WWII veteran shares harrowing stories to packed Wausau crowd

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) — A World War Two veteran shared with others Thursday night how he cheated death.

Richard Thelen survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. The ship was torpedoed in the Pacific ocean by a Japanese submarine. The crew abandoned ship and was left in the oily, shark-infested waters for days.

Only 316 crew members made it out of those waters alive.

Thelen is one of the last 14 living survivors. He shared his memories Thursday at the UW Stevens Point-Wausau Campus.

Attendees packed the house to hear a dramatic retelling of the sinking story and Thelen’s incredible stories.

“It’d been easier to have died out there than it was to stay alive,” said Thelen. “And they were talking about sharks. Two different times the shark came up and poked me in my life jacket. I was conscious a little bit. They looked me over and swam away. Twice this happened and they bounced right off my legs quite a bit.”

Thelen answered questions from the audience for about a half hour. He said he didn’t have to jump in the water to abandon ship; the ship simply sank from beneath him.

The event was organized by Edgar school teacher Colin Hanson, who called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Curtis Aderholdt

Curtis Aderholdt

A WAOW photo journalist since December 2014.

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