Richard O’Kane retired in 1957, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor as commander of the USS Tang in South Pacific. The Tang sank a Japanese ship every 11 days on five patrols and rescued scores of US fliers who had been shot down in raids on Japanese ships and bases. During one patrol in Formosa Strait on October 24-25, 1944, the Tang sank 110,000 tons of Japanese shipping, including a destroyer. The submarine then fell victim to her 24th and last torpedo when it malfunctioned, circled back and hit the Tang, killing all but 9 of her 87-man crew.
The commander and other survivors were taken prisoner and spent the last ten months of the war in a prison near Tokyo, where they were subjected to beatings and a starvation diet.
After the war, he was promoted to Captain and commanded the Submarine School in New London, Connecticut, before retiring as a Rear Admiral and settling in California. In retirement, he wrote two books about his war experiences: “Clear the Bridge” in 1977 and “Wahoo” in 1987.
Born in Durham, New Hampshire, where his father, Walter, was a professor at the University of New Hampshire. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1934.
He is survived by wife, Ernestine, whom he married in 1936 and who lives in Petaluma. February 2, 1911-February 16, 1994.
He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 59, Grave 874.
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 and 24 October 1944, during her fifth and last war patrol.
Boldly maneuvering on the surface into the midst of a heavily escorted convoy, Commander 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 tagets 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 l,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.