Eugene B. Fluckey, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (1913-2007
WE NOTE WITH SADNESS the recent passing of Rear Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey, U.S. Navy, Retired, aged 93. Adm. Fluckey and his wife lived in Annapolis, Maryland.
Most Decorated U.S. Veteran
At the time of his death, Admiral Fluckey had the distinction of holding the most combat decorations of any living veteran of the U.S. armed forces, to include four Navy Crosses and the Congressional Medal of Honor, earned on submarine patrols in Japanese-controlled waters of the Pacific Theater during World War II. In addition, Adm. Fluckey was entitled to wear the Presidential Unit Citation and Navy Unit Commendation. As a sign of his humility, however, Adm. Fluckey often noted that the award of which he was most proud was the one that neither he nor any member of his crew ever received, the Purple Heart.
Eugene B. Fluckey was born in the District of Columbia in 1913, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1935. Then-Ensign Fluckey’s first assignment was to a battleship, USS Nevada (BB-36), later damaged and sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
In 1938 Fluckey transferred from the USS Nevada and entered the Navy Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut. At the time of U.S. entry into the Second World War, Fluckey was serving aboard USS Bonita (SS-165). Between December 1941 and June 1942 he participated in five war patrols on other submarines, against Japanese shipping and naval forces in the Pacific. Fluckey excelled at a variety of jobs, and gave the appearance of being cool under pressure. He advanced through the ranks, and after one war patrol as prospective commanding officer of the Gato-class submarine USS Barb (SS-220), he assumed command of that soon-to-be legendary vessel on 27 April 1944.
“He Revolutionized Submarine Warfare”
“He revolutionized submarine warfare,” said Carl Lavo, author of the biography The Galloping Ghost: The Extraordinary Life of Submarine Legend Eugene Fluckey, published in May 2007 by the Naval Institute Press. Lavo recently told the Los Angeles Times that “(Fluckey) was the first submarine skipper in history to employ a submarine to launch guided missiles at an enemy target,” referring to missiles fired from a number of tubes arranged in a rack anchored to the Barb’s deck. These missiles destroyed factories in two coastal Japanese cities, and “the Japanese thought this had to be an aerial bombardment, but they could not find any airplanes.” According to biographer Lavo, “By that time, the submarine was long gone.”
Also, according to author Lavo, Fluckey “thought submarines could be used for landing saboteurs on shore.” In one demonstration of this technique, U.S. underwater demolition commandoes, fore-runners to modern Navy SEALs, went ashore in Japan from the USS Barb and blew up a 16-car railroad train on a northern island off the Japanese mainland. Thus, according to Lavo, Fluckey is “credited for creating havoc by hit-and-run tactics, so that the Japanese never knew where the attack was coming from, and that’s how he got this moniker, ‘the Galloping Ghost.’”
The Galloping Ghost
Fluckey’s nickname was coined the night of 25 January 1945, when the USS Barb was idling in shallow waters between two promontories off the coast of China, looking for Japanese shipping to attack. After several hours of nervous waiting, the expected Japanese convoy failed to appear. Fluckey decided to move back out to sea, turned to the executive officer and said, “No joy at this [position]. Let’s gallop.”
Hearing the comment, the executive officer replied: “Captain, where is the Galloping Ghost of the China coast going to gallop tonight?”
Fluckey and his submarine galloped throughout the waters of the Japanese Empire. By the end of the war, official Navy statistics credited Fluckey with five war patrols in command of the USS Barb, and with sinking 25 ships totaling 179,700 tons. However, in a recent statement released by the office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Fluckey is “credited with sinking 29.3 enemy ships totaling more than 146,000 tons.” Among the Japanese ships sunk by the USS Barb under Fluckey were an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and numerous cargo ships.
For heroism during the patrols of the USS Barb, specifically the vessel’s 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th war patrols, Fluckey was awarded four Navy Crosses and the Congressional Medal of Honor. No other American fighting man has ever equaled that total.
Adm. Fluckey’s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. BARB during her 11th war patrol along the east coast of China from 19 December 1944 to 15 February 1945. After sinking a large enemy ammunition ship and damaging additional tonnage during a running 2-hour night battle on 8 January, Comdr. Fluckey, in an exceptional feat of brilliant deduction and bold tracking on 25 January, located a concentration of more than 30 enemy ships in the lower reaches of Nankuan Chiang (Mamkwan Harbor). Fully aware that a safe retirement would necessitate an hour’s run at full speed through the uncharted, mined, and rock-obstructed waters, he bravely ordered, “Battle station–torpedoes!” In a daring penetration of the heavy enemy screen, and riding in 5 fathoms of water, he launched the Barb’s last forward torpedoes at 3,000-yard range. Quickly bringing the ship’s stern tubes to bear, he turned loose 4 more torpedoes into the enemy, obtaining 8 direct hits on 6 of the main targets to explode a large ammunition ship and cause inestimable damage by the resultant flying shells and other pyrotechnics. Clearing the treacherous area at high speed, he brought the BARB through to safety and 4 days later sank a large Japanese freighter to complete a record of heroic combat achievement, reflecting the highest credit upon Comdr. Fluckey, his gallant officers and men, and the U.S. Naval Service.”
Many of the littoral missions of modern submarines were prefigured by exploits in World War II. Against the Japanese, Fluckey pioneered a role for submarines in both land attack and sabotage. He took the USS Barb into heavily defended coastal waters to launch torpedo, rocket, and gun bombardments, many of which inflicted severe damage on Japanese coastal installations.
In his final war patrol report as Commanding Officer of the USS Barb, Fluckey had this to say about his crew:
“What wordy praise can one give such men as these; men who…follow unhesitatingly when in the vicinity of minefields so long as there is the possibility of targets… Men who flinch not with the fathometer ticking off two fathoms beneath the keel… Men who will fight to the last bullet and then start throwing the empty shell cases. These are submariners.”
After the War
After the Second World War ended, Fluckey was ordered to command a new submarine being constructed in Groton, Connecticut, but was soon transferred to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy to work under Secretary James Forrestal on unifying the Armed Services. Not long after this, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the in-coming Chief of Naval Operations, selected Fluckey to be his Personal Aide.
Later in his distinguished career, Admiral Fluckey served as Commanding Officer of Submarine Division 52, of Submarine Squadron Five, and of the submarine tender USS Sperry (AS-12). He was selected for Flag Rank in 1960 and reported as Commander, Amphibious Group Four, and later as COMSUBPAC. He also had successful tours as the Head of the Electrical Engineering Department at the U.S. Naval Academy, as the U.S. Naval Attaché in Lisbon, Portugal, and as Director of Naval Intelligence. Adm. Fluckey retired in 1972.
Adm. Fluckey’s first wife, Marjorie, died in 1979. In addition to a daughter, he is survived by his wife, Margaret; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. We send our condolences. R.I.P. Eugene Fluckey, holder of a Medal of Honor.
Until we meet again…
Byron W. King
July 4, 2007