LANSING, Mich. — Richard Thelen, the last remaining Michigan survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II, passed away on Monday at 94.
“How would I even begin to describe our dad? He was bigger than life in so many ways. His boisterous laughter would fill a room, he was funny, kind and sincere. God and family were both first in his life," said Debra Thelen, his daughter-in-law, speaking as Thelen was laid to rest with military honors at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Lansing Township on Saturday.
“Dad was an exalted servant. He spent countless hours volunteering for Holy Cross Catholic Church. If he wasn’t serving soup and making food he was painting, refurbishing and restoring areas of the church," Debra Thelen said.
Thelen was on board the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945, when a Japanese attack sunk the ship. Thelen spent five days in shark-infested waters without clean drinking water or food.
“He survived a catastrophe that many would not survive. Then in later years he continued to serve by sharing his story and his survival which he always credited to God, family and country," Debra Thelen said.
Only 316 of the 900 crewmen who made it off the boat survived. To make matters worse, after attacking the dead and wounded, sharks quickly began to attack the survivors. Reports widely cite the shipwreck as cause for the most shark attacks on humans in history.
Thelen told the Lansing State Journal that he had been drenched in diesel fuel which could have repelled the sharks.
"Everyday way a gift to Dad," Debra Thelen said.
According to the USS Indianapolis Facebook page, Thelen was one of just five living survivors of the ship's sinking.
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