Richard H. O'Kane was born on February 2, 1911. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover and the University of New Hampshire before entering the United States Naval Academy in 1930. Upon graduation in 1934, O'Kane was commissioned as an Ensign and served on USS CHESTER and USS PRUITT before reporting for instruction in submarines at the Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut in January 1938. After completing his training, O'Kane served on the submarine USS ARGONAUT until 1942, when he reported for duty as Executive Officer of USS WAHOO. For outstanding service on WAHOO, O'Kane was awarded the Silver Star Medal with two Gold Stars, and a Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy.
In August 1943, O'Kane returned to the Mare Island Navy Yard where he assumed command of the submarine USS TANG upon her commissioning on October 15, 1943. After undergoing intensive training exercises in the San Diego area, the USS TANG left for the Pacific, arriving in Pearl Harbor on January 8, 1944. Under Commander O'Kane, TANG went on five war patrols, sinking a total of 31 ships, totaling more than 227,000 tons, and damaging two other ships - a record unsurpassed by any American submarine.
During its fifth and final war patrol, which began on September 24 and ended on October 25, 1944, the USS TANG sank 13 enemy ships. In what was to be her final battle, the TANG encountered a heavily escorted enemy convoy. Engaged in a fierce surface battle, Commander O'Kane directed TANG to fire her last two torpedoes at a crippled transport ship. The first torpedo went straight and true and struck its target. The second torpedo was faulty and turned around almost immediately, heading directly for TANG. Ordering emergency speed, TANG tried to pull out of the torpedoes path, but it struck the submarine in the stern, thus causing a violent explosion.
O'Kane was on the bridge at the time and was instantly thrown into the water along with nine other men. Only thirty crew members survived the blast below decks. These men attempted to swim to the surface from the escape trunk in the forward torpedo room. By morning time, only O'Kane, three men from the bridge and five crew members from below decks had survived when the Japanese arrived. The survivors were picked up and taken to a Japanese Prisoner-of-War camp.
Commander O'Kane and the others from the USS TANG were imprisoned on Formosa. He was later transferred to a secret prison camp near Tokyo where he was not registered and was therefore listed as "missing in action" until the camp's liberation two weeks after V-J Day. During his nearly year-long imprisonment, he and the other prisoners survived on a diet of less than 300 calories a day, eating mostly rice or barley, without fruit, vegetables or protein. Upon his release, Commander O'Kane was suffering from scurvy and beriberi. He was evacuated by air to Pearl Harbor, and after a short hospitalization, was transferred to the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
After his recovery, O'Kane's commands included USS PELIAS and USS SPERRY, as well as the Submarine School in New London, Connecticut, Submarine Division THIRTY-TWO and Submarine Squadron SEVEN. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his exemplary service as commander on the USS TANG on March 27, 1947. Rear Admiral O'Kane's other military decorations include the Navy Cross with two Gold Stars, the Legion of Merit with Combat "V", the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War Medal. He also wrote two books based on his experiences in World War II, Clear the Bridge and WAHOO.
Rear Admiral O'Kane passed away in February
Click Here to View his Medal of Honor citation