LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – One of our nation’s veterans was honored today in Lansing and while many call him a hero, he says he just did what he had to do.
Richard Thelen is a Congressional Gold Medal recipient and one of 11 living survivors of the USS Indianapolis.
A number of Michigan lawmakers came together today to show their appreciation for him because there was a time when he didn’t know if he was going to make it back home alive.
It was July 30, 1945. Lansing native Richard Thelen and nearly 1,200 others were aboard the USS Indianapolis during World War II.
They were on a mission to deliver parts of the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat, until the ship was struck by a Japanese submarine torpedo, sinking in just 12 minutes.
“When the torpedoes hit, I was sleeping in a little sleeping bag I made, but I was over probably 15, 20 feet from the edge of the ship,” said Thelen.
92-year-old Thelen is one of only 317 crewman to survive the attack. He was only 18 at the time.
“Everybody asked me, ‘Where was you on the ship when you jumped off the ship?’ I didn’t jump off the ship. The ship left me,” said Thelen.
Thelen was honored today for the sacrifices he made for our country.
“He was adrift for five days and was barely living when he got pulled out of the water. For me, it was just a really important moment to recognize true patriotism and bravery,” said U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin.
“He’s my survivor. He’s a tough guy. He’s my hero. He don’t like to be called hero, but he’s my hero in my eyes,” said Richard’s son David Thelen.
David says while he can hear stories about what his father went through, he can’t truly imagine it.
“My dad could’ve died out there very easily. He could’ve took off his life preserver and drowned,” said David Thelen.
While everyone else is calling him a hero, Richard says:
“I don’t deserve all this. I just did what I had to do with the situation I was in. Never give up. That’s my theory. It worked. It definitely worked,” said Thelen.
At the ceremony, Lansing mayor Andy Schor proclaimed December 2, 2019, as Richard Thelen day in the city of Lansing.