Admiral Richard Hetherington O'Kane
2, 1911 - February 16, 1994
Hetherington O'Kane was born in Dover, New Hampshire
on February 2, 1911, son of Dr. Walter Collins O'Kane
and Mrs. (Clifford Hetherington) O'Kane. He
attended Phillips Academy, Andover, New Hampshire
and the University of New Hampshire at Durham, before
entering the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
on appointment from his native state in 1930.
He was graduated and commissioned Ensign on May 31,
Following graduation he served a year in USS CHESTER
and then two more years in USS PRUITT before reporting
in January 1938 for instruction in submarines at the
Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut. After
completing his training in June 1938, he served in
the submarine USS ARGONAUT until April 1942, when
he reported for duty in connection with fitting out
the USS WAHOO at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, California.
He served as Executive Officer of that submarine from
her commissioning, May 15, 1942 until July 1943, being
detached before she was announced overdue and presumed
lost in November 1943. For outstanding service
in the WAHOO, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal
with two gold stars in lieu of a Second and Third
Silver Star Medal and a Letter of Commendation, with
authorization to wear the Commendation Ribbon from
the Secretary of the Navy. He was also
entitled to the Ribbon for, and a facsimile of, the
Presidential Unit Citation awarded the USS WAHOO.
In August 1943 he returned to the
Mare Island Naval Shipyard where the USS TANG was
building. He assumed command of that submarine
upon her commissioning on October 15, 1943.
After intensive training excersizes in the San Diego
area the USS TANG left for the Pacific, arriving in
Pearl Harbor on January 8, 1944. He commanded
USS TANG during four highly successful war patrols.
He was awarded the Navy Cross, Gold Stars in lieu
of a Second and Third Navy Cross and the Legion of
Merit with Combat "V" for rescuing twenty-two downed
U.S. naval aviators.
fifth war patrol began on September 24, 1944 and ended
October 25, 1944. Having expended all but two
of his torpedoes against enemy shipping TANG fired
her two remaining torpedoes at a crippled transport.
The first ran true to the target but the second torpedo
ran erratically and started a circular run.
Emergency speed was called for but twenty seconds
after firing the malfunctioning torpedo hit the stern
of TANG and she sank immediately.
O'Kane was rescued by a small Japanese man o'war and
imprisoned on Formosa. He was later transferred
to a secret prison camp near Tokyo, Japan where he
was not registered. Therefore he was carried
on the Navy's records as Missing In Action until his
liberation following the cessation of hostilities.
He was evacuated by air to the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth,
Truman presented the Medal of Honor, awarded by Congress,
to Commander O'Kane at the White House on March 27,
1946. The TANG received two Presidential Unit
Citations for outstanding performance in combat (1)
during her First, Second and Third War Patrols and
(2) for her Fourth and Fifth War Patrols. Richard
H. O'Kane was the highest scoring submarine commander
of World War II.
April 1946 he joined the Staff of Commander Mare Island
Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet, with additional duty
as Commanding Officer of the USS PELIAS. In
the assignment that extended to July 1948, he attended
and testified at the War Crimes Trials in Tokyo, Japan
in September-October 1947. He next served for
a year as Executive Officer of the USS NEREUS, based
at San Diego, and in August 1949, became Commander
Submarine Division THIRTY-TWO. He was a student
at the Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia
from August 1950 until January 1951 then had duty
as Instructor in Command Class and Assistant Officer
in Charge of the Submarine School, U.S. Submarine
Base, New London, Connecticut. In July 1952
he became Officer in Charge of that school and was
subsequently promoted to the rank of Captain.
commanded the USS SPERRY from August 1953 until June
1954 after which he served as Commander Submarine
Squadron SEVEN. Detached in June 1955, he next
had instruction at the Naval War College, Newport,
Rhode Island and in July 1956 was assigned to the
Ship Characteristics Board, Office of the Chief of
Naval Operations, Navy Department, Washington, D.C.
He remained there until relieved of active duty pending
his retirement, effective July 1, 1957. At retirement
he was advanced to the rank of Rear Admiral on the
basis of combat awards.
addition to the aforementioned awards, Rear Admiral
O'Kane received the American Defense Service Medal,
Fleet Clasp; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific
Campaign Medal with one silver and three bronze stars;
World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service
Medal, Europe Clasp; National Defense Service Medal;
Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two bronze stars;
Purple Heart Medal; and the Prisoner of War Medal.
After selecting early retirement
from active duty, Rear Admiral O'Kane worked for Great
Lakes Carbon Corp. in New York until 1960. He
then moved to the Red Hill Horse Ranch in Sebastopol,
California and wrote two best selling accounts of
his war experiences; Clear the Bridge! in 1977
and WAHOO in 1987.
Rear Admiral O'Kane died on February
16, 1994 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery
in Virginia. He was survived by his wife of
57 years, Ernestine and their two children, James
H. O'Kane and Marsha O'Kane Allen. In December
1994 the Navy named its newest ARLEIGH BURKE Class
Destroyer, DDG-77, the USS O'KANE.