Portrait Statue of James E. O’Donnell WT3, United States Navy

  • Historical,Outdoor Sculpture
  • Memorial/Monument,Outdoor Sculpture

Portrait Statue of James E. O’Donnell WT3, United States Navy

  • Historical,Outdoor Sculpture
  • Memorial/Monument,Outdoor Sculpture

James Edward “Jimmy” O’Donnell (1920-2013) was a native of Indianapolis and one of only 317 survivors of perhaps the greatest U.S. naval tragedy of all time, the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis on July 30, 1945.

O’Donnell graduated from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis and began working at Allison. Drafted into the US Navy in early 1944, he was assigned to the USS Indianapolis. On July 16, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was assigned to pick up two crates in San Francisco and delivered them to the island of Tinian. It was later learned that those two crates housed the components of the atomic bomb that was to be dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. After unloading the crates, the USS Indianapolis sailed out towards another Pacific base to train for the invasion of Japan. At 12 14 a.m. on July 30, 1945, the ship was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. The ship sank in about 12 minutes, killing about 300 crew members and leaving some 900 crew members alone in shark-infested waters. Most of these initial survivors ultimately perished.

After survivors had been drifting in the ocean for over 100 hours, a plane with no knowledge of the event spotted them and called for reinforcements. O’Donnell was rescued along with the other survivors. In the fall of 1945 he returned to the city of Indianapolis and took a position with the Indianapolis Fire Department, from which he retired in 1981 after 36 years of service. In his spare time he was a union stagehand.

As the only survivor of the tragedy who was an Indianapolis native, O’Donnell dedicated much of his adult life to keeping the memory of the USS Indianapolis alive in the ship’s namesake city. He was a member of the USS Indianapolis Memorial Organization’s board of directors and as such, he was instrumental in the creation of the USS Indianapolis Memorial along the Downtown Canal, which was completed in 1995.

This life-sized, full-length portrait sculpture was originally placed at the City Market in gratitude for his service, both during the war and in peacetime, in 2009.  In 2023, due to construction and renovation at City Market it was moved to the Firefighters’ Union Hall on Massachusetts Avenue. It portrays O’Donnell as a youth, at the time he first boarded the U.S.S. Indianapolis. There is also an etched “portrait” of the ship in sail at the front of the black granite base.