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The WWII Hero You’ve Never Heard Of

The WWII Hero You’ve Never Heard Of

Among the many decorated individuals from World War II there is an obscure name many have never heard of.

That name belongs to Commander Eugene “Lucky” Fluckey.

He and the crew of his submarine, the USS Barb (SS-220), performed such amazing feats that Fluckey was given the Medal of Honor, and the submarine and her crew were awarded four Presidential Unit Citations, a Navy Unit Commendation, and multiple other recognitions for their exploits in the Pacific theater of operations.

What did Fluckey and his crew accomplish that was so spectacular? It’s a story of classic American heroism and ingenuity that, in tumultuous times like these, serves as a reminder of what great men—and great Americans—can accomplish.

While scanning the USS Barb’s battle flag that displays her victories, you’ll see an impressive number of ships sunk, estimated to total a record  96,623 tons, but there’s also an oddity in the bottom row—the figure of a train. What’s a train doing on the list of a submarine’s kills, you ask? Perhaps disrupting Japanese shipping had become so routine that Commander Fluckey and his crew decided they needed more of a challenge!

Before Fluckey took over command, the USS Barb had already participated in the invasion of North Africa during Operation Torch in 1942. In 1943 she was ordered to the Pacific theater of operations, running just one patrol there before “Lucky” Fluckey took command. “Considered to be one of the most aggressive and innovative officers in the submarine force,” the commander and his crew set out to cause havoc on the enemy.

While sinking ships on the open ocean was standard fare for most submarines, Fluckey decided it would be more efficient to stop the enemy from ever leaving port. On January 23, 1945, Fluckey directed his sub into the well-guarded Japanese naval base at Namkwan Harbor in China. His actions there, including sinking three ships and damaging three others, plus making a daring escape, led to his being awarded the Medal of Honor.

The following patrol of the Barb would be Fluckey’s last aboard that sub. Ordered to take up station off the coast of Japan in July of 1945, the commander and his crew started to do what they did best, sinking enemy ships. As the Barb was also one of the original submarines fitted with rockets, Fluckey now employed these against onshore targets, the first submarine to do so against Japan. But even this was not enough for the daring sub commander!

The strangest of the attacks carried out against Japan by “Lucky” Fluckey and his crew came on July 22, 1945. After rocketing three onshore targets in the previous days, Fluckey noted a supply train running along the shoreline. But what could a submarine do against a train? Putting their heads together, the resourceful crew came up with an idea. In the dead of night, eight of the crew rowed ashore on rubber rafts carrying with them a scuttling charge that had been modified for the night’s mission.

Scuttling charges were meant to be used  to sink ships that were too damaged to make it home and/or were in danger of capture by the enemy, but the Barb’s crewmen repurposed theirs as a type of land mine. Placing the charge on the tracks, the crew quickly headed back out to sea. But before the crewmen could even make it back to the Barb, a train hit the mine, sending wreckage flying an estimated 200 feet into the air! With that single charge, the USS Barb became the first, and only, submarine to claim a train as a kill.

Throughout their five patrols in the Pacific theater, Cmdr. Eugene Fluckey and his crew embodied the dedication, daring, and ingenuity that is so much a part of the American spirit. Their heroism can inspire us today in the challenges we face. With Memorial Day just past and Independence Day approaching, let’s take the time to remember these remarkable heroes, known and unknown, and keep that spirit alive!

Image credit: public domain

Nate Rudquist
Nate Rudquist
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