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Historical Reflection


Message to Today's Submariners

By RADM Eugene B. Fluckey, USN (Ret.)

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As a young ten-year old lad in 1923, I was tickling the crystal of my radio and picked up a station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just as our President, Calvin Coolidge, was starting a famous speech. "Silent Cal" did not speak often, but when he did, people listened. This is what he said.

"Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not: The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

I was so impressed that I named my first mongrel dog – "Calvin Coolidge"!

Adopting this philosophy, my studies picked up. Why not excel? I graduated from high school at age 15. My Dad said I was too young to go to college, so he parked me at Mercersburg Academy, working my way slinging hash. Here I learned to be humble. They had an annual prize, open to all students, in "Original Math" including all the disciplines. My prof wanted me to enter the eight-hour exam. I refused. He said that he had bet another prof $50 that I would win. Somebody believed in me. I couldn’t let him down, so I entered. It was the toughest and most complex exam of my life. After eight hours I had only finished one and a half problems. I told my prof of my failure. He said what was more important was that you did your best. The results came out. I won. No one else had finished one problem.

Serve your country well. Put more into life than you expect to get out of it. Drive yourself and lead others. Make others feel good about themselves, they will outperform your expectations, and you will never lack for friends. In USS Barb, our philosophy was, "we don’t have problems – just solutions."

At age 85, I envy the exciting future you have ahead, in war or peace, being the ultimate guard for Old Glory. You nuke submariners, with your capability to eliminate enemy boomers, and your inevitable, irresistible, devastating response, won the most important war since man first stood up on his hind legs – The Cold War! So be proud. I salute you – Unsung Heroes!


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Final World War II Battle Flag
of USS Barb

USS Barb’s final battle flag at the end of World War II presents a symbolic record of the boat’s many wartime accomplishments and significant awards won by its crew.

Across the top are represented the six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, and 23 Bronze Stars bestowed on individual crew members during the war, as well as the Presidential Unit Citation and the Congressional Medal
of Honor awarded to then-CMDR Fluckey. The 34 merchant ships sunk or damaged by Barb are denoted by white flags with either solid or hollow red suns in the center – or in one case by a German Nazi flag emblematic of a tanker sunk in the Atlantic. Rising sun flags represent the five Japanese warships sunk or damaged by the ship, and the largest of these (top center) symbolizes the Unyo, a 22,500-ton escort carrier. The small merchant flags with the superimposed numeral "7" each represent seven smaller victims of less than 500 tons each.

The gun and rocket symbols record significant shore bombardments of Japanese targets, such as factories, canneries, building yards, and a large air base. Most unusual is the representation of a train at the middle bottom, which commemorates the occasion when a landing party from Barb went ashore to destroy a 16-car train by putting scuttling charges under the tracks. This was the sole landing by U.S. military forces on Japanese homeland during the World War II hostilities.


Rear Admiral Eugene Fluckey was born in the District of Columbia and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1935. He entered Submarine School in 1938, and at the beginning of World War II was serving on USS Bonita (SS-165). Aboard Bonita from June 1941 until August 1942, he participated in five war patrols against the Japanese in the Pacific. After one war patrol as prospective commanding officer of the Gato-class submarine USS Barb (SS-220), he assumed command on 27 April 1944. For heroism during the ship’s eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth war patrols, he was awarded four Navy Crosses and the Congressional Medal of Honor, unequaled by any living American. He is also entitled to wear the ribbons of the Presidential Unit Citation and Navy Unit Commendation awarded to the Barb for those actions.

Many of the Submarine Force’s littoral missions today were prefigured by Admiral Fluckey’s exploits in World War II. Against the Japanese, he pioneered a role for submarines in both land attack and sabotage. He took Barb into heavily defended coastal waters to launch torpedo, rocket, and gun bombardments, many of which inflicted severe damage on Japanese coastal installations. On one occasion, he even sent a party of commandos ashore in rubber boats to destroy a 16-car train with demolition charges.

In 1945, Admiral Fluckey was ordered to new construction 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. In December 1945, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the in-coming Chief of Naval Operations, selected him 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 and as the U.S. Naval Attache in Lisbon, Portugal. He retired in 1972.

n 1992, Admiral Fluckey recounted his WWII patrols on Barb in the book, Thunder Below!, which won the prestigious Samuel Eliot Morison prize for Best Naval Literature in 1993. Stephen Spielberg’s DreamWorks Films recently picked up the film option. Healthy and active at age 85, Admiral Fluckey works on the behalf of more than 80 charitable and non-profit organizations. Just this past September, he gave an inspiring speech at the annual United States Submarine Veterans, Inc (USSVI) convention in Hagerstown, Maryland. He and his wife Margaret reside in Annapolis, Maryland.


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by Ron "Warshot" Smith

The origin of the submarine battle flag in World War II is a matter of some speculation, because before 1942, U.S. submarines did not own or display them. During late 1942 or early 1943, however, it became customary for a broom to be tied to the shears of a submarine returning from a successful patrol, indicating that it had made a "clean sweep" or sunk everything possible. In 1944, pennants were added to the brooms to indicate the number of kills. A Japanese flag denoted each ship sunk, with a solid orange circle on a white background for merchant ships and a rising sun for warships. Occasionally, these flags were also painted on the conning tower. This spontaneous and informal practice soon evolved into the creation of larger, more elaborate pennants, which included the submarine’s particular insignia, often borrowed from a crewmember’s "Submarine Jacket." This emblem was sewn into the pennant, along with symbols denoting additional kills and distinctive accomplishments, as sort of a "living history" of the sub’s career. During 1944, Disney Studios, already involved in designing military insignia for both the United States and its allies, also designed submarine insignia. In all, the studio designed more than 30 fish insignia, which were assigned to submarines. Thus, on the Submarine Battle Flag – of which Barb’s is such a great example – was born.