Richard Hetherington O’Kane, born on 2 February 1911 in Dover, N.H., to Dr. and Mrs. Walter C. and Clifford H. O’Kane. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, N.H., and the University of New Hampshire at Durham, before entering the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., on appointment from his native state on 14 July 1930. He graduated and was commissioned an ensign on 31 May 1934.
O’Kane served successively in heavy cruiser Chester (CA-27), from 30 June 1934 to 10 June 1935, and destroyer Pruitt (DD-347) until 9 December 1937. O’Kane married Ernestine Groves of Chapel Hill, N.C., on 1 June 1936, at Berkley, Calif. Their union produced two children, Marsha G. and James H. On 30 December 1937, O’Kane reported for instruction in submarines at Submarine Base New London, Conn. After completing his training on 8 June 1938, he served in mine laying submarine Argonaut (SM-1) until 18 March 1942, when he reported for duty in connection with fitting out submarine Wahoo (SS-238) at Mare Island Navy Yard, Calif. He served as Wahoo’s executive officer from her commissioning on 15 May 1942 to 21 July 1943.
O’Kane stood periscope watch as Wahoo’s assistant approach officer when the boat fought Japanese destroyer Harusame 11 miles west of Wewak, New Guinea, on 24 January 1943. O’Kane determinedly withheld fire until the destroyer and the submarine closed their range and then launched torpedoes, damaging Harusame. Two days later, Wahoo attacked a Japanese convoy about 270 miles north of Dutch New Guinea, torpedoing and sinking army cargo ships Buyo Maru and No. 2 Fukuei Maru. After dispatching the freighters, which served as transports, Wahoo surfaced to recharge her batteries and the gunners manned her guns. Firing her 4-inch gun at the largest of the craft drew Japanese return fire from automatic weapons. Lt. Cmdr. Dudley W. Morton later reported: “We then opened fire with everything we had.” Subsequently, Wahoo pursued and torpedoed armed merchant cruiser Ukishima Maru and army cargo ship Pacific Maru. O’Kane received the Silver Star with two Gold Stars in lieu of his second and third awards of the medal for his outstanding service while on board Wahoo.
He returned to Mare Island on 14 August 1943, and worked on fitting out submarine Tang (SS-306), commissioning her on 15 October. O’Kane led Tang through a series of intensive training exercises in the San Diego, Calif., area, and then sailed her to war, reaching Pearl Harbor, Hi., on 8 January 1944. O’Kane repeatedly displayed courageous and confident leadership throughout the boat’s war patrols. On 18 February Tang attacked a Japanese convoy, sinking army cargo ship Gyoten Maru and merchant tanker Kuniei Maru, about 130 miles west-northwest of Truk. Enemy escort vessels depth-charged Tang but she escaped. Tang assaulted a Japanese convoy west of Saipan on 25 and 26 February, sinking merchant cargo ship Echizen Maru. O’Kane aggressively pursued the convoy into the next day, sinking fleet tanker Choko Maru west of Saipan. The submarine ravaged a Japanese convoy leaving Koshiki Straits on 24 June, sinking army cargo ships Tamahoko Maru and Kennichi Maru, and merchant tanker Nasuzan Maru and cargo ship Tainan Maru outside Nagasaki harbor, Kyūshū. Coast Defense Vessel No. 1 counterattacked Tang but failed to keep pace with her and the submarine eluded the enemy. O’Kane subsequently received the Navy Cross and two Gold Stars in lieu of his second and third awards of the medal for “relentlessly seeking out the enemy throughout a period of intense offensive operations...fighting his ship with brilliant tactical ability,” and pressing home “a series of bold and accurate torpedo attacks.”
O’Kane boldly maneuvered Tang on the surface into the midst of a Japanese convoy in Formosa (Taiwan) Strait during the submarine’s fifth and final war patrol, on 23 October 1944. Despite an enemy fusillade of shells and bullets, he coolly sank Japanese cargo ships Toun Maru and Tatsuju Maru, transport Wakatake Maru, and merchant cargo ship Kori Go, swinging Tang about to avoid an onrushing merchantman by mere seconds. Boxed in by blazing ships and closing escorts, he fired a final spread and cleared the area. O’Kane contacted another convoy on 24 October, bound for Leyte, Philippines, to reinforce the Japanese troops there. Defiantly disregarding the enemy fire he resolutely closed and sank merchant cargo ship Ebara Maru, and damaged tanker Matsumoto Maru, which sank the following day. He fired the last two torpedoes during his attack, but the second left the tube and ran erratically, starting a circular run. O’Kane called for emergency speed, but twenty seconds after firing the malfunctioning torpedo slammed into the boat abreast the after torpedo room, sinking Tang quickly. The explosion blew O’Kane into the water, and a Japanese destroyer escort rescued him and eight other survivors the following morning. He later received the Medal of Honor for his “gallant command,” and for achieving an “illustrious record of heroism in combat.”
The Japanese imprisoned O’Kane on Taiwan and later transferred him to a camp near Tōkyō, where they did not register him as a prisoner of war in compliance with international agencies. The Navy therefore considered him “missing in action” until his liberation following the war. The Japanese treated the prisoners horribly, and O’Kane weighed barely 120 pounds when he gained his freedom. Planes evacuated him to Pearl Harbor, and following a brief period of hospitalization, he was transferred to Naval Hospital Portsmouth, N.H., for additional treatment.
O’Kane joined the staff of Commander Mare Island Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet, with additional duty as commanding officer of submarine tender Pelias (AS-14), in April 1946. In that assignment, which extended to July 1948, he attended and testified at the War Crimes Trials in Tōkyō, in September and October 1947. He next served for a year as executive officer of Nereus (AS-17), stationed at San Diego, and in August 1949 became Commander Submarine Division 32. He completed classes at the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Va., from August 1950 to January 1951, and then taught the Command Class, serving as the assistant officer in charge of the Submarine School at New London. In July 1952, he assumed command of the school. O’Kane commanded Sperry (AS-12) from August 1953 to June 1954, after which he broke his flag in command of Submarine Squadron 7. Detached in June 1955, he next completed instruction at Naval War College, Newport, R.I., and in July 1956 was assigned to the Ship Characteristics Board in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations at Washington, D.C. He remained there until he retired from active duty as a rear admiral on 1 July 1957.
O’Kane worked for the Great Lakes Carbon Corp., from 1957-1962, and then retired to a ranch at Sebastopol, Calif. He developed several patents while at the ranch, and wrote two books about his wartime experiences: Clear the Bridge!: The War Patrols of the USS Tang, which was released in 1957; and Wahoo: The Patrols of America’s Most Famous World War II Submarine in 1977. O’Kane died of pneumonia at Petaluma, Calif., on 16 February 1994, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
The first U.S. Navy ship named O’Kane.
(DDG-77: displacement 8,960; length 505'; beam 66'; draft 31'; speed 30+ knots; complement 356; armament 1 5-inch, 2 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-156 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft operate (but not embark) 1 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawk; class Arleigh Burke)
O’Kane (DDG-77) was laid down on 8 May 1997 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works; launched on 28 March 1998, sponsored by Mrs. Leslie A. Berry, granddaughter of the late Rear Adm. O’Kane; and commissioned on 23 October 1999 at Pearl Harbor, Hi., Cmdr. David C. Hulse in command.
Dark blue and gold represent the sea and excellence and are the colors traditionally used by the Navy. The trident, a symbol of naval power, underscores O’Kane’s combat and weapons systems, which allows the ship to dominate the battle space in multi-threat environments. The stylized crosses and stars commemorate the three Navy Crosses and three Silver Stars awarded to O’Kane for his brilliant tactical ability and heroism during his war patrols as the executive officer of Wahoo (SS-238) and commanding officer of Tang (SS-306).
The dolphins pay tribute to O’Kane as a submariner. The reversed star represents the Medal of Honor awarded to O’Kane for his extraordinary actions during his final war patrol. Operating independently in enemy-controlled waters, O’Kane decimated two large and heavily protected convoys before Tang went down. The flaming naval sword rising from the waves highlights O'Kane and his crewmen’s aggressive action on their war patrols. Red is emblematic of valor and sacrifice, underscoring O’Kane’s time as a prisoner of war.
French frigate Commandant Birot (F.796) carried out a routine query of motor vessel Safari to verify her shipping documents and state of registry, while patrolling the Arabian Sea on 4 June 2005. The boarding team discovered more than 2.3 tons of hashish, wrapped in 105 bags, each containing 20 one-kilogram bricks of hashish. A French land-based maritime patrol plane assisted the frigate. The French confiscated and transferred the narcotics and smugglers to O’Kane, which operated in the area with Combined Task Force 150, and she turned them over to the appropriate legal authorities.
Guided missile destroyer Porter (DDG-78) escorted dock landing ship Gunston Hall (LSD-44) through the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Gulf when she collided with Panamanian-flagged and Japanese-owned bulk oil tanker Otowasan, at approximately 0100 on 12 August 2012. Neither ship reported casualties, but Porter reached Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, under her own steam, where she completed 45 days of repairs. O’Kane moored nearby and her crewmembers generously offered Porter’s sailors meals, showers, temporary berthing, and a myriad of logistics and maintenance tasks during the yardwork.
Detailed history under construction.
Mark L. Evans
2 February 2015