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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sunday Ship History: A Hero Passes - Rear Adm. Eugene Fluckey

Some men's lives should be put onto posters and displayed in the Post Offices along with "wanted" signs for America's "Most Wanted" criminals. For we want and need such men today, too.

One of the candidates for such a poster is Read Admiral Eugene Fluckey, who died the other day, as the Chief of Naval Operations noted here:
Every man and woman serving our Navy today joins me in mourning the death of retired Rear Adm. Eugene Fluckey, recipient of the Medal of Honor and a true naval hero. We extend humbly to his family our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies in this, their time of great grief and sorrow.

Fluckey passed away on June 29. He was one of the most daring and successful submarine skippers of World War II -- he was credited with sinking 29.3 enemy ships totaling more than 146,00 tons -- Eugene Fluckey helped lead and inspire our Navy to victory. He inspires us still today. We will miss him sorely.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, they pinned upon his chest four Navy Crosses, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and a host of other unit and campaign awards. He was known for his audacity and courage, on more than one occasion running his boat in close to shore to attack enemy shipping and bases.

He even helped pioneer the idea of submarine support to special operations. In the summer of 1945, he launched a group of his own commandos ashore to set demolition charges on a coastal railway line, destroying a 16-car train. It was the sole landing by U.S. military forces on the Japanese Home Islands during the war.

Fluckey was also a loyal and devoted leader, for whom his people had the greatest respect and in whom they entrusted their lives and their honor. He knew all too well how much they depended on his steady hand, and how much he, in turn, depended on them.

In his final war patrol report as commanding officer of USS Barb, he had this to say about his crew: "What wordy praise can one give such men as these; men who ... follow unhesitatingly when in the vicinity of minefields so long as there is the possibility of targets ... Men who flinch not with the fathometer ticking off two fathoms beneath the keel ... Men who will fight to the last bullet and then start throwing the empty shell cases. These are submariners."

As we mourn his passing, so too should we pause and reflect on the contributions of this great man to our Navy and to our nation - and of the thousands of lives he guided, the careers he mentored, the difference he made simply by virtue of his leadership.

We ought never forget his own words of wisdom: "Put more into life than you expect to get out of it. Drive yourself and lead others. Make others feel good about themselves. They will outperform your expectations, and you will never lack for friends."

Fluckey certainly never lacked for friends. And on behalf of those of us ...his friends and shipmates ... still serving in the Navy, I wish for his soul fair winds and following seas and for his family and loved ones our deepest respect and sympathies.
His obituary in Navy Times sets out his record in more detail:
In five war patrols as the skipper of the submarine Barb, Fluckey sank dozens upon dozens of Japanese ships and destroyed many more small craft and shore installations, according to the Naval Historical Center. Fluckey’s total decorations included the Medal of Honor, four Navy Crosses, and Presidential Unit Citations and Navy Unit Commendations for him and his crew.

Born Oct. 5, 1913, in Washington, D.C., Fluckey graduated from the Naval Academy and accepted his ensign’s commission in 1935. He served aboard the battleship Nevada and the destroyer McCormick before attending Submarine School in 1938 in Groton, Conn.

After several years serving aboard submarines, then-Lt. Cmdr. Fluckey took command of the Barb in late 1943, and went on to sink more enemy tonnage than any other U.S. sub skipper, according to a recent biography, “The Galloping Ghost,” by Carl Lavo.

In action against the Japanese in 1944 and 1945, Fluckey and the Barb sank 85 enemy ships, including an aircraft carrier, a destroyer and a cruiser. His Medal of Honor recognized his “conspicuous gallantry” during a war patrol along the east coast of China from December 1944 to February 1945.

According to the official citation, Fluckey and his crew sank a large enemy ammunition ship and damaged additional ships during a “running 2-hour night battle” on Jan. 8, 1945. Later that month, “in an exceptional feat of brilliant deduction and bold tracking,” Fluckey and the Barb located more than 30 enemy ships. In the battle that followed, the Americans slipped through enemy defenses, scoring direct hits on six of the main targets and blowing up a large ammunition ship, causing “inestimable damage by the resultant flying shells and other pyrotechnics.”

In August 1945, Fluckey was selected to command the new submarine Dogfish, then under construction, although that assignment ended after only a few months when Fluckey was reassigned to Washington. He first served in the office of the Secretary of the Navy before becoming personal aide to the Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.

From June 1947 until he retired in August 1972, Fluckey served in a variety of increasingly important positions, including Commander of Submarine Division 52; Commander of Amphibious Group 4; and Commander of Submarine Force Pacific. He also served as Director of Naval Intelligence before he retired.
His Medal of Honor Citation from here:
CITATION:

Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy, Commanding U.S.S. Barb. Place and date: Along coast of China, 19 December 1944 to 15 February 1945. Entered service at: Illinois. Born: 5 October 1913, Washington, D.C. Other Navy award: Navy Cross with 3 Gold Stars. Citation: 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. Barb during her 11th war patrol along the east coast of China from 19 December 1944 to 15 February 1945. After sinking a large enemy ammunition ship and damaging additional tonnage during a running 2-hour night battle on 8 January, Comdr. Fluckey, in an exceptional feat of brilliant deduction and bold tracking on 25 January, located a concentration of more than 30 enemy ships in the lower reaches of Nankuan Chiang (Mamkwan Harbor). Fully aware that a safe retirement would necessitate an hour's run at full speed through the uncharted, mined, and rock-obstructed waters, he bravely ordered, "Battle station--torpedoes!" In a daring penetration of the heavy enemy screen, and riding in 5 fathoms of water, he launched the Barb's last forward torpedoes at 3,000-yard range. Quickly bringing the ship's stern tubes to bear, he turned loose 4 more torpedoes into the enemy, obtaining 8 direct hits on 6 of the main targets to explode a large ammunition ship and cause inestimable damage by the resultant flying shells and other pyrotechnics. Clearing the treacherous area at high speed, he brought the Barb through to safety and 4 days later sank a large Japanese freighter to complete a record of heroic combat achievement, reflecting the highest credit upon Comdr. Fluckey, his gallant officers and men, and the U.S. Naval Service.
And the story of how his crew came to "sink" a train, found here:
This final patrol had been promised as the Barb's "graduation patrol" and he and his crew had cooked up an unusual finale. Since the 8th of June they had harassed the enemy, destroying the enemy supplies and coastal fortifications with the first submarine launched rocket attacks. Now his crew was buzzing excitedly about bagging a train.

The rail line itself wouldn't be a problem. A shore patrol could go ashore under cover of darkness to plant the explosives...one of the sub's 55-pound scuttling charges. But this early morning Lucky Fluckey and his officers were puzzling over how they could blow not only the rails, but one of the frequent trains that shuttled supplies to equip the Japanese war machine. Such a daring feat could handicap the enemy's war effort for several days, a week, perhaps even longer. It was a crazy idea, just the kind of operation "Lucky" Fluckey had become famous...or infamous...for. But no matter how crazy the idea might have sounded, the Barb's skipper would not risk the lives of his men. Thus the problem... how to detonate the charge at the moment the train passed, without endangering the life of a shore party. PROBLEM? Not on Commander Fluckey's ship. His philosophy had always been "We don't have problems, only solutions".
***
Solutions! If you don't look for them, you'll never find them. And even then, sometimes they arrive in the most unusual fashion. Cruising slowly beneath the surface to evade the enemy plane now circling overhead, the monotony is broken with an exciting new idea. Instead of having a crewman on shore to trigger explosives to blow both rail and a passing train, why not let the train BLOW ITSELF up. Billy Hatfield was excitedly explaining how he had cracked nuts on the railroad tracks as a kid, placing the nuts between two ties so the sagging of the rail under the weight of a train would break them open. "Just like cracking walnuts," he explained. "To complete the circuit (detonating the 55-pound charge) we hook in a microswitch ...between two ties. We don't set it off, the TRAIN does." Not only did Hatfield have the plan, he wanted to be part of the volunteer shore party.
***
The solution found, there was no shortage of volunteers, all that was needed was the proper weather...a little cloud cover to darken the moon for the mission ashore. Lucky Fluckey established his own criteria for the volunteer party:
...No married men would be included, except for Hatfield,
...The party would include members from each department,
...The opportunity would be split between regular Navy and Navy Reserve sailors,
...At least half of the men had to have been Boy Scouts, experienced in how to handle themselves in medical emergencies and in the woods.
***
The Barb had crept within 950 yards of the shoreline. If it was somehow seen from the shore it would probably be mistaken for a schooner or Japanese patrol boat. No one would suspect an American submarine so close to shore or in such shallow water. Slowly the small boats were lowered to the water and the 8 saboteurs began paddling toward the enemy beach. Twenty-five minutes later they pulled the boats ashore and walked on the surface of the Japanese homeland. Having lost their points of navigation, the saboteurs landed near the backyard of a house. Fortunately the residents had no dogs, though the sight of human AND dog's tracks in the sand along the beach alerted the brave sailors to the potential for unexpected danger.

Stumbling through noisy waist-high grasses, crossing a highway and then stumbling into a 4-foot drainage ditch, the saboteurs made their way to the railroad tracks. Three men were posted as guards, Markuson assigned to examine a nearby water tower. The Barb's auxiliary man climbed the ladder, then stopped in shock as he realized it was an enemy lookout tower....an OCCUPIED tower. Fortunately the Japanese sentry was peacefully sleeping and Markuson was able to quietly withdraw and warn his raiding party.

The news from Markuson caused the men digging the placement for the explosive charge to continue their work more slowly and quietly. Suddenly, from less than 80 yards away, an express train was bearing down on them. The appearance was a surprise, it hadn't occured to the crew during the planning for the mission that there might be a night train. When at last it passed, the brave but nervous sailors extracated themselves from the brush into which they had lept, to continue their task. Twenty minutes later the holes had been dug and the explosives and batteries hidden beneath fresh soil.
***
The two boats carring his saboteurs were only halfway back to the Barb when the sub's machinegunner yelled, "CAPTAIN! Another train coming up the tracks!" The Commander grabbed a megaphone and yelled through the night, "Paddle like the devil!", knowing full well that they wouldn't reach the Barb before the train hit the microswitch.
***
The darkness was shattered by brilliant light and the roar of the explosion. The boilers of the locomotive blew, shattered pieces of the engine blowing 200 feet into the air. Behind it the cars began to accordian into each other, bursting into flame and adding to the magnificent fireworks display. Five minutes later the saboteurs we lifted to the deck by their exuberant comrades as the Barb turned to slip back to safer waters. Moving at only two knots, it would be a while before the Barb was into waters deep enough to allow it to submerge. It was a moment to savor, the culmination of teamwork, ingenuity and daring by the Commander and all his crew. "Lucky" Fluckey's voice came over the intercom. "All hands below deck not absolutely needed to maneuver the ship have permission to come topside." He didn't have to repeat the invitation. Hatches sprang open as the proud sailors of the Barb gathered on her decks to proudly watch the distant fireworks display. The Barb had "sunk" a Japanese TRAIN!
At the bottom of USS Barb's battle flag is a little symbol of a train.


RADM Fluckey wrote book about his adventure Thunder Below!

And a very nice Naval Academy Alumni Association write up about the man and his leadership style here
This passion for creativity could get annoying, and Mr. LaVo wrote of one point in Adm. Fluckey's career: "In a poll among his squadron skippers he was voted the officer least likely to succeed because he 'rocked the boat' with too many new ideas."

Adm. Fluckey's former executive officer, retired Vice Adm. Robert W. McNitt, a Ginger Cove resident, said, "Gene was the ideal captain. "He was fearless and good-humored, and could solve complex technical problems. He could motivate his crew better than anyone I have ever seen."

Adm. Fluckey's daughter, Annapolis resident Barbara Fluckey Bove, described her father as "an optimistic, forward-looking person," and attributes his many successes to the way he handled challenges.

"My dad's big motto was 'There are no problems, only solutions,' " Mrs. Bove said. "He lived that; he didn't dwell on problems, because if you are dwelling on the problem, you can't find a solution."
***
Adm. Fluckey would go against Navy regulations to smuggle cases of beer aboard, often stacking the showers full.

Cold beers were the commander's way of rewarding the crew for enduring difficult circumstances, as when Japanese ships circled overhead, ready to make the kill.

On at least one such occasion, as the enemy hovered, Adm. Fluckey got on the intercom and told the crew to start putting beer in the cooler.

The message was simple: As improbable as it may have seemed, this would not be defeat, it would be a victory celebration.
Too many "new" ideas? Turns out that he was the right man in the right job at the right time.
Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.


Honors at Bubblehead's place, too.
UPDATE: And at Chapomatic.

Photos from here. Reminder that you can make most of the images larger by clicking on them.

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