FOCUS ON: THE USS TANG
The USS Tang first slipped into the water in 1943, launched and commissioned at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California with Lt. Cdr. Richard “Dick” H. O’Kane commanding. With a crew of up to 10 officers and 80 enlisted men, the Balao class fleet submarine sank 33 Japanese ships during its five war patrols, earning two Presidential Unit Citations and four battle stars for its World War II service.
Tang carried 10 torpedo tubes — six at the bow; four at the stern. Like all US fleet submarines during the war, Tang was diesel-electric. When on the surface, diesel engines powered the ship and charged electric batteries that drove the sub when submerged.
O’Kane was already well-known in the “Silent Service,” as the submarine force was called. He previously served under Commander Dudley W. “Mush” Morton aboard the USS Wahoo (SS-238). The New Hampshire native was chosen to command USS Tang even before it was commissioned.
O’Kane inspired fierce loyalty and pride in his crew. The sub sank 20 ships on her first four patrols and broke a record at the time by rescuing 22 downed airmen on one patrol.
On her fifth patrol, Tang sent an unprecedented 13 enemy ships to the bottom. Tragically as she fired her last torpedo of her last patrol before heading home, it broached and began to boomerang back towards the sub. Captain O’Kane frantically attempted to move the 312-foot submarine out of the way, but the torpedo slammed into the port side, sinking the vessel. O’Kane and a handful of his crew were washed from the bridge into the water, while several other men managed to escape the sunken vessel using a mechanical breathing device known as a Momsen lung. A total of nine men managed to survive on the surface, only to be taken prisoner by a Japanese patrol craft. The survivors languished in POW camps until being liberated in 1945. The rest of the crew perished in the USS Tang, which came to rest 180 feet below the surface.
Dick O’Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions aboard Tang, becoming one of the most decorated servicemen in the war. O’Kane also earned three Navy Crosses, three Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit with a “V” device for Valor, the Purple Heart, three Presidential Unit Citations and numerous other service medals. In her short nine-month career, USS Tang sank an incredible total of 33 enemy ships, the highest scoring submarine in United States Navy history, making O’Kane the most successful American sub skipper of all time.
Radioman 3rd Class Roy Joseph Miletta
After the USS Tang was lost on October 25, 1944, Radioman 3rd Class Roy Joseph Miletta’s family, like many others, received a telegram from the US Navy informing them that their son was missing in action. However, a second telegram brought more welcome news. It confirmed that Roy was transferred to shore before the Tang began her fifth and final patrol. (This telegram also has the distinction of being the 100,000th artifact to join the collection of The National WWII Museum.)
A log book kept by Miletta records the fateful event that would require his transfer off the submarine. In an entry dated September 25, 1944, he writes, “Underway as before, today I had a little accident, got the end of my thumb cut off, got caught in a water tight door, looks pretty black, may get transferred at Midway.”