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Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Cmdr. George L. Street III

Navy Cmdr. George Levick Street III was a daring leader during crucial moments toward the end of World War II in the Pacific. His expertise and leadership allowed his submarine crew to sneak into an enemy harbor and destroy three ships without suffering any damage to their own vessel. That feat earned him the Medal of Honor. 

Street was born on July 27, 1913, in Richmond, Virginia. His parents were Florence and George Street Jr., and he had two younger siblings, sister Melinda and brother Abbot, who also served in the Navy during World War II.  

Street graduated from St. Christopher’s School, a private school for boys, in 1931. Shortly afterward, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Two years later, he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he graduated and commissioned as an ensign in June 1937.

Street spent his first three active-duty years serving at sea. In the fall of 1940, he requested to go to submariner school in New London, Connecticut. After, he received orders to serve on the new submarine USS Gar, which arrived at Pearl Harbor three days after the Japanese surprise attack that brought the U.S. into World War II. Street spent much of the war on the Gar, completing numerous patrols and earning two Silver Stars.

At some point during the war, Street met Mary McKimmey, of Norfolk, Virginia. They married and had two children, son George and daughter Kris.

In July 1944, Street had worked his way up the ranks and was given command of the newly commissioned submarine USS Tirante, which set sail for its first war patrol in March 1945 and would go on to sink at least six Japanese ships. It was during that first patrol that Street’s leadership and bravery earned him the Medal of Honor.

Before dawn on April 14, 1945, then-Lt. Cmdr. Street and his crew were tasked with doing reconnaissance along the coastline of Quelpart Island off the southwest coast of Korea. Japanese surface forces were docked at the island’s harbor, which was filled with underwater mines and shoals that caused obstructions. Above the water, several surface vessels patrolled. There were also five shore-based radar stations and enemy aircraft patrolling the skies.

Moving into that hostile area undetected was a daunting task, but Street was up for the challenge. As his sub crept into the harbor from the south to within a little more than a half-mile from the coast, the ship’s crew readied itself at surface battle stations in case they were attacked. Then, Street ordered the launch of two torpedoes toward a large Japanese auxiliary transport ship called Juzan Maru. It exploded into a mountainous and blinding glare of white flames, Street’s Medal of Honor citation said.

The flare made the Tirante plainly visible, causing enemy shore batteries to spot it immediately and open fire. Street quickly ordered the ship to turn and run, but as it did so, he fired its last torpedoes at two escort ships that were in aggressive pursuit. Two of the torpedoes hit the ship Nomi, which blew the ship in two. A dud torpedo hit a third ship, called Kaibokan No. 31, but it capsized and sank anyway due to a fire that the torpedo’s strike caused in its after magazine.

Going full speed ahead, Street’s crew managed to clear the debris-filled harbor and slip undetected along the shoreline, where they were able to dive deep and fully get away, even as another enemy ship dropped several depth charges right where they’d begun their dive.

According to Street’s obituary in the Roanoke Times, the Tirante received word right before it began its mission that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died. Afterward, the sub sent a message to its Pacific command, presumably in honor of the late president. It said, “Three for Franklin … sank ammunition ship, two escorts.”

Street was promoted to commander three months later. His daring and skillful leadership during the Tirante’s first patrol earned him the Medal of Honor, which he received from new President Harry S. Truman during a White House ceremony on Oct. 5, 1945, alongside 13 other recipients. The Tirante’s crew also earned a Presidential Unit Citation for its brave actions.

Street was one of seven World War II submarine commanders to receive the Medal of Honor. He was also the last man from the submarine service to receive it, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Two months after the Quelpart Island incident, Street led the Tirante into another skirmish that earned him the Navy Cross. On June 11, 1945, the sub sank several hostile vessels before moving through treacherously shallow waters into the heart of Nagasaki Harbor, where it sank another enemy ship and destroyed vital docking facilities. Once again, the Tirante managed to escape without being hit by enemy ships or shore gun batteries.

A few months after the war ended, Street left the Tirante to become the Navy’s technical advisor for the submarine documentary film “The Silent Service.” The Tirante’s mission to Quelpart Island was also brought to life in the 1958 movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep,” starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.

Street eventually transferred to the Office of Naval Research, where he helped to organize the first Undersea Symposium. Over the next 20 years, he commanded various vessels, worked in research and development and gained more knowledge about his craft at various military schools. He even spent time as a professor of naval science at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Street retired from active duty in August 1966. He and his family settled in Andover, Massachusetts, about two hours north of Boston.

For the rest of his life, Street was an active member of several veterans’ organizations. He was also a popular speaker at patriotic community events and at schools throughout New England. He even taught the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at Woburn High School in Woburn, Massachusetts, until 1990.

Street died at 86 on Feb. 26, 2000, at a nursing home in Andover. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In his honor, a bridge in Andover was renamed for him.  

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

Source: Department of Defense

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