Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
The Kamikaze Attacks: Lt. Richard Miles McCool Jr.
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After an enemy Japanese plane crashed into the water besides the USS William D. Porter, it exploded causing the destroyer to partially leave the water and crash down again. Thanks to Lieutenant Richard Miles McCool Jr., the commander of a smaller Landing Craft Support ship (LCS-122), all 300 crew members were evacuated to safety.
The next day, on June 11th, 1945, the LCS-122 was subject to its own Kamikaze attack that made a direct hit to its bow. The impact caused an explosion and a serious fire that threatened to ignite the ship’s ammunition cache, igniting 120 rockets all at once. Despite his right side being covered in burns and shrapnel, Lt. McCool helped two wounded sailors escape the flaming deckhouse, and directed his crew in order to keep the fire from spreading. His lung then collapsed, but he was able to receive aid and be evacuated to another LCS.
Lt. McCool was awarded the Medal of Honor role in saving both the crew of the USS William D. Porter on June 10th, and his own crew on June 11th, 1945.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Richard Miles McCool Jr. was born on January 4th, 1922 in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. His dad was the president of Murray State College, so his parents valued education very highly. They started homeschooling him early, and he began grade school when he was just four years old. He ended up skipping the 5th grade, and he graduated high school when he was just 15 years old. From there, McCool attended the University of Oklahoma, and graduated with a B.A. in political science when he was 19 years old. Despite being a college graduate, many potential career paths were closed to McCool due to his age, so after learning about the Navy, he joined the new Navy ROTC program. From there he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy.
By this time, World War II was in full swing, and there was a critical need for naval officers, so McCool and the rest of his class graduated a year early in 1944. McCool then volunteered for an amphibious force because there was a rumor that fresh graduates who volunteered would be given command of a small ship. Only about 15 volunteers ended up receiving command, and McCool was one of them. He was promoted to lieutenant and given command of Landing Craft Support 122, a small ship that was about 158 feet long and 23 feet wide.
A year later, on June 10th, 1945, LCS-122 was defending a few destroyers and a radar picket station about 65 miles north of Okinawa, Japan. Suddenly a Japanese Kamikaze emerged through the clouds and dove at the nearby USS William D. Porter. The aircraft barely missed, splashing into the water and exploding beneath the Porter. The explosion jolted the ship and sent it partially out of the water before it came crashing back down. The porter suffered serious damage, and after three hours, it became clear that nothing could be done to stop the ship from sinking. The crew was forced to evacuate, and thanks to Lieutenant McCool and the LCS-122, all 300 members of the Porter survived.
The next day, McCool and the LCS-122 were again protecting a group of destroyers when two Kamikazes burst through the clouds. Seeing LCS-122 as an easy, nearby target, they attacked, diving at McCool’s ship. From the conning tower, McCool ordered the guns to fire. They hit the first plane, causing it to veer slightly off course. It crashed into the water beside them, flying so low across the bow that McCool wondered if anyone had been clipped by the landing gear. The guns continued to fire, hitting the second plane, but it wasn’t enough. That aircraft smashed into the bow, just over 8 feet from where McCool was standing. It tore through the ship and exploded on impact, causing a significant fire. McCool and the rest of the crew in the conning tower were thrown back, and McCool was knocked unconscious. Then, a second explosion from underneath the hull rocked the ship. The aircraft had been carrying a bomb, and miraculously, it didn’t explode on impact. Instead it ripped through the ship with the rest of the aircraft and exploded after submerging.
McCool regained consciousness to realize that, like his ship, his right side was seriously burned and covered in shrapnel. Ignoring his wounds, he quickly descended the left side of his ship to aid his crew amidst the chaos. The fire was dangerously close to their ammunition cache, and it risked igniting 120 rockets all at once. McCool found the ship’s chief engineer and instructed him on how to keep the fire under control. Then, he noticed two wounded crew members inside the flaming deckhouse. McCool braved the encroaching fire to pull out one sailor and aid the rescue of the other, a feat that would have been incredibly difficult even if he wasn’t severely injured. Just moments later, McCool’s lung collapsed due to all the blood in his chest cavity. Thankfully, another LCS finally arrived, allowing McCool to receive aid and be evacuated.
McCool spent nearly the next year recovering in different hospitals. They removed nearly all the shrapnel from his body, but one piece still remained lodged in his liver. 23 other sailors on LCS-122 were injured from the kamikaze attack, and 12 were killed. Their ship was later repaired and returned to active duty.
On December 18th 1945, Lieutenant Richard Miles McCool Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership on the 10th and 11th of June. He made a full recovery and continued serving in the Navy, fighting in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and becoming a Captain. He retired in 1974, and passed away on March 5th 2008. He’s buried at Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis Maryland.
The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our executive producer and mixing engineer, Declan Rohrs is our associate producer, scriptwriter, and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.