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This Day in History: Richard McCool, WWII Hero

On this day in 1945, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Lt. Richard M. McCool, Jr. was just 23 years old when he served on this day so long ago. Nevertheless, he’d already been given command of a landing support craft.

 

That vessel was then hovering just off the shores of Okinawa.

 

Our soldiers had been fighting for control of that island for weeks. In the meantime, McCool’s LCS-122 and other, similar craft were to alert American forces if they spotted any potential Japanese aerial attacks headed toward the area.


Trouble came on June 10 while LCS-122 was on duty: A Japanese kamikaze pilot took out USS William D. Porter, then also patrolling the waters. McCool leapt into action, evacuating the survivors to his own ship.

 

But that rescue was just the beginning.

 

“The very next day after the Porter sinking,” McCool later explained, “we got the word that the kamikaze group was coming down from [Japan]. Some half an hour later, the planes broke through the clouds up to the north of us. The LCSs were in a diamond formation, and the destroyers were about a couple of miles south of us.  It was obvious that, in order to get to the destroyers, they would have to go right by my ship.”

 

One of the kamikazes took aim for McCool’s ship, but it was shot down, crashing into the water just off LCS-122’s port bow. Unfortunately, a second kamikaze was still coming. The ship’s after action report describes the crew firing at that enemy plane and getting in some hits, but it wasn’t enough. “[The kamikaze] continued in smoking badly and crashed into the starboard side of the ship at the base of the conning tower,” the report concludes. “Fire immediately broke out throughout the amidships section of the ship.”

 

McCool doesn’t remember much about his heroics in the minutes that followed.

“I was unconscious for at least a minute or two,” he described. “When I finally came to, I was the only person there in the conning tower. It seemed very, very quiet. I looked over, of course, there’s this God-awful fire going on . . . .”

 

He scrambled out of the tower and onto the main deck. He was already suffering from painful burns and shrapnel wounds, but none of it was going to stop him from doing what needed to be done.

 

Indeed, from all accounts, McCool was everywhere. He rallied his men to fight the fire, ultimately saving LCS-122 from complete destruction. He rescued sailors who had become trapped by fire, including at least one man that he carried from a burning compartment.

 

That last feat earned him more “excruciating” burns of his own, but he kept going until he finally passed out on the deck.  By then, he had a collapsed lung, too.

 

McCool spent two months recovering in a Guam hospital before being transferred to a hospital in California. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions in December 1945.

 

He didn’t believe that he deserved the Medal.

 

“I suppose it’s the ‘Who me?’ syndrome,” he smiled. “The truth of the matter is, as far as the heroics that I am credited with doing there, I don’t remember much at all about it. And I wondered for a long time if maybe this thing had gotten exaggerated somehow or another. I responded well in a crisis.”

 

Humble, as so many recipients are.


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