On October 24, 1944, the USS Tang (SS-306) sank off the coast of China during WWII, trapping 29 sailors in 180 feet of water. The Balao-class submarine was destroyed when her own torpedo boomeranged back and slammed into the ship’s port side during an attack on a Japanese convoy. Out of the 87 men aboard, just nine survived.
The USS Tang launched in August 1943. During her 14-month career, she sank 33 ships with an aggregate total of 227,793 tons. She rescued 22 Naval aviators, received two Presidential Unit Citations, and conducted five highly successful war patrols. During her fifth and final patrol, Tang’s distinguished service came to an end.
Early in the evening of October 24, 1944, while on patrol in the Taiwan Strait, the USS Tang made radar contact with an enemy convoy of large ships. The convoy hugged the China coast between Foochow (Fuzhou) and Amoy (Xiamen). The Tang shadowed the convoy as the Japanese ships fired randomly in their direction. Meanwhile, since it was dark, Commanding Officer Richard H. O’Kane decided to attack from the surface. The Tang sank two freighters, and a tanker, and damaged a transport. When the Tang launched the final torpedo, it began to arc and circle back towards the sub.
O’Kane desperately tried to maneuver the Tang out of harm’s way, but the ship moved too slow. The torpedo slammed into the sub, causing a violent explosion that sent crew members smashing into bulkheads. Almost half the sailors died instantly. O’Kane and several crew members were blown off the bridge by the explosion and tossed into the water, where they clawed their way to the surface. As water flooded three compartments, the Tang began to sink.
Personnel in the control room succeeded in closing the conning tower hatch, but it had been damaged in the explosion. A quick-thinking sailor leveled the sinking sub by flooding two ballast tanks. The Tang sank 180 feet and settled on the ocean floor. Many of the survivors were injured, so the able-bodied carried them to the forward torpedo room where the escape trunk was located. Twenty-nine men were now in an escape position, but some were too injured to try. On the surface, the Japanese patrols dropped depth charges, making it almost impossible for the rest to attempt an escape. As they waited, the crew destroyed sensitive and confidential documents. A growing electrical fire in the forward battery of the sub sent smoke seeping into the torpedo room, creating a sense of urgency.
With time running out to attempt an improbable escape, the first four men entered the escape trunk. They let it fill with water to equalize the pressure and opened the outside hatch. They used Momsen Lungs, a device that recycles exhaled air allowing an escapee to breathe, to ascend from the depths. Eventually, thirteen men escaped the sub, but only eight made it to the surface. Of those eight, five managed to swim until they were rescued. Meanwhile down below, the pressure was building outside the torpedo room door. Suddenly, the gasket failed and the door blew open. All the remaining sailors were asphyxiated.
The nine survivors, including Commander O’Kane, were plucked from the water and taken to Japanese POW camps, where they languished until the war ended. Following the war, O’Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor. If you would like to learn more about the USS Tang, search Fold3® today. Also, our friends at Stories Behind the Stars have written profiles for each of the sailors who died aboard the Tang. See those profiles here.
My visit to the WWII National Museum in New Orleans included taking part in a mock-up to the USS Tang’s sonar & command deck and one witnessed the turn-about of the torpedo, including a countdown of seconds and then all went black. It was a shuddering experience, hitting me to my core as my uncle who served on the USS Robalo, was able to escape the sinking of his ship after it hit a mine. Floyd G. Laughlin was one of four who escaped the sinking of the Robalo. It is quite a tale and worthy of being included in the Fold3 blog. Thank you for the reminder of USS Tang – it broke my heart again today.
I have also seen and participated in the WWII Museum’s USS Tang exhibit. I agree, it is a very shuddering experience. It made an impression on my grandson’s. This museum has evolved so much over the last 15 years, worth going back if it has been a while since anyone has visited.
I wish I could have gone into that exhibit to see, but since I am an Epileptic I couldn’t go in because of the flashing of lights etc
Unbelievable that anyone survived! The courage of the crew that was inside and the captain and remaining crew in the water is what makes them heroes to everyone. Thank you for sharing this story about the USS Tang.
I was fortunate to have seen a presentation years ago from one of her survivors. He said the torpedo hit the stern, sinking the back half of the sub, but the bow was sticking out of the water. As a Japanese destroyer saw them and began to attack, it was decided to submerge the bow. Fires were creating choking smoke throughout and they moved to the bow, closing the hatches behind them. Some twenty or so were clustered in the room. A depth gauge indicated they rested at 180′ deep. One by one they exited the escape hatch and once on the surface, held on to a float attached to the sub below. One sailor came up coughing blood and wasn’t seen again, likely embolizing on the way up. A Japanese destroyer picked them up and took them to a POW camp. At some point in time, Pappy Boyington was put into the same camp. It was a fascination presentation, one I wish was recorded.
I couldn’t agree more!
The leadership and training of the crew by senior enlisted officers (Chiefs) was most likely crucial to the crew to immediately know what had to be done and do it instinctively in order to allow some to ultimately be saved. It is a hallmark of the US military. Chiefs run the Navy!
As I remember the story of the Tang
The fish that sunk her was the last one
They had onboard. An incredibly sad
ending for one the most highly successful
sub crews in WWII. Dick O’Kane was a leader
In a class by himself.
My father served on the USS Mapiro (376) during WWII, but it reached the Sea of Japan just as the War ended, so he told me his boat never fired on a Japanese ship. As he told me, by the time they got there, “there was nothing left to shoot at”.
Service on a WWII was bad enough down below in the stale, and smelly air. He maintained the large Diesel engines that powered the sub when not on battery power, and he told me that it was usually over 100 degrees in the engine room.
Anyone who has ever been on such a boat knows how cramped the quarters were and I recommend a tour of the Bowfin at Pearl Harbor if possible. Not anyone could serve in such conditions. It was tough duty.
My dad served on the USS Sea Leopard (SS-483) as an EM2 with duty station in the maneuvering room. He was aft of the engine space and forward of the aft torpedo room. He said they spent the majority of their time in just boxers and flip flops when running on diesel. His job was to throw a series of levers used to transition from running under diesel propulsion to electric motor propulsion during the dive and surfacing actions. The lever positioning was complex and if done incorrectly could kill the boat, literally.
You are dead on the money about the air quality on those boats. I toured the USS Razorback in Little Rock and was just floored and overwhelmed by the smells in the boat. Razorback did 5 patrols in WWII and was at Tokyo Bay for the surrender. This boat was one of the longest operating subs in history having been in active service until 2001 with the Turkish Navy. She was not taken down and decommissioned until after 2004 when her screws and batteries were removed by the US Navy rendering her no longer an active “man of war”. The diesels are still active and are run by the last of her crew from the 1970’s, periodically. She runs on shoreline power which is tapped into her systems. All of her systems are fully active and not just a dead museum ship with independent a/c lighting installed.
The smells of caustic hydraulic oil, diesel, battery electrolyte (acid) and torpedo juice are so overwhelming that they permeated my clothes and I was not able to get that smell out after two washings. I had to throw them away. Mind you, I worked at the time in many complex industrial settings as a consulting engineering tech, so those smells were not alien to me but just not to the degree that they were, in that boat. I got used to it by the time we made our way into the engine space but then the smell overwhelmed me on my clothing once we exited into the clean air, topside. That same smell still permeates my dad’s old dress uniforms til this day.
Later I asked him, “How did you stand all that…the smells, the heat, 80 guys in a space that small and the depth charges?” “Ain’t no way!” I said. He grinned and answered, “Same way you stood crawling in the mud, getting shot at, eating nasty slop for chow and getting wounded! Ain’t no way for me either on that front!” To each their own. They were called the “Old Breed” and we will never see their likes, again. 1SG Sam, US Army Infantry Retired (and only submarine fanboy in the Army.)
That “smell” is a perfume called “Eau Du Submarine” by us submariners. Wonderful smell that brings back so many memories.
I recommend reading Ruhe’s book, “War in the Boats” where he writes about how bad it was to be in one of the old S-class boats, like the S-37 during WWII. Lacking air conditioning, they would heat up in the tropics. Everything was damp and wet. They hot bunked so that each man would sweat while they slept and the next guy would flip over the mat so his sweat would drop from below. They would get pustules on their skin from all the sweating and cockroaches would live in their shoes, eating all the salt their feet left behind. Over a short period of time, the engines would build pressure inside the sub and when the hatch was opened to the outside air, the water in the air would condense, filling the sub with a dense fog. The lucky subs received air conditioning and in one such case, the crew paid for it with their own money.
I have been to the Bowfin as well as an active Sub. I became so claustrophobic I was trying to pass all these people to get out. Bless those men, cause if I thought a new one was small image this one!
Thanks for the interesting story.
I used to live up above Pearl Harbor so we could see everything. Now I live along the coastline just in line with Pearl. Old neighborhood surrounded by new. Most people don’t have a clue about a lot of history, let alone Naval History. Though I wore Army green, we all join for a reason.
I found my Uncle here: http://www.powtaiwan.org/The%20Men/men_list.php?page=74
Visit Nimitz Pacific War Museum, Fredericksburg, Texas
Visit there. You won’t regret it.
Museum of War in the Pacific is the best war related museum I have seen. Definitely worth a visit. So much to be seen, tickets are good for 2 days. Fredericksburg was Nimitz’s home town and the museum was placed there in honor of him.
Outstanding experience. The path through the display winds around and divides into different paths which is somewhat confusing. This was deliberate to simulate the many different fronts of the Pacific conflict and the resulting confusion.
Submariners had the highest casualty rate of any who served, and in the Pacific may have done more than any other efforts to successfully end the war. I learned about the Tang AND “activists” like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth and the Freedom Riders before I got out of high school. This isn’t an either or thing. Both men like O’Kane and those murdered for registering voters are worthy of learning about. Two uncles and my father served and I am proud of all of them; and I am proud of those who demonstrate and engage in “activism” to make our country live up to its founding ideals and be better.
I believe there was a regular naval show on television about 60+ years ago that featured Naval action of various ships and subs during WWII in the Pacific. This seems familiar as one of the films.
Another I remember is where the submarine captain went down with his sub so he would not be captured by the Japanese. He had been part of a very high level war planning committee and did not want the enemy to be able to torcher him for his knowledge.
I forgot to mention, I believe he was awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing himself to protect our Naval operations that were planned.
I believe the show was “The Silent Service.”
There was also another show called “Navy Log.”
Thank-you Rick. You have a good memory. I will write them down and check YouTube, they might have some clips about them.
The TV show was called “The Silent Service”. As a kid I watched it every Saturday evening.
I found the episode on YouTube. Search “The Silent Service – Tang”. This should bring up the correct show. There is a lot more about The Silent Service and the other shows you mentioned on YouTube.
I believe you are talking about Victory at Sea.
I just finished watching the “Silent Service” show series with my dad. Dad served on the USS Kittiwake (ASR-13) submarine rescue ship which were the ones that had the diving bell that attached at the sub hatches for escape. He served on the USS Sea Leopard (SS-483) which was a WWII Tench Class sub, after that. He had two citations for bravery while on that boat. He had forgotten about that show and really came to life watching those again. The show had a “Dragnet” kind of a feel to it except with a Navy spin. I grew up listening to all his Navy experiences and greatly enjoyed them. As a kid, we spent time on the old S-Boat at Mobile Bay so I became fascinated with subs. I heard a lot about the stories of those old boats from my dad that the show covers. Dad got orders for the “Thresher” in 1963 but they were deleted at the last minute. Good thing…that boat went to the bottom with all hands just after that. Little Rock has a great museum display with the USS Razorback (SS-394) which was a sister boat to the Sea Leopard. The boys that last sailed that boat in the early ’70s went over and got it back from the Turkish Navy and brought it back to Little Rock, on their own. The US Navy went nuts when they discovered that a fully functional “man of war” that they did not control was at large in US waters and sent warships to intercept. They eventually got it worked out and we ended up with a very nice display on the River Walk. Just goes to show you, Veterans gonna do what Veterans gonna do, regardless of who likes it or not. Mission Accomplished! Good post-1SG Sam, US Army Infantry Retired (and only submarine fanboy in the Army.)
We grew up on “Victory at Sea”, dad being a Bosun Mate its a given, DON’T touch the dial.
I found both of the shows in YouTube. In SEARCH I entered “The Silent Service – Tang” and that one came up, along with others of that genre. Then I found the Sculpin further down the list. They are mostly as how I remembered them.
I will be looking at more in the near future.
The whole point of fighting the forces of totalitarian regimes was to give us the CHOICE and knowledge to make INFORMED personal decisions. My Mom was a war widow at age 23 when her husband, John Apen, was killed aboard the USS Runner off the coast of Japan. Their generation truly sacrificed all for the sake of their children, that they might have a better life in a fully functioning democracy where everybody has the right to disagree and to believe what they’d like. Just because another persons point of view is different does not make it wrong…just different. I am no less a patriot if I defend the right of American citizens to take a knee. My family died for that right. This forum was to applaud the bravery of those young men who died defending their country, not to listen to other folks espouse rigid doctrine.
My father was in charge of the submarine escape training school and tank in Pearl Harbor during WWll. He was a graduate of the deep sea diving school in Washington, D. C. As a master diver and instructor He served on sub tenders throughout the South Pacific before being assigned as commander of the tank in Pearl. He taught submariners to escape from their sunken subs. I would like to think he saved a lot of submariners lives with this training. He was a wonderful father and I still miss him so much.
The 8 men on board the Tang were the only ones to ever survive an escape from a stricken American submarine.
Program in the 1960s was called “Victory at Sea”. It was narrated by Peter Gray. Musical score was by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It is still available on DVD.
Victory at Sea first aired in the 50’s. It was a 26 episode series and there was also a movie made from the different episode. The episode for submarines was #21 and called “full fathom five” I have all 26 episodes on my computer.
You may also be thinking of the 1950’s series “Navy Log.”
On the 20 of June 1944 the USS Tang attacked a convoy 10 miles S W of Nagasaki sinking the Tamahoko Maru Which was full of British and Dutch P O W’s .The U S high command was aware of the cargo but sent in the USS Tang
Very sad. for those POWs who died from friendly fire.
Dave Libershal below refers to friendly fire. I always thought that the definition applied to mistakes not intentional action
When they call them The Greatest Generation, truer words were never more spoken.
I read that with tears in my eyes about how they kept trying to keep the survivors alive.
Unfortunately, only five actually survived and then to be taken to POW camps. I was a
child during WWII and have so much admiration for all those who served and tell my
children and grandchildren how America was so united and everyone stood behind our
brave military so unlike today where so many downgrade this great country. God bless
America and rest in peace all you valiant and brave military personnel who gave all for
us to give us freedom.
Andrew Wood. Friendly fire is shooting your own without knowing they are friendlies.
It happens in the heat of a battle when all hell breaks out!
Now there have been many cases called “oops “ but as we found out in Vietnam several men were killing innocents or their own.
My father was a CB attached to the Marines. He built his own hut which was the only thing surviving the Monsoon that his Okinawa. His duty was to build the airstips so the GI could land there as well as clear out the caves of the Japanese snipers. He left when I was only (5) because the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour and then went up to the Dutch Harbour and his favorite cousin was blown up so he signed up to revenge his cousin’s death. He was Wilbur W. Morgan. I have many photos.
My Dad was also a Seabee on Saipan and then Tinian supporting the Marines. He had some good stories and it prompted me to become a “Bee” serving 2 tours in Viet Nam. Dads Name ,Wallace Bowers Bosnmate 1st class ( Rigger/ironworker).
My first father-in-law was a Navy Corpsman at the Saipan landings. He never talked about it.
If you would like the photos, please let me know. I am 85, Dad came home when I was (8).
My father rest his soul was also a sea bee. Served in Australia and New Guinea. Told me many stories. What a group of true patriots. I served as a corpsman during Viet Nam. I was at best 1/2 the man his generation was.
My Brother served on the Tang 2 which was built in the 1950’s. While it wasn’t the last Diesel sub (the 3 B’s were that) when it was decommissioned it was first sold to Iran but the Sha left and the crew sought didn’t want to go back home as they would have been killed. The sub was eventually sold to Turkey. When my brother was stationed in San Diego he found Richard O’Kane signing books and bought 2 one for himself and knowing I liked war stories bought a autographed copy for me as well. He told me that they are talking about building a new SSN with the name of Tang. I truly hope so.
I was Engineer on the decommisioning crew of the second Tang (SS 563). The Tang is now a museum ship in Turkey. They are in fact naming several of the Virgina class submarines after famous WWII boats – the Tang (3) will be SSN 805. Hopefully some of us from the 563 will be there for commisioning
My grandfather Christian Nicoliasen is the only documented man to have fought in both sides during WW1, he was a German traitor and escaped to the USA. He then joined the US army and made it back to Europe. He was Danish not German. All my uncles and my aunt served during WW2. My uncle cris died in the Korean War and my husband and I served during and after Vietnam. I love these stories being documented for next generations . However if we didn’t have protest marches. How many more young men would have died in Vietnam, how many young black men would be hanged, and yet those are the same people that won’t speak out about Trump
My father served on the USS Halibut, USS Sterlet and USS Hackleback during WWII in the South Pacific. He never brought the subject up but would answer questions, if asked. He said that, when submerged, the temperature got so hot it felt like your skin was separating from your body. After reading about submarine service, I learned that all submariners were required to know and be proficient at three different jobs, in case of sickness among crew members. I also learned that due to space restrictions, produce was stored in the showers until eaten, and that enlisted sailors shared a bunk (called hot bunking) with at least one other sailor. Is it any wonder the men and women who served our country are called the greatest generation? I think not.
My dad served aboard the USS Halibut for it’s last several patrols.
He didn’t talk about it much. I was born April 1945 and traveled by train almost right after my birth to see my dad for the first time in Connecticut.
The USS Halibut was the most heavily damaged of a sub in WWII to survive. It came home from the Pacific on the surface. I was named for a man my father admired so much Called Robby Roberson. I was named Roberta but always called Robbi. My dad Dave Else enlisted right after Pearl Harbor and wanted the submarine service because just father John Lewis Else served on the (so primitive then) submarines of WWI. And as a side note we always had fun with our last name …we lived SOMEPLACE ELSE. I was always ROBBI WHO ELSE. The travel trailers that my folks had were always labeled SOMEWHERE ELSE.
My Dad served on the SS Garr and Scabbardfish. He always said “It takes a REAL MAN to ride UNDER THE WAVES”. I totally believe it. Thank you ALL FOR YOUR SERVICE!
Stories Behind the Stars volunteer Bob Joyce wrote a profile about everyone of the men lost on USS Tang. These can all be found on Fold3.
What a fantastic blog. I want to read every hyperlink. The stories are amazing! Yes, it was a generation of heroes!
The skipper of the Tang (Dick O’Kane) wrote a book about the exploits of the Tang called “Clear The Bridge”…. This book covers new construction through all of the war patrols and just touches on his time as a POW. An interesting book I found by chance was “Escape From the Deep” that was a detailed look at the escape…. who made it (along with short biographies of the survivors), and who didn’t make it.
My husband and I had the good fortune to live near Admiral and Mrs. O’Kane. Two amazing people! He told us his memories of all the different submarine forays he commanded. He was definitely one of a kind. He had that “old northeast attitude and accent to match” that brought his stories to life. I’ll never forget him. He is a hero to me.
One of the lost crew was a young black cook named Rubin MacNiel Rayford. Rubin had lied about his age and had joined the Navy at age 13. Tang was his third submarine He had perviousely served USS Saury SS 189 and the USS Spearfish SS 190, Tang was his third boat. Though he had been discovered as under age he ignored his orders back to the mainland and reported back to Tang. Rubin was probably the youngest qualified US submariner in die in WW II.
I served on the USS Menhaden SS377, (sister ship to the USS MARIPO SS376, mentioned in one of the responses above). She commissioned in May 1945, too late to see action in WWII. But, as she aged, she was converted to a Guppy Snorkeler, and served in Korea and Vietnam. In later years, she converted again and had a Northern Sale installed. And yes I too was a diesel man, and all your clothes had the smell of diesel fuel. However, after being on board for a day or two, you did not even realize it. So much to our surprise when we first went ashore in Yokasuka, Japan and someone would come to you and say “Sesagon Sailor, Ney?” Yes, that was the diesel smell on the uniforms. But the life aboard was a very happy, busy memory. The Camaraderie aboard and food was always “THE BEST”.
I assume that the torpedo involved in the sinking was a Mark 14, although the 18 wasn’t any better. The malfeasance of the Navy’s Bureau of Ordinance was shameful! Check out https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/torpedo-scandal-rear-adm-charles-lockwood-the-mark-14-and-the-bureau-of-ordnance/
My uncles were in WWII, Navy and Army. I continue to be in awe of all those brave men, no matter what their job was in the war. They truly were willing to be sacrificed for the people of the United States of America. I have tears in my eyes right now. And, I am also in awe of those who now volunteer to be a part of our military, especially those who go in harm’s way to continue the freedom we take for granted here in the USA. Thank you!
My Dad, Elijah Henry “EH” Simms served on seven war patrols on the USS-Skate (1) and the USS Cavalla (6). On the latter as a “Plank Owner”. His rating was TM(3) and his operating position was located in the aft of the boat. He didn’t talk much about the war. He did keep his old uniform which I did donate to the Museum of the Western Prairie for display. He passed away in 1985 at the age of 64 the very week he was to retire. I have kept many of his things from World War 2 which I will pass down thru my family. For twenty years, since I retired, I’ve studied, collected and researched about his time in the Submarine Service in the Pacific. By the way, the USS Cavalla, is a Museum Ship, located at Galvaston Harbor on the Texas coast. Donations are always appreciated. Thank you. Loren C. Simms
Not only was this tale about the USS Tang powerfully moving but so too are the comments entered below. It has brought many memories to the surface and a great respect should be shown for the submariners who risked (and still risk) their lives doing their duty for thir country under the seas and oceans of the world.
What a joy to read of these memories of days gone by…and the wonderful folks who played a part in us still being a wonderful country!
I had the experience of serving aboard USS Sea Fox (SS-402) in the late 60’s. She was built during WWII and saw just a bit of service then. She was altered/upgraded … was a G.U.P.P.Y…. and was modified to a G.U.P.P.Y. IIA This is acronym for specific terms to describe the type of construction… will mean something to those who served.
In attempting to respond to just a few of the comments I read today… at some early stage in submarine existence someone realized that folks might get stuck in a sealed space and need to know how to operate everything in the room, so they developed a regimen they called ‘qualifying’. When one reports aboard, job one is to ‘get qualified’… takes about 6 months on average. A qualified submariner knows how to operate every system aboard the boat. It is quite an undertaking.
A couple books I have enjoyed about submarines… ‘The Terrible Hours’ about a sub that sank off of the East Coast and the attempts to save those aboard…1939.
‘Heroes Beneath the Waves’ …several short stories/vignettes about submarine service… I even got a blurb in that one.
We truly do live in what is still a great country. Lord willing, decisions will continue to be made to facilitate our remaining that way!
Appreciation for contributing…keep it up!
WOW WHAT INCREDIMABLE STORIES AND COURAGE. I am a Vietnam veteran, but the stories a have read about the Soldiers and Sailers in WWII are just in creditable. What a Generation! My father-in law was in the 194 Glider, 17th Airborne Division, received multiple service medals, a purple heart, but never spoke of what he did in the service. Basically, stated he was a truck driver. However, if you look up his division, you will find he was one of few to come home alive. Men like him, who fought like brothers for the US of A in both Europe and Asia and I do not think we will ever see this form of courage and heroism for our country again. Sadly we are too divided and the Congress and Senate is a mess. Hopefully, my children will survive the likes of Trumps, Putin’s over the world. As well as having a current President that should not be in office, because overall medical capacity. I hope thing really get better for future generations.
My grandmother’s first husband, Leroy Lane, was one of the men who went down with the submarine. He received a Purple Heart.
I believe Capt. Gilmore, co of the Growler went down with his sub
Gilmore gave up his life to Save Growler!
Read here: http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/submar/ss215.txt
I got to college on a Regular Navy ROTC scholarship in 1954, and my Instructor in Naval History and Naval Weapons was Lt. Gerald Hedgepeth. He was a “mustang” officer, having served as Gunners Mate on a cruiser early in WW II, before joining the Submarine Service.
His cruiser captured a German raider in the South Atlantic before we were at war with Germany. He jumped at the chance to volunteer as part of the Prize Crew. After the war he received some cash reward from the sale of that German ship. Getting to the point about his submarine service, our NROTC classes were in flat, black-roofed, below grade non-air conditioned hotbox of a building in Columbia, Missouri. One exceptionally hot late Spring day, as we sat dressed in our shorts and tee shirts, sweating, he in his dress uniform, he came into class, and after giving us “carry on,” looked us over and, grinning, said, “ You people think this is hot…you should sit submerged in shallow South Pacific water with depth charges going off all around you.”
He told us other sea stories as well, including the escape training, which got our attention for sure. While training in the anti-submarine warfare room, our class got to go against him as skipper of a submarine. Only one other midshipman and I were able to “sink” Lt. Hedgepeth, which was a high point for us two neophyte sailors.
Yes, it was an amazing story of the USS Tang. Starting in November of 2020, I had the privilege of writing stories about the 82 heroic sailors that died on the boat, in the water, and those that died as POW’s. A volunteer group called Stories Behind the Stars (when a military person fell during the war, a blue flag with a gold star was placed in the window of the family.) researched the fallen, and wrote stories about their early life, schooling, families and other personal information about their life.
Our Star Corps place these stories on a website called FOLD3 and others on Together We Served. Again, those that died during war were given a folded U.S. flag in a three-cornered shape, thus, fold three. My stories and hundreds of others can be found a FOLD3.com by typing in the name of the fallen, then information about the person along with sources of the research, pictures and the narrative story will be accessible.
Having spent four years in the Navy chasing Russian subs from patrol planes during the cold war (1960-63), my interest turned to our U.S. submarines that were lost during World War II. If you have family or friends that served aboard the USS Tang, I would appreciate hearing from you. Any additional information or corrections to what I have written can be edited by me.
I was surprised to hear that Captain O’Kane was one of the survivors of the Tang sinking. I would expect him to have insisted on his crew being rescued first.
The submarine was on the surface and he and 8 others were on the bridge when the torpedo hit came. They were thrown into the the water. It wasn’t his choice.
From the final passage of the final chapter of “Escape From the Deep” (2008) by Alex Kershaw, the final injustice:
Eventually, father[Capt. O’Kane] and daughter [Marsha] could no longer go near rivers and ocean together. As he lost his final battle — against Alzheimer’s — the mere sight of water would transport him back to that terrible night in 1944 when he had survived, unlike so many of his men. “To the very end, my father suffered tremendous survivor’s guilt,” Marsha recalled in 2007. “He talked to me about it a lot. He felt he had not lived up to the naval creed. He had not gone down with his boat.”
For some reason, the sound of foghorns brought the past flooding back with particular traumatic force. Then O’Kane would grab his daughter by the arm and start to pull her toward the ocean.
“We have to go,” O’Kane would say. “We have to go … We have to save them.”
Heroes all…God bless them for their bravery.
The Smithsonian Channel aired a series on submarines in WW II. Season 1 Episode 6, a 1 hour program, titled “Fatal Voyage”, tracked the final patrol of the USS Tang. It is well worth watching.
In 1954 after the Korean Armistice I was transferred from the attack carrier USS Princeton CVA37 to the submarine tender USS Sperry AS12. As a radioman I frequently had occasion to speak with the ship’s Commanding Officer who at that time was Captain Richard O’Kane. All of the ship’s company was aware of his history as Captain of the USS Tang and subsequent prisoner of war. A year later Captain O’Kane retired as a Rear Admiral and was succeeded by Captain Gene Fluckey, another highly successful Medal of Honor winner. I think we all respected both commanding officers and felt honored to serve with them. Both men’s wartime exploits are documented in their excellent books “Clear the Bridge” and “Thunder Below.”
I met Adm Fluckey at the Sub Vets Convention in 1999. I had the chance to shake his hand and speak with him a few moments as he signed an autograph for me.
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