Rear Admiral Richard H. O'Kane was born in Dover, New Hampshire. He attended the University of New Hampshire, before entering the United States Naval Academy. Upon graduation in 1934, RADM O'Kane was commissioned an Ensign and served on the USS Chester and USS Pruitt before reporting for instruction in submarines at the Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut. After completing training, RADM O'Kane served on the submarine USS Argonaut until 1942, when he reported to duty as Executive Officer of USS Wahoo. For outstanding service on Wahoo, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal with two Gold Stars, and a letter of commendation.
In August 1943, he returned to the Mare Island Navy Yard where he assumed command of USS Tang upon her commissioning. After intensive training exercises, the ship left for the Pacific. Under his command, Tang went on five war patrols, sinking a total of 31 ships, totaling more than 227,000 tons, and damaging two other ships. This was a record unsurpassed by any American submarine.
During its fifth and final war patrol, Tang sank 13 enemy ships. In what was to be her final battle, the Tang engaged in a fierce surface battle. RADM O'Kane directed the Tang to fire her last two torpedoes at a crippled transport ship. The first torpedo went straight and true and struck its target. The second torpedo was faulty and turned around almost immediately, heading directly for the Tang. It struck the submarine in the stern, causing a violent explosion. Of the entire crew, only nine were able to escape the sinking submarine. They swam through the night until they were picked up by a Japanese Destroyer escort eight hours later.
RADM O'Kane was imprisoned on Formosa. He was later transferred to a secret prison camp near Tokyo, where he was not registered and was therefore listed as "Missing in Action" until the camp's liberation two weeks after V-J Day. Upon his release, RADM O'Kane weighed just 88 pounds. After his recovery, his commands included USS Pelias and USS Sperry, as well as the submarine schools in New London, Submarine Division Thirty-Two, and the Submarine Squadron Seven.
He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his exemplary service on the Tang on March 27, 1947. RADM O'Kane's other military decorations include the Navy Cross with two Gold Stars, the Legion of Merit with the Combat "V," the Purple Heart, the Commendation Ribbon, and the Prisoner of War Medal. He also wrote two books based on his experiences in WWII, Clear the Bridge and Wahoo.
RADM O'Kane passed away in 1994. He is survived by his wife, Ernestine, two children, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.