Navy hero known as `Galloping Ghost'

Submariner won Medal of Honor in World War II

Eugene B. Fluckey

1913-2007

July 01, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Rear Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey never saw problems, only solutions that he would steadfastly work through. The philosophy stood him well during a naval career that spanned nearly 40 years.

One of the Navy's top submarine commanders during World War II, the Medal of Honor recipient sank 29 ships, including an aircraft carrier, and members of his crew blew up a Japanese troop transport train on shore. And, for years afterward, he boasted that he never had to award a Purple Heart to any of his crew.

Admiral Fluckey, an Annapolis resident and 1935 graduate of the Naval Academy, died Thursday of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Anne Arundel Medical Center. One of the most highly decorated servicemen from World War II, he was 93.

About eight years ago, at age 85, he addressed a class of submariners, whom he called "the ultimate guard for Old Glory." He told them he envied their exciting future.

"Serve your country well," he told them. "Put more into life than you expect to get out of it. Drive yourself and lead others."

On the USS Barb, the submarine he commanded during the war, his philosophy was: "We don't have problems - just solutions." The ship survived an estimated 400 shells, bombs and depth charges.

He conceived a method for firing rockets from a submarine and his was the first ship to do so, off the coast of Japan in 1945, said Carl LaVo, who just published The Galloping Ghost, the admiral's biography. The title is appropriate, said Barbara F. Bove, the admiral's daughter.

"Basically, my father patrolled the China coast to find Japanese ships and struck without warning," Mrs. Bove said. "They called him the Galloping Ghost for the hell he raised."

Because Admiral Fluckey was suffering from Alzheimer's, Mr. LaVo began his research by interviewing surviving members of the Barb crew and reading hundreds of letters the officer wrote to his wife, daughter and a granddaughter with whom he kept up a running chess game by mail.

"What emerged was the picture of a real people person, a man who related easily to officers and enlisted men," Mr. LaVo said yesterday from his home in Bucks County, Pa. "He really built an esprit de corps."

Retired Vice Adm. Robert McNitt, who lives in Ginger Cove near Annapolis, was second-in-command on the Barb. He recalled how his captain would walk through the ship every day and talk to the crew. He promised the submariners crowded in the aft torpedo room they would soon have space. Within days, that statement came true - they had fired the torpedoes and sunk several enemy ships, Admiral McNitt said.

"We worked as a team," said Admiral McNitt. "He was fearless, but with that came sound judgment. He was deeply interested in each member of the crew and knew all 85 of them by name."

Retired Capt. Max Duncan of Savannah, Ga., served as a torpedo officer on the Barb.

"He gave you a job, expected you to do it and didn't micromanage," Captain Duncan said.

The admiral kept a stash of beer aboard, and if the crew sank a ship, everyone was entitled to a cold one. Once, in a life-threatening situation, Admiral Fluckey calmed the crew by telling them the beer was already on ice.

"The beer didn't last too long because we sank too many ships," Captain Duncan said.

In the summer of 1945, Admiral Fluckey sent eight commandos ashore to set demolition charges on a coastal railway line, destroying a 16-car train. It was the sole landing by U.S. military forces on the Japanese home islands during the war.

"He chose an eight-man team with no married men to blow up the train," Captain Duncan said. "He also wanted former Boy Scouts because he thought they could find their way back. They were paddling back to the ship when the train blew up."

Admiral Fluckey, whom his crew called "Lucky Fluckey," published Thunder Below!, his account of the Barb experience, in 1992, and it has been optioned for a movie. Proceeds from the sale of the book have provided several free reunions for the men of the Barb and their wives.

Admiral Fluckey also earned four Navy Crosses, the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit for his war service. After the war, Admiral Fluckey became the aide to Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, chief of naval operations. Before he retired in 1972, he held several commands, including director of naval intelligence.

When he was given the task of raising money for Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, he wrote to governors of every state, challenging them to contribute. He mounted each state's flag as the contributions rolled in and eventually raised $2 million.

A lifelong traveler, Admiral Fluckey often flew his grandchildren to wherever he was living. A granddaughter, Gail Fritsch of Crofton, recalled a flight to Hawaii when she was 7.

"I spent the summer, and he taught me to surf and snorkel," she said.

Admiral Fluckey's wife of 42 years, the former Marjorie Gould, died in 1979. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Margaret Fluckey, with whom he ran an orphanage in Portugal for several years after his retirement.

"As we mourn his passing, so too should we pause and reflect on the contributions of this great man to our nation," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations, in a statement released yesterday. "And of the thousands of lives he guided, the careers he mentored, the difference he made simply by leadership."

The family is planning a memorial service this month, and several of the surviving Barb crew members will attend.

"He inspired a loyalty and honesty that you don't often find today," said Mrs. Bove. "His men would still follow him to hell and back."

In addition to his wife, Mrs. Bove and Mrs. Fritsch, survivors include three other grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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