The Extraordinary Life of Submarine Legend Eugene Flue key
Naval Institute Press
Reviewed by RADM Bruce B. Engelhardt, USN (Rct)
Medal ofHonor awardee Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey’s book, Thunder Below!, was first published in 1992. With its action packed narrative, its focus on the humanity and heroism of everyday submariners and through use of relevant lessons learned for modem-day submarine warriors, it set the standard for World War II submarine narratives. As a Commander, just finishing up my command tour, I had the privilege of reviewing Thunder Below! in THE SUBMARINE REVIEW’s January 1993 edition. So, when I picked up this new biography of Admiral Fluckey, I could not help but say to myself, “How can anyone improve on this story, already told so well?”
Surprisingly, I found The Galloping Ghost to be full of fresh insights into the life and accomplishments of an American hero. In spite of the title, which could lead one to believe the book is solely focused on Fluckey’s exploits on USS BARB, I found the book, in actuality, to highlight the man, Eugene Fluckey, and the philosophy by which he lived. Of course, because the five war-patrols on BARB so defined the man, LaVO describes their events in detail, but from a much more dispassionate point-of-view than the Admiral himself could.
The book is divided into three parts. Part One tells the story of Fluckey’s formative years leading up to command on BARB. In it we learn about Eugene Fluckey’s family heritage, with military service dating back to the revolutionary war. As the result of hearing a radio address by President Calvin Coolidge when he was a boy, we see the dawning of Fluckey’s lifetime philosophy which emphasized persistence and determination. We also get a glimpse into his love for military history, science and engineering and we find that he honed his leadership and sense of self-reliance and adventure by excelling in the Boy Scouts. We also learn how he overcame the typical hardships, disappointments, family separation and discouraging times of a junior officer.
Part Two is the still amazing story of Fluckey’s command tour on the WWII submarine BARB. La V 0 captures the heroic war patrols in a thoroughly researched, factual, yet fascinating narrative. An example of this narrative is outlined below as LaVO sets up the upcoming raid into Namkwan harbor, for which Fluckey would ultimately be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor:
“Fluckey radioed Captain Shepard of PICUDA inviting him to join the action. But he declined, thinking it was foolhardy and telling Fluckey to “drop dead!” The skipper was undeterred. Executive Officer Webster suggested handing out life jackets for the approach- just in case. The skipper thought it might frighten the men. He’d rather have them concentrate on the tasks ahead. He decided to address them over the intercom, to prepare them for what was to come. “Shipmates, we’ve got this convoy bottled up along the coast. We’re going to find them and knock the socks off of them,” he said. “This surprise will be BARB’s greatest night, a night to remember. If you have any questions, I’m coming through the boat now.”
Part Three is the inspirational account of a man who did not rest on his laurels, but continued to contribute to his country and his shipmates with unabashed enthusiasm and a never-give-up attitude. We learn of his tour as COMSUBPAC where he showed his extraordinary vision and leadership as he helped lead the Submarine Force into the nuclear era. A big supporter of the speed and unlimited submerged endurance of nuclear submarines, Fluckey did not seem to exhibit the change resistance and “diesel boats forever” mentality of some. Later, we learn how he survived the brutal terrorist attack of his new headquarters in Spain, by showing no fear and pressing on with the repairs and opening the building as scheduled. LaVO also recounts the story of the dedicated servant leader in action as he headed-up the fund raising drive for the Memorial Stadium at his beloved Naval Academy. Behind all of this, Fluckey’s continuing respect and affection for his BARB crew shines through. He maintains close contact with them and pledges the royalties from Thunder Below! to go towards his former crew’s reunions. He embarks upon a successful quest to prove that BARB’ s exploits in Namkwan really occurred as he reported. He ended up traveling back to China to secure his crew’s legacy. LaVO tells us the story of a man who finished well.
LaVO’s book is a respectful tribute to a hero. At the same time, it shines forth as a truthful and objective history of a man whose spirit of optimism and determination permeated everything he did. To the extent that being too proud and enthusiastic about his crew on BARB was a fault, La VO certainly exposes Fluckey’s weakness in that regard. In one passage, LaVO describes an event during Fluckey’s time as COMSUBPAC when he and and his inspection team jump into the ocean and swim from a support ship onto the nuclear submarine PLUNGER, in order to accomplish an at-sea personnel transfer. Whether or not this action by the Admiral was foolhardy or exemplary is left to the reader. But in telling it, LaVO makes sure we understand that Fluckey was a man who believed in taking calculated risks to get the job done.
Without overreaching, Carl LaVO gives a page by page delineation of a man who accomplished great things without succumbing to cynicism or hardness of heart. By the end of the book, I found myself saying, along with Admiral Fluckey, “We don’t have problems, just solutions.