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Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Capt. Richard M. McCool Jr.


When Japanese suicide aircraft attacked U.S. Navy ships late in World War II, Navy Capt. Richard Miles McCool Jr. calmly worked to save several sailors and keep his ship from exploding. Ironically, McCool remembered very little of the ordeal; however, first-hand accounts from others of his leadership under fire earned him the Medal of Honor.

  

McCool was born on Jan. 4, 1922, in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, to Betty and Richard McCool Sr. He was one of four children and the only boy in the family. His father was the president of Murray College (now Murray State College), which may explain why, in a Veterans History Project Library of Congress interview in the early 2000s, McCool said his parents were “what you’d call education freaks” who started him in school at age 4.  

When McCool’s father became the state’s Democratic chairman in 1930, the family moved to Norman, Oklahoma. McCool did well at academics and even skipped a grade, allowing him to graduate high school at the age of 15. By the time he turned 19, he’d earned a political science degree from the University of Oklahoma.  

McCool said he considered joining the foreign service after college, but he wasn’t old enough to do so. Within a few months, however, the Pearl Harbor bombings happened, launching the U.S. into World War II. McCool instead was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy to continue his education and prepare for war. 

McCool said he wanted to become an aviator, but his eyesight wasn’t up to par, so instead he volunteered for the amphibious force, which offered him the chance to take command of a ship right out of the academy. He graduated in June 1944; his class only had to attend three years of classes instead of four due to the war.  

In December 1944, after receiving further amphibious training, McCool assumed command of USS LCS 122, a landing craft support ship that employed about 65 crew members. Shortly after the crew settled in, LCS 122 set sail for the Pacific Theater of war.  

By the spring of 1945, the Battle of Okinawa had gotten underway and Allied troops were busy trying to get a foothold on the island. U.S. supply and support ships were in abundance at the island’s harbor, but that made them sitting ducks for Japanese suicide bombers, known as kamikazes.  

To thwart kamikaze attempts, the U.S. set up 15 radar picket stations around the island. McCool said each station included at least three destroyers that used their radar to detect upcoming attacks and four LCS ships that would guard the destroyers by shooting down enemy planes.  

“Each [LCS] ship had 10 rocket launchers in the bow that had 12 4.5-inch rockets in each one,” McCool explained in his Library of Congress interview. He earned his Medal of Honor during one of these attacks.  

 

On June 10, 1945, LCS 122 was on picket duty north of Okinawa when a hostile air raid began. The USS William D. Porter, a destroyer at the station, was severely damaged by a kamikaze attack. Then-Lt. McCool ordered his men to evacuate the survivors from the sinking ship.  

The next evening, LCS 122 was attacked by two kamikazes. McCool immediately launched the full power of his gun batteries, which quickly shot one aircraft down.  

“The first one dove at us and passed over my bow,” McCool remembered. “I was afraid that the people in the No. 1 40-mm gun mount might have been hit by the wheels or something, it was so low. But it crashed into the water just on our port bow.” 

The second aircraft came flying in right behind the first. The LCS’s gun batteries did some damage, but the aircraft still crashed into McCool’s battle station in the ship’s conning tower. 

“It came in and hit about 8-10 feet below where I was standing,” McCool remembered, saying they were lucky that the aircraft’s bomb didn’t explode on impact. “Instead, it or something from the plane went through the radio shack and out the side of the ship on the other side and exploded, apparently just as it was entering the water.” 

 

The crash immediately engulfed the area in flames and knocked McCool unconscious. He said when he came to, he was the only person in the conning tower.  

“I shimmied over the port side of the conning tower and dropped onto the deck from there,” he said.  

McCool was seriously wounded by shrapnel and suffered painful burns on his right side. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he rallied his concussion-shocked crew and began vigorous measures to fight the fire raging on the deck below him. McCool said the flames were 15 to 20 feet from a room that stored the ship’s rockets, so he was very concerned about the ship exploding.  

“I can remember telling the chief engineer to take a crew of people and go around to the starboard side and forward, and I would have somebody else go around the other way and try to at least keep the fire from spreading,” he said in his Library of Congress interview. “And the truth of the matter is I don’t really remember much of what went on after that.” 

 

His Medal of Honor citation said he rescued several men trapped in a blazing compartment and even carried one of them to safety, despite the excruciating pain of his own wounds — including his right lung collapsing. But McCool said he has no memory of that.  

“As far as the heroics I was credited with doing … I wondered for a long time if maybe this thing had gotten exaggerated somehow or another,” McCool said in the early 2000s. “But I’m happy to say that when we started having these reunions of people who served in that type of ship, they confirmed that it was in fact people from the ship who had originated these accounts.”   

McCool was finally able to get his own help after aid arrived to LCS 122. Eleven men were killed and 29 were wounded in the incident, newspapers at the time reported. But thanks to McCool’s leadership, many others were rescued, and his ship survived to see further service.  

McCool was evacuated from the area and was sent to medical facilities in Guam, Pearl Harbor and California for treatment.  

“[There were] several operations where they’d go in and remove another piece of bone fragment from me,” he told the Veterans History Project. “I still have a bone fragment in my liver, which one doctor said not to ever let anybody try to take out.” 

McCool spent nearly a year in hospitals, including several months at one in his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma. He was there when he learned he’d be getting the Medal of Honor. Shortly thereafter, in September 1945, he married his girlfriend, Carole Elaine Larecy, who he’d met on leave prior to his deployment. They went on to have three children, two boys and a girl.  

By the fall of 1945, the hospital finally allowed McCool to travel, so he and his wife went on their honeymoon, which was spent visiting friends on the East Coast. The trip included a pitstop in Washington, D.C., where McCool received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman during a White House ceremony on Dec. 18, 1945. McCool said Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Navy Adm. Chester Nimitz were present, and his family was able to attend, which he said was a special moment for him.  

Years later, McCool described the award as both humbling and daunting.  

“I didn’t remember having done anything that I thought would justify this,” he said. “But even afterward, it’s hard to try to live up to the kind of respect that people have for the medal.” 

After the war, McCool served on several more ships, then worked as an aide to an admiral in Louisiana and also as an ROTC instructor at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. During the Korean War, he served on the aircraft carrier USS Leyte as a deck officer.    

During the 1950s, McCool earned a master’s degree in public relations from Boston University before serving in the nation’s capital. He also served in Thailand as a commander’s staff member and then in Japan for a time. By July 1965, he’d worked his way up in the ranks to captain.  

About a year later, McCool took over as deputy commander of the Defense Information School when it was located at Fort Benjamin in Harrison, Indiana. He then worked in various public affairs posts before retiring from active duty in 1974. 

As a civilian, McCool became active in local politics in the Seattle area, serving two terms as chairman of the Kitsap County Democratic Party, according to his obituary in the newspaper The Daily Oklahoman. He lived on Bainbridge Island and did a lot of volunteer work in the area, the newspaper said.  

McCool died on March 5, 2008, at a hospital in Bremerton, Washington. His wife and children were at his bedside, newspapers reported.  

McCool is buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland. In his honor, the Navy transport dock ship USS Richard M. McCool Jr. was christened by his granddaughters in June 2022. The ship was delivered to the Navy in April of this year.  


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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