Lieutenant Richard Miles McCool, Jr., US Navy: Medal of Honor Series

Seriously wounded aboard LCS-122 off Okinawa in June 1945, McCool’s steadfast leadership and disregard for his own safety saved the lives of his crew and his ship.

Top Image: Lieutenant Richard M. McCool, Jr. from the National Archives.

More than two months into the fighting at Okinawa, Japanese aerial attacks remained a constant threat. Radar picket stations, consisting of destroyers and smaller ships, surrounded the island with the purpose of alerting US forces of approaching enemy aircraft. At Radar Picket Station 15 north of Okinawa, LCS(L)(3)-122 formed part of a picket station of destroyers and LCS (Landing Craft Support). Commanding LCS-122 was 23-year-old Oklahoma native, Lieutenant Richard Miles McCool, Jr.

Fanning out from a central point on Okinawa, the 15 radar picket stations can be seen here. Station 15 is slightly northwest of the island, in the direction of the Japanese home islands, often one of the first stations to be attacked by incoming Japanese aircraft. From the Naval History and Heritage Command.

On June 10, 1945, LCS-122 was on picket duty when the destroyer USS William D. Porter (DD-579) fell victim to a kamikaze attack. A Japanese Val dive bomber dropped out of the clouds and dove on the destroyer. Although the William D. Porter evaded, the aircraft splashed down nearby. As it plunged into the water, the Val ended up beneath the William D. Porter where it exploded. The ship leapt out of the water and fell back; her power out, steam lines burst, and fires breaking out. Although the ship’s crew fought valiantly after three hours, the commanding officer ordered the ship abandoned. As the order came down, just under 300 crew had to evacuate. Performing her duty as a “pallbearer,” LCS-122, with McCool in command, worked to rescue the ship’s crew. Incredibly, there were no fatalities.

On the left is LCS-122, as she assists the sinking USS William D. Porter, seen on the right sinking on June 10, 1944. From the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The next day, June 11, LCS-122 continued its duties on Radar Picket Station 15 with three other LCS. In the northernmost position in a diamond formation, she was a sitting duck, bristling with antiaircraft guns, anticipating enemy aircraft at any moment. Destroyers, acting as part of the screen, were three to four miles away when Japanese aircraft were spotted. From the north, three Val dive bombers closed in on the formation of ships. The ship’s after action report recounted the engagement: 

“First Val, having been hit consistently by fire from LCS(L)(3) 122 continued in. It was apparently out of control for it passed approximately eight feet above the forward end of the deck house and splashed on the port side not more than 100 yards away. Attention and all fire was immediately shifted to the two remaining oncoming planes.The second Val led slightly and was under the fire from guns #2, 3, and 5 as well as fire from other LCS(L)(3)s…Gun #7 scored several hits on the third Val and then shifted fire back to the second as it closed in. The greenhouse on the second Val was shot off by the #5 gun (20mm), but it continued in smoking badly and crashed into the starboard side of the ship at the base of the conning tower. Fire immediately broke out throughout the amidships section of the ship, while pyrotechnic and 20mm ammunition started exploding. A bomb carried by the plane passed through the ship, emerging on the port side. It exploded as it hit the water showering the port side with shrapnel.”

At his station in the conning tower, Lieutenant McCool was hit by shrapnel and flames. Seriously wounded, he rallied his crew to fight the fires and save their ship. He did not retire until the other LCS came to their aid and he, along with many others, were forcibly evacuated to another ship. For his “valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of extreme peril” Lieutenant McCool was awarded the Medal of Honor. McCool recovered from his wounds and received the Medal from President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony at the White House in December 1945. Lieutenant McCool remained in the Navy, reaching the rank of Captain and retiring from the US Navy in 1974 after 30 years of service.

President Harry S. Truman shakes McCool’s hand after presenting him with the Medal of Honor during a December 1944 ceremony at the White House. From the Naval History and Heritage Command.


Medal of Honor Citation

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the USS LCS 122, during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Ryukyu Chain, 10 and 11 June 1945. Sharply vigilant during hostile air raids against Allied ships on radar picket duty off Okinawa on 10 June, Lieutenant McCool aided materially in evacuating all survivors from a sinking destroyer which had sustained mortal damage under the devastating attacks. When his own craft was attacked simultaneously by two of the enemy’s suicide squadron early in the evening of 11 June, he instantly hurled the full power of his gun batteries against the plunging aircraft, shooting down the first and damaging the second before it crashed his station in the conning tower and engulfed the immediate area in a mass of flames. Although suffering from shrapnel wounds and painful burns, he rallied his concussion-shocked crew and initiated vigorous fire-fighting measures and then proceeded to the rescue of several trapped in a blazing compartment, subsequently carrying one man to safety despite the excruciating pain of additional severe burns. Unmindful of all personal danger, he continued his efforts without respite until aid arrived from other ships and he was evacuated. By his staunch leadership, capable direction and indomitable determination throughout the crisis, Lieutenant McCool saved the lives of many who otherwise might have perished and contributed materially to the saving of his ship for further combat service. His valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of extreme peril sustains and enhances the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

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Kali Martin

Kali Martin earned a bachelor's degree in International Studies and German at the University of Miami and a master's degree in Mili...
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