A Brief History
On October 25, 1944, the U.S. submarine USS Tang (SS-306), commanded by ace submarine skipper Richard O’Kane, was sunk when a torpedo that it had fired malfunctioned, turned around, and struck the hapless submarine.
You may have read the History and Headlines article “There is No Such Thing as Friendly Fire!” Friendly fire is the accidental coming of harm to one’s own troops through one’s own weapons. As military instructors are quick to point out, however, no fire is “friendly fire,” as bullets, bombs and shells will kill you no matter who launched them in the first place. Weapons of war are dangerous, and in a combat situation you must beware of fire from any direction.
But what if the fire comes not just from your comrades but also from yourself? There have been cases of soldiers tripping and accidentally shooting themselves with their own rifle or pistol. Such unfortunate mishaps have even occurred when practicing or demonstrating at the range. In one instance, a police officer shot himself by mistake while showing elementary students how to handle guns “safely.” Even before firearms were invented, there must have been some unlucky losers who stabbed themselves when they fell or rolled over on their swords or knives.
Sometimes hand grenades are dropped while the soldier is fumbling to throw it. When the author of this article was at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, a Marine mortar man got his gear caught in the sights of a mortar just as the loader dropped a round down the tube. The Marine gunner leaned back and the gun tube came with him, sending the 60mm-high explosive round almost straight up. The round impacted near the mortar crew, but they had ducked into foxholes and escaped injury, except to their pride. The lieutenant in charge of the mortar shoot had just arrived at Camp Lejeune and it was his first day in the field. Call it lesson #1.
But getting back to the Tang… (like the torpedo did!), its skipper, Commander O’Kane, had sunk more Japanese ships in World War II than any other U.S. submarine commander. Originally credited with sinking 24 ships, a review of war records (including those of the Japanese) in 1980 confirmed that he had actually sunk 31 enemy ships! For his heroism, he received the Medal of Honor and retired as a Rear Admiral in 1957. Yes, that means that he survived the sinking of the Tang, along with 8 of his crew. To go along with his Medal of Honor, he also won 3 Navy Crosses, 3 Silver Stars (the #2 and #3 highest medals), as well as a Legion of Merit and several other medals, including the Purple Heart. This brave and effective leader died in 1994 and is buried at Arlington Cemetery, having narrowly avoided burial at sea, courtesy of a faulty torpedo.
In 1998, the USS O’Kane (DDG 77) was commissioned, having been named in honor of Admiral O’Kane. Let us hope this destroyer experiences “fair winds and following seas,” and above all, no faulty torpedoes!
Question for students (and subscribers): Has anyone in your family ever served in the Navy? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Kershaw, Alex. Escape From The Deep: The Epic Story of a Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew. Da Capo Press, 2008.
Tuohy, William. The Bravest Man: Richard O’Kane and the Amazing Submarine Adventures of the USS Tang. Presidio Press, 2009.