Navy honors submarine hero

August 29, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun Reporter

The nicknames of Rear Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey -- "The Galloping Ghost of the China Coast" and "Lucky Fluckey" -- meant to bring a little levity to the exploits of one of the most decorated sailors in history.

But as loved ones and shipmates approached an urn on display under the vast dome of the Naval Academy chapel yesterday to say a few words, many stopped in awe, bowing slightly as a last homage to the man who sank 29 Japanese ships as a submarine commander in the Pacific on his way to receiving the Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses.

About 250 people gathered to pay their respects to Fluckey -- an Annapolis resident who died June 28 at the age of 93 -- including members of Congress, past Navy luminaries, top academy officials and 10 men who served under him.

"He was an ideas man," said Capt. Max Duncan, a torpedo officer on Fluckey's USS Barb. "He was forever curious to find new ways of doing things. ... And he loved to take it to the enemy."

He was the first to fire rockets from a submarine -- now one of the ships' primary roles -- and once blew up a troop train by sending eight men to plant a 55-pound bomb under the tracks.

Duncan described several of the more famous incidents during Fluckey's war patrols off the east coast of China from late 1944 to February 1945. In what his Medal of Honor citation describes as "an exceptional feat of brilliant deduction and bold tracking," Fluckey found more than 30 Japanese ships off Mamkwan Harbor on Jan. 25, 1945.

Knowing they would have to escape at full speed through shallow, rocky, mine-infested waters, he launched a number of torpedoes and made eight direct hits, blowing up an ammunition ship that caused "inestimable damage by the resultant flying shells and other pyrotechnics." He also is credited with sinking more tonnage than any other U.S. commander in World War II.

"He never stopped to assess the situation," Duncan said. "He had our undying respect and admiration. We will miss him."

Barbara Fluckey Bove, his only daughter, said he remained engaged in small innovations. In brief breaks he took from the around-the-clock care he gave his ailing first wife in 1979 -- leaving her briefly in the care of family or friends -- he would go out to study the stoplights in residential areas.

Having long railed against America's dependence on foreign oil, he came up with a more energy-efficient way to use the stoplights that he hoped could be applied on a national scale. Bove said he sent his work to Congress in 1979 and got no response.

When he was put in charge of raising the money for Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, where Navy's football team has played its home games for nearly a half-century, he "was so enthused, he could have built it by himself, brick by brick," Bove said.

Noting his agile mind and endless curiosity, she added that it wouldn't be right to wish that he "rest in peace.

"Instead we say: Anchors Aweigh, and we wish you Godspeed."bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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