President Harry Truman awards Richard M. McCool Jr. the Medal of Honor on December 18, 1945.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 5/13/2015
  • Essay 11067
On December 18, 1945, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) awards Richard M. McCool Jr. (1922-2008) the Medal of Honor. McCool served in the navy in three wars, and retired to Bainbridge Island, where he became active in Democratic Party politics. He receives the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on a vessel off the Okinawa Islands on June 11, 1945, during World War II. On that day three kamikaze aircraft attacked Lieutenant McCool’s ship, Landing Craft Support (Large) 122. Two planes were shot down and one made a direct hit on the ship's pilothouse, which became engulfed in flames. A bomb from the plane further damaged the vessel. Lieutenant McCool was momentarily knocked unconscious, but quickly came to, jumped to the deck, and directed efforts to save the ship. Disregarding his serious wounds, he rescued crewmembers trapped in the burning deckhouse. The kamikaze attack killed 12 sailors and wounded 23. Landing Craft Support 86 towed the damaged 122 back to port for repairs. Lieutenant McCool, suffering from burns and a collapsed lung, was evacuated to a field hospital. His heroic actions were recognized in the Medal of Honor. 

Early Days

Richard M. McCool Jr. was born in Oklahoma. A very bright student, he entered school at the age of 4 and graduated from high school at 15 years of age.

He went on to the University of Oklahoma and participated in the Navy Reserve Officer Training program. Richard found the navy to be exciting. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma in 1941. He then entered the United States Naval Academy. His class, the Class of 1945, was graduated one year early, as they were needed in the war.  

McCool had attended a talk given by an amphibious ship officer who told of the advantages in this field. The officer stated that a fresh new officer could command an amphibious ship, whereas he would be a lowly officer on a larger and more glamorous ship. McCool decided that the amphibious ship force was a good opportunity. He became a Landing Craft Support (Large) skipper.

These ships had a crew of 65 enlisted men and six officers including the commander. The Landing Craft Support ships served as pickets around the destroyers to shield them. The destroyers relayed radar warning of incoming enemy kamikaze planes to the Landing Craft Support (Large) picket line. The picket ships had considerable antiaircraft defense: Each had three guns and 10 rocket launchers. The ships also put up smoke screens and maintained vigilance to stop suicide boats from reaching the fleet.

Landing Craft Support, Large, 122

On December 8, 1944, his ship, Landing Craft Support, Large, One Hundred and Twenty Two, was commissioned at Neponset, Massachusetts. The ship had a trial run and on December 17th arrived at the Naval Amphibious Base, Solomons, Maryland. It went through a training program for 10 days.

On December 27, 122 went to sea with a stop in Key West, Florida, through the Panama Canal, and onto San Diego. In January 1945 McCool was promoted to lieutenant. There was additional training in San Diego and then more in Hawaii. The ship sailed to the Marianna Islands and to Okinawa, arriving on May 10, 1945. The Landing Craft Support 122 had its first combat on May 29, 1945, shooting down one enemy aircraft and an assist in the downing of another.

A Week at War

On June 10, 1945, Lieutenant McCool and Landing Craft Support (Large) 122 were on picket duty off the Okinawa Islands. That day the destroyer USS William D. Porter was hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane and seriously damaged. It took on water faster than the pumps could pump it out. Unable to save the destroyer, the abandon ship order was given. Landing Craft Support ships including 122 took on survivors and critical documents from the destroyer as it sank.

The next day three kamikaze aircraft attacked Lieutenant McCool’s ship. Two were shot down but one plane made a direct hit on the ship's pilothouse. Flames engulfed the pilothouse and the vessel was heavily damaged by a bomb from the plane.

Lieutenant McCool was momentarily knocked unconscious. He quickly came to and jumped to the deck and directed efforts to save the ship. He rescued several trapped crewmembers in the burning deckhouse. Lieutenant McCool disregarded his serious wounds. The kamikaze attack killed 12 and wounded 23 sailors. Landing Craft Support 86 towed the damaged 122 back to port for repairs. Lieutenant McCool, suffering from burns and a collapsed lung, was evacuated to a field hospital. For his heroism on this day he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Honoring a Hero

He spent two months in a Guam hospital and then returned stateside to the Navy’s Oak Knoll Hospital in Oakland. His last stop in recovery was a naval hospital near home in Norman, Oklahoma. 

On September 16, 1945 he married Carole Elaine Larecy (1922-2014) of Norman. They would have three children.  

On December 18, 1945, President Harry S. Truman in a White House ceremony presented Richard McCool with the Medal of Honor. The president made six Medal of Honor awards at this award ceremony.

Richard M. McCool returned to active service in June 1946. He served in the Korean War on the carrier USS Leyte. In 1952 he returned to the United States and served as an aide.

Turning to Writing

He also did some writing, relating accounts of heroism in Korea. One of his articles told the story of the first black navy pilot, Ensign Jesse L. Brown (1926-1951), who was shot down and crashed in North Korea in enemy Chinese territory. Ensign Brown survived the crash but was trapped in his fighter. A rescue effort was made. Lieutenant Junior Grade Thomas Hudner (b. 1924) made an intentional crash landing to assist Ensign Brown.  However, he could not free him and Jesse Brown died of his wounds. Thomas Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

McCool’s interest in writing and public affairs led him to public information assignments. In 1955 he earned a master's degree in Public Relations from Boston University. He served in his third war, Vietnam, and reached the rank of captain.

Retiring to Bainbridge Island

On February 28, 1974, Captain Richard M. McCool retired from the navy and relocated to Bainbridge Island. Here he was active in politics, serving two terms as the chair of the Kitsap County Democratic Party. 

The McCools were strong supporters of the arts and drama. They were active in two theater groups and in the Olympic Music Festival. Richard McCool continued to study history and drama.

He died in March 2008 and was buried at the Naval Academy cemetery, Annapolis, Maryland. The Bainbridge American Legion Post was named in his honor. 

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Port Orchard, Washington: Rokalu Press, 1994); James R. Warren, The War Years: A Chronicle of Washington State in World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000); Lt. R. M. McCool, USN, "Courage Failed To Save A Life," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 7, 1952, p. 153; U.S. Naval Institute, Proceedings, "There’s a Lot in a Name," May 2012, pp. 16-17.

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