[November 25, 2021] If you were in the U.S. Navy, you just might have heard of Richard O’Kane. More often called “Dick” O’Kane, he was one of the most courageous submariners of all time. Why his name and story are rarely told is hard for me to explain. It should be told. His stories of attacks on Japanese shipping in the Pacific are legend.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor for commanding the USS Tang during wartime is only a tiny part of the real story. As Executive Officer aboard the USS Wahoo and as Commander of the USS Tang, O’Kane was a part of more successful attacks on Japanese shipping than any other submarine during the war or any since.1
One of his favorite tactics was to take the Tang into an enemy convoy and attack ships ahead and behind in the heart of the convoy while avoiding escorting combat ships. O’Kane regularly “mixed it up” inside the defensive perimeter of Japanese convoys, creating enough chaos that he could successfully destroy large numbers of vessels in a single operation.
Under O’Kane, his submarine also participated in “lifeguard duty,” rescuing downed pilots. Off the island of Turk, he and the Tang rescued 22 airmen in one mission, earning a Presidential Unit Citation.
On his last voyage, in the Formosa Sea, O’Kane launched a spread of three torpedoes, and the third circled back and sunk the Tang. O’Kane and eight of his crew survived the sinking, but only five, including O’Kane, survived being exposed to the cold water and were taken prisoner by the Japanese. O’Kane spent the remainder of the war at the Japanese Prisoner of War Camp, Omori, Japan. He was later a witness at the Japanese War Crimes Trials.2
The Wardroom of the oldest active attack submarine in the Pacific Fleet carries a cribbage board presented to RADM O’Kane by the commissioning crew of the second USS TANG (SS-563). When decommissioned, the board transfers to the next oldest attack boat in the Pacific.
Rear Admiral O’Kane and his wife are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. O’Kane is a true American hero, one to be copied and respected.
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