Hetherington O'Kane was born in Dover, New Hampshire, on 2 February 1911. He
graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 1934 and spent his first years
of active duty in the cruiser Chester and destroyer Pruitt. He received
submarine instruction in 1938 and was then assigned to USS Argonaut until
1942. Lieutenant O'Kane then joined the precommissioning crew of the new
submarine Wahoo, serving as her Executive Officer under Commanding Officer
Dudley W. Morton and establishing a record as a very promising tactician.
In July 1943, Lieutenant Commander O'Kane was detached from Wahoo and soon
became Prospective Commanding Officer of USS Tang, which was then under
construction. He placed her in commission in October 1943 and commanded her
through her entire career. In five war patrols, O'Kane and Tang sank an
officially recognized total of 24 Japanese ships, establishing one of the
Pacific War's top records for submarine achievement. He was captured by the
Japanese when his ship was accidently sunk off China during the night of
24-25 October 1944 and was secretly held prisoner until the war's end some
ten months later. Following his release, Commander O'Kane was awarded the
Medal of Honor for his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity"
during his submarine's final operations against Japanese shipping.
In the years following World War II, Commander O'Kane served with the Pacific
Reserve Fleet as Commanding Officer of the submarine tender Pelias, testified
at Japanese war crimes trials, was Executive Officer of the submarine tender
Nereus and was Commander Submarine Division Thirty-Two. He was a student at
the Armed Forces Staff College in 1950-51 and was subsequently assigned to the
Submarine School at New London, Connecticut, initially as an instructor and,
in 1952-53, as Officer in Charge.
Promoted to the rank of Captain in July 1953, O'Kane commanded the submarine
tender Sperry until June 1954 and then became Commander Submarine Squadron
Seven. Following studies at the Naval War College in 1955-56, he served in
Washington, D.C., 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. Richard H. O'Kane died on 16 February 1994.
Medal of Honor citation:
Rank and organization: Commander, United States Navy, commanding U.S.S. Tang.
Place and date: Vicinity Philippine Islands, October 23, and October 24,
1944. Entered service at: New Hampshire. Born: February 2, 1911, Dover, N.H.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and
beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Tang operating
against 2 enemy Japanese convoys on 23 October 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 1,000-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.