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FROM THE ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM – To Remember Our Medal of Honor Awardees


Submariners, spouses and honored guests: This is the third opportunity I have had to speak to this prestigious organization. The first was at the anniversary symposium in 2000 where I succeeded in covering 100 years of submarine history in 30 minutes. The second was in 2004 when I spoke at the banquet which honored submarine families; and at that event, Sylvia was singled out as the World War II Family Representative-or perhaps grandmother to the Force.

But tonight I am humbled to stand before you as we honor eight men who performed above and beyond the thousands of submariners all of whom can be proud of their records in war and peace.

I was six years old in 1923 when torpedoman second class Henry Breault was a crew member in 0-5 which was involved in a fatal collision at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal with the merchantman ABANGAREZ. In utter disregard for his own life, he re-entered the sinking 0-5 closing the torpedo room hatch to save a shipmate. By the time heroic efforts of Panama Canal diver Shep Shreaves and the heavy lift crane AJAX, Henry Breault and Chief Electricians Mate Lawrence Brown were most fortunate to be rescued after 31 hours. For his selfless act of compassion and devotion to duty, he was awarded the medal of honor.

In World War II, seven submarine officers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor with citations opening with these words: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer … “. The first of these awards went to Commander Howard W. Gilmore in GROWLER for action in January 1943; the last to Commander George L. Street in TIRANTE in April 1945.

I was on patrol in DRUM, concurrently with those seven brave men from April 1942 until November 1944. I know what it was like to challenge and outwit the enemy in an infinite variety of conditions-submerged and surfaced. We were amongst the 465 skippers who made over 1600 war patrols. That group that now numbers approximately twenty-almost all nonagenarians.

A submarine on war patrol had some 75 men and perhaps eight officers who knew that every man depended upon every man to fight the submarine without error, to sink enemy ships, and to bring it home safely. The Gato class submarine, designed by good fortune to possess long legs, high surface speed, ten torpedo tubes, and 24 torpedoes was the ideal weapons system for the anti-surface ship warfare we waged against the Japanese.

But few realize that subsystems which can be counted on one hand were the primary instruments which made these submarines so lethal in scenarios which were connected with the award of medals of honor. Let me talk a bit about these vital elements. Foremost was the torpedo data computer (TDC), an analog mechanical instrument designed to fit into the port after comer of the conning tower, and the only computer on board. One of its two sections enabled the operator to display the relative positions of own ship and target-out to a range of 8,000 yards. The young operators, some of whom became famous before the war was over, knew that each revolution of the range crank was 200 yards, and of the bearing crank, two degrees. The other section utilized the relationship so established to calculate and send to the torpedo rooms the torpedo gyro angles required to produce hits. Thus, the operator had the flexibility to aim at multiple ships in quick succession without the need for the submarine to maneuver for each and every shot.

The other key elements were the SJ surface search radar with its plan position indicator (PPI) which showed range and bearing, and the tactical formations of enemy ships. Installed almost as an afterthought was the bridge-mounted target bearing transmitter (TBT) which enabled a topside member of the fire control party to track targets visually and transmit bearings to the TDC. The periscopes and sonar are the fourth and fifth subsystems, these of course, were of primary value on submerged attacks.

Permit me then, to flesh out the award citations with brief details of what transpired. Four of the awards can be grouped together.

In July 1944, Commander Lawson P. Ramage took PARCHE on the surface into a maelstrom of merchant ships with numerous escorts. He fired bow and stem tubes at several targets, while maneuvering violently to avoid collision. Red Ramage remained on the bridge in the face of wild gunfire as his fire control team fed data from the TBT into the TDC in the conning tower. PARCHE sank four ships and damaged three due in great measure to the flexibility provided by these key susbsystems.

In October 1944, Commander Richard H. O’Kane in TANG, already famous because he was Commander Dudley W. (Mush) Morton’s Executive Officer and key member of WAHOO’s brilliant fire control party, used the same effective subsystems, made surface attacks against several Japanese convoys over a two-day period, sinking five ships. The last of TANG’s 24 torpedoes, fired to polish off a damaged straggler, made an erracit circular run and smashed into TANG’ stem sinking her instantly with the loss of all but nine. Four of these, including CommanderO’Kane, had been on the bridge or in the conning tower, the other five were amongst 13 men who escaped using the momsen lung from a depth of 180 feet. These courageous men were able to swim through the night and were picked up by Japanese patrol craft. They suffered over a year of torture in Japanese prison camps. (It is of interest that I was in DRUM, within a few miles of TANG on these very nights, and sank three ships and damaged another four).

In January 1945, Commander Eugene B. Fluckey in BARB ended a month of ‘No-target frustration’ as a member of a wolfpack, by boldly approaching the Chinese coast through miles of shallow water and probable mined areas to penetrate Namkwan harbor. Again using the ‘attack tools’ described, he succeeded in firing all his remaining torpedoes- bow and stem-destroying several of a very large group of ships at anchor. The ensuing mayhem enabled BARB to re-trace her track to deep water without damage. (I was on patrol in DRUM in Luzon straits and the East China sea during BARB’s earlier patrols which resulted in the award of four navy crosses to Gene Fluckey. In 1966, Gene Fluckey and I were the last general line officers to serve together as director and deputy director of Naval Intelligence).

In April 1945, Commander George L. Street in TIRANTE penetrated the anchorage behind Quelpart Island in South Korea to destroy an ammunition ship in a blizzard of fireworks, and subsequently sink two escorts before returning to deep water and safety in the face of continuing enemy defensive operations. In this attack, it was TIRANTE’s Executive Officer, LCDR Ned Beach, who manned the bridge with the Commanding Officer in the conning tower. The usual tools did their part in these attacks, but intelligence obtained from breaking of Japanese operational traffic under the codeword ULTRA provided the initial target identification and location which enabled Commander Street and TIRANTE to achieve true greatness.

The other medals of honor were awarded in three diverse situations: In January 1943, Commander Howard W. Gilmore took GROWLER into battle submerged sinking one ship and damaging another while enduring severe depth charging. But it was some nights later near Truk Atoll, that GROWLER was engaged in a struggle with an enemy gunboat intent upon ramming. Howard Gilmore, on the bridge, reversed roles and rammed the enemy at 17 knots, sinking the ship but not before a fusillade of bullets raked GROWLER’s bridge mortally wounding Howard Gilmore. His famous order “take her down” sacrificed his life as it saved the ship. The damaged GROWLER returned to Brisbane under command of the Executive Officer LCDR Arnold Schade where it received a new bow in the Brisbane drydock, (I saw the famous painting of a Kangaroo bounding over the bow planes when DRUM was alongside GROWLER in June 1943).

Harder, under her indomitable Commander Samuel D. Dealey, during four patrols had become a scourge to Japanese escorts and patrol craft. He employed the dangerous down-the-throat shot at minimal range to sink seven Japanese anti-submarine vessels. So it was ironic that on HARDER’s fifth war patrol, she would attack a mine sweeper this time on the surface- using the tools of which we have talked. After firing, she dove but was overwhelmed by a string of depth charges, and failed to survive.

Finally, Captain John P. Cromwell, in SCULPIN as a potential wolfpack Commander in operations near Truk Atoll, was witness to a withering gunfire barrage when the submarine surfaced inadvertently. It killed the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer and the third officer. Although the acting Commanding Officer took SCULPIN down, severe depth charging damaged the submarine to the extent that fighting it out on the surface and scuttling was the only option. Half the crew became prisoners of war, Captain Cromwell, possessed of critical strategic information and knowledge of Japanese code breaking, disseminated under the code word ULTRA (as mentioned in the TIRANTE story) chose to ride the ship to the bottom, as did the acting Commanding Officer. It is not surprising to note that the official citation, issued prior to the end of the war, did not mention the critical intelligence aspects of his knowledge.

Seven World War II Medals of Honor! Four were awarded for surface actions in which skillful and aggressive skippers overwhelmed the enemy’s defenses. Three were awarded posthumously under diverse circumstances-one for consistent aggressiveness in close quarters with an onrushing enemy; one in a hail of gunfire following a collision which no doubt saved the submarine to fight another day; and finally, one to an officer who sacrificed his life because he was possessed of too many vital secrets.

To all of these brave officers, and to the enlisted man who risked his life to save a shipmate, the members of the Naval Submarine league do honor here tonight. May their deeds be forever remembered

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