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First Name: Richard

Last Name: O'Kane

Birthplace: Dover, NH, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Hetherington

Date of Birth: 02 February 1911

Date of Death: 16 February 1994

Rank or Rate: Rear Admiral

Years Served: 1934 - 1957
Richard Hetherington O'Kane

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1934

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Richard Hetherington O'Kane

Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Rear Admiral Richard Hetherington O'Kane was a U.S. Navy officer and submarine commander who received the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions on the USS Tang (SS-306) during World War II.

Richard Hetherington O'Kane was born on 2 February 1911 in Dover, NH. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 1934 and spent his first years of active duty on the cruiser USS Chester (CA-27) and destroyer USS Pruitt (DD-347). He received submarine instruction in 1938 and was then assigned to USS Argonaut (SM-1) until 1942. Lieutenant O'Kane then joined the pre-commissioning crew of the new submarine USS Wahoo (SS-238) and served as her Executive Officer on five war patrols, first under Lieutenant Commander Marvin G. "Pinky" Kennedy, and later under Lieutenant Commander Dudley "Mush" Morton. Morton established a record as an excellent tactician, as he preferred to run the demanding analysis and plots while his XO manned the periscopes, a reversal of standard practices.

In July 1943, Lieutenant Commander O'Kane was detached from Wahoo and soon became Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) of the Tang, which was then under construction. He placed her in commission in October 1943 and commanded Tang through her entire career. He was an innovator, and developed several operational tactics that markedly increased his ship's efficiency. Among these tactics were daylight surface cruising with extra lookouts, periscope recognition and range drills - enabling clear tactical sureness when seconds counted, and methods of night surface attacks - one of his favorite techniques to obtain and maintain the initiative in battle.

In five war patrols, O'Kane and Tang sank an officially recognized total of 24 Japanese ships. This total was revised in 1980 from a review of Japanese war records corroborated by the Tang's surviving logs and crewmembers to 31 ships totaling over 227,000 tons sunk. This established one of the Pacific War's top records for submarine achievement. Several times during the war he took the Tang into the heart of a convoy and attacked ships ahead and behind while coolly steering clear of escorting combatants - counting on Tang's relative position, speed, and low profile to keep clear of enemy escorts. He and the Tang also performed laudably on 'Lifeguard Duty,' which was a practice of positioning one or more submarines off an island to be attacked by planes of the Fast Carrier Task Forces to be in a nearby close-in 'ditching station' in position to rescue downed pilots. Off Truk, he and the Tang rescued 22 airmen in one mission taking some interesting risks in the process and setting an all-time record which earned a Presidential Unit Citation (US).

The Tang and O'Kane's third patrol, into the Yellow Sea, ranked first in the war patrol records for number of ships sunk in a single patrol. O'Kane claimed eight ships at the time but post-war analysis increased this to ten ships. On one attack he had targeted two large ships with three torpedoes each and assumed three hits in each. Japanese records actually reported two hits in each with the third of each spread hitting smaller ships in the next column. This surpassed the next highest patrol which was for the USS Wahoo (with O'Kane as XO) in the same area the year before.

He was captured by the Japanese when his boat was sunk in the Formosa Strait by its own flawed torpedo (running in a circle) during a surface night attack on 24-25 October 1944, wherein he lost all but eight of his crew, and was secretly (i.e. illegally) held prisoner until the war's end some ten months later. Following his release, Commander O'Kane received the Medal of Honor for his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" during his submarine's final operations against Japanese shipping.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy, commanding USS Tang.

Place and date: Vicinity Philippine Islands, 23 and 24 October 1944.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Tang operating against 2 enemy Japanese convoys on 23 and 24 October 1944, during her fifth and last war patrol. Boldly maneuvering on the surface into the midst of a heavily escorted convoy, Comdr. O'Kane stood in the fusillade of bullets and shells from all directions to launch smashing hits on 3 tankers, coolly swung his ship to fire at a freighter and, in a split-second decision, shot out of the path of an onrushing transport, missing it by inches. Boxed in by blazing tankers, a freighter, transport, and several destroyers, he blasted 2 of the targets with his remaining torpedoes and, with pyrotechnics bursting on all sides, cleared the area. Twenty-four hours later, he again made contact with a heavily escorted convoy steaming to support the Leyte campaign with reinforcements and supplies and with crated planes piled high on each unit. In defiance of the enemy's relentless fire, he closed the concentration of ship and in quick succession sent 2 torpedoes each into the first and second transports and an adjacent tanker, finding his mark with each torpedo in a series of violent explosions at less than l,000-yard range. With ships bearing down from all sides, he charged the enemy at high speed, exploding the tanker in a burst of flame, smashing the transport dead in the water, and blasting the destroyer with a mighty roar which rocked the Tang from stem to stern. Expending his last 2 torpedoes into the remnants of a once powerful convoy before his own ship went down, Comdr. O'Kane, aided by his gallant command, achieved an illustrious record of heroism in combat, enhancing the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Commander Richard H. O'Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman.

Post-World War II

In the years following World War II, Commander O'Kane served with the Pacific Reserve Fleet as Commanding Officer of the submarine tender USS Pelias (AS-14); testified at Japanese War Crimes trials; was Executive Officer of the submarine tender USS Nereus (AS-17); and was Commander Submarine Division 32. He was a student at the Armed Forces Staff College in 1950-51 and was subsequently assigned to the Submarine School at New London, CT, initially as an instructor and, in 1952-53, as the Officer in Charge.

Promoted to the rank of Captain in July 1953, O'Kane Commanded the submarine tender USS Sperry (AS-12) until June 1954 and then became Commander Submarine Squadron Seven. Following studies at the Naval War College in 1955-56, he served in Washington, DC, with the Ship Characteristics Board. Captain O'Kane retired from active duty in July 1957 and, on the basis of his extensive combat awards, was simultaneously advanced to the rank of Rear Admiral on the Retired List.

O'Kane wrote books about his service on Tang and Wahoo, entitled Clear the Bridge!: The War Patrols of the USS Tang and Wahoo: The Patrols of America's Most Famous World War II Submarine, respectively.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor

Navy Cross with 2 Gold Award stars

Silver Star Medal with 2 Gold Award stars

Legion of Merit with Combat Valor Device

Purple Heart

Combat Action Ribbon

Prisoner of War Medal

American Defense Service Medal

American Campaign Medal

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 9 Battle Stars

World War II Victory Medal


• In 1998, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS O'Kane (DDG-77) was named in honor of O'Kane.

• The wardroom of the oldest submarine in the fleet carries O'Kane's personal cribbage board, and upon decommissioning the board is transferred to the next oldest boat.

Death and Burial

Rear Admiral Richard Hetherington O'Kane died on 16 February 1994 in Petaluma, CA, at the age of 83. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 59, Grave 874. His wife, Ernestine Groves "Ernie" O'Kane died on 11 November 2008 and is buried beside him.

Honoree ID: 84   Created by: MHOH




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