Apr 1, 2012

Captain Callahan...


On page 14 of the November, 1959, issue of the Rochester Review (the alumni magazine of the University of Rochester) appeared the following innocuous notice: "Capt. Cornelius P. Callahan, USN, has been appointed professor of naval science and commanding officer of the UR Naval ROTC unit, replacing Col. Noah J. Rodeheffer, USMC, who has been named advisor to the Korean Marine Corps."  Unless Captain Callahan had family connections to the Rochester area, I don't suppose it was a terribly exciting assignment.  He had just served as commanding officer of the USS Thomaston (LSD-28), an amphibious landing ship of about 11,000 tons and some 500' in length, home based in San Diego.  The NROTC unit at Rochester wasn't very large and didn't have the "gung-ho" reputation held by some other units -- Auburn, Notre Dame, and Villanova come to mind.  I was a sophomore at the time, and I don't recall that the event caused much of a ripple within the unit.  It was a normal rotation.  Professors of naval science typically served a 2- or 3-year tour.

We midshipmen soon learned that Captain Callahan had been a submarine officer during World War II.  I don't recall much more than that about his career.  One of the benefits that I received was his institution of "submarine weekends" at New London/Groton, Connecticut.  We would sign up for a long weekend excursion (sometimes they were scheduled during spring break) during which we would be bussed over to the U.S.Naval Submarine Base at Groton, where we would board diesel-powered training submarines and go out for a 1- or 2-night indoctrination cruise.  For a midshipman with a very real interest in taking the submarine option upon commissioning, this was a genuine treat.  As it turned out, I could not get accepted to submarine school immediately upon graduation and, shortly thereafter, Admiral Rickover established a policy of only accepting math, science, and engineering graduates.  My submarine future disappeared.

USS Bass (SS-164)

Not long ago, I was recalling Captain Callahan and what a fine inspirational leader he was.  I became curious as to what submarines he might have served on in the war.  The results have been most interesting.  I learned that he was commissioned in 1938 -- a Naval Academy graduate.   I also learned that LCDR Callahan took command of the USS Bass (SS-164) on December 31 1943 and remained in that position until 31 January 1945.  Prior to Captain Callahan's arrival, Bass had become well known for a fire in the after battery compartment that had killed 26 men in 1942.  The boat, commissioned in 1924, was of an experimental design that never proved satisfactory.  During 1944 and early 1945, under CDR Callahan's command, Bass was assigned to SubRon 1, Atlantic Fleet, and operated out of New London in the area between Long Island and Block Island.  It was after leaving Bass that Captain Callahan's career got really interesting.  On 7 August 1945, CDR Cornelius Callahan relieved CDR Eugene B. Fluckey, USN, as Commanding Officer of USS Barb (SS-220).


If USS Barb rings a bell, it is no wonder; Barb sank more Japanese tonnage than any other U.S. submarine.  Barb is officially credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons, including the escort carrier Unyo, sunk on 16 September 1944.  And if the name Fluckey rings a bell, that is not surprising either.  According to Wikipedia, "Fluckey was awarded the Navy Cross four times for extraordinary heroism during the eighth, ninth, tenth, and twelfth war patrols of Barb. During his famous eleventh patrol, he continued to revolutionize submarine warfare, inventing the night convoy attack from astern by joining the flank escort line.  He attacked two convoys at anchor 26 miles (42 km) inside the 20 fathom (37 m) curve on the China coast, totaling more than 30 ships.  With two frigates pursuing, Barb set a then-world speed record for a submarine of 23.5 knots (44 km/h) using 150% overload.  For his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, Fluckey received the Medal of Honor.  Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation for the eighth through eleventh patrols and the Navy Unit Commendation for the twelfth patrol."
USS Barb's Battle Flag, 1945.  Note the train at the bottom, representing the train
destroyed by the Barb's landing party on 23 July 1945

In Admiral Fluckey's memoir, Thunder Below, he recalls meeting then Lieutenant Commander Callahan for the first time:

"Lieutenant Commander Cornelius Patrick Callahan stood quietly on the pier, scrutinizing the Barb and her crew at quarters during our uproarious welcome to Midway.  Spotting him in the background as the high brass poured on board, I hoped for a moment when time would stand still.

Word had arrived that he was destined to relieve me as commanding officer.  He would take my Barb away from me.  Now I realized what a grasping mistress she had become, not only for myself but for all on board.  No one wanted to leave her.  Yet reason and the surety of change pressed such thoughts aside.  I thought, be happy that you were permitted to have the forbidden fifth patrol in command.  Be happy that no one under your command ever received the Purple Heart Medal for being wounded.  Be happy that in spite of having erratic- and circular-run torpedoes and more shells, bombs, and depth charges directed at the Barb than at any other submarine, she came home unscathed, whereas others were lost to the enemy or their own error.  Be happy that the Barb would receive more medals for factual achievements than any other submarine.  Finally, realize that 'when one door shuts, another door opens' -- even if you have to nudge it.  Our pride showed -- and I intended that it should."


I can't even begin to imagine how challenged Captain Callahan must have felt trying to fill those shoes!  I recall him as being a humble, soft-spoken leader.  Could he have ever been otherwise?


He greeted the Barb on August 2nd 1945.  Four days later the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima.  The next day, Cornelius Callahan relieved Eugene Fluckey as the Barb's Commanding Officer.  Captain Fluckey asked "Pat" Callahan if he would mind conducting the ceremony in a private setting rather than on the pier in front of the high brass.  Captain Callahan immediately agreed, realizing that this was a huge emotional hurdle for his predecessor.  The change of command took place in the bar at the officer's club on Midway.  At high noon, with his crew looking as good as he had ever seen them, Eugene Fluckey formally handed over the command.

I learned that Captain Callahan died in 1994 at the age of 79 and is buried in the national cemetery at Fort Rosecrans, Point Loma, San Diego County, California.  Rest in peace my leader and teacher.

2 comments:

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