn’t know if he’d gotten through. Quickly, he turned Spooner’s back to him and firmly fastened the other Marine’s life vest to his own. As night set in, Harrell’s vigor ebbed steadily, leeched away in the grip of creeping hypothermia. His mind drifted from the gruesome reality of liquid death and half-eaten corpses to the edge of unreason. …
From eighty souls to seventeen. By Wednesday morning, August 1, that’s how far the count in Harrell’s group had fallen. Sunrise elevated their body temperatures slightly and they were grateful for the warmth. But as the bright orb climbed, it turned unfriendly, scorching their heads. No one talked much. Dehydration had puffed up their tongues so that their words came out as if their mouths were stuffed with cotton batting. Wearing only waterlogged life jackets, the group rode the swells low, chins now resting in the sea. Up, down. Up, down. The only sounds, the slosh and slap of water that seemed larger than the sky.
At midmorning, one man broke the silence with a prayer. Another man followed. Soon, every still-sane man in the group had taken a turn, pleading with God for deliverance. Harrell looked at his watch. It was about 10 a.m.
The prayers continued for three hours. Not rote prayers, not learned ones. Humble and genuine supplication, punctuated by impassioned stories about loved ones who waited for them at home. Lapsed men who had perhaps never prayed beyond their childhood bedsides now cried out, specks in a monstrous wasteland, unseen except by the only One who could see. This they hoped with a fervency that burned hotter than the sun. …
Lyle Umenhoffer floated in his life jacket near the Haynes group, but on a far fringe. His little group had dwindled to fifteen men. To discourage sharks—which seemed less inclined to tear into a mass of men—they tried to float in a tight knot with the weakest and most badly injured at the center. That put Umenhoffer on the outer ring where he had an eye-level view of the man-eating horde. The small ones, three to four feet long, seemed the most aggressive and were tensed to hunt. These were opportunists, snatching and shredding any man who detached himself from the group.