|Commander Jim Richard - For the love of USS Barb
by JO1 Diane Perry
Virginia Beach, VA -- Their his-and-her license plates read USS BARB and BARB 220, and when retired Navy Commander James "Jim" Richard recalls his adventures on submarine war patrols in the Pacific during the height of World War II, wife Helen listens attentively, adding any details that might be left out -- there aren't many.
Barb sank the greatest tonnage of any American submarine in World War II and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation and eight battle stars. The gripping true-life story of Barb and her heroic crew are detailed in the book "Thunder Below," authored by Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and retired Navy Rear Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey, the sub's commander. Richard, a 30-year veteran of the submarine service, made five war patrols on Barb, undoubtedly the most cherished memory of his entire naval career.
Throughout the Richards' Virginia Beach home, there are a few mementos from his service in the Pacific. Some are carefully tucked away in folders or in boxes; others are displayed on the walls. The largest, Barb's final battle flag, designed by a crewmember, hangs prominently in the den. One year after the war's end, each crewmember that served on Barb received a flag; only a limited number were made.
"The white flags with a solid red sun in the center represent all the merchant ships sunk," said Jim. "Japanese naval ships, or "men of war" as we called them, are indicated by the Rising Sun flags."
On the very bottom the symbols appear less war-like and more child-like, though their real meaning is far from it. The guns are for significant shore bombardments on four factories, canneries, and building yards. The rocket symbols are for ballistic rocket attacks on factories and a large air base.
The Barb was the first and only submarine to fire rockets in wartime, and according to Fluckey's book, pointed the way to the future of ballistic missiles. One rocket attack destroyed the largest paper mill in Japan.
But one of the more curious symbols on the flag is of a train. The tale behind the symbol is reminiscent of a scene from the recent World War II submarine movie U571, which Richard thinks is "all-fake".
"I'm waiting for our movie to come out," said Richard. "Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks has picked up the film rights (for Thunder Below)."
The mission was to blow the tracks that carried some of the huge trains up and down the coast of Japan. It would take eight courageous men from the Barb, paddling their way in rubber rafts to the shoreline and onto land.
Fluckey carefully selected eight volunteers for this dicey mission; the biggest and strongest officer as the leader, the chief of the boat, an auxiliary man who could repair anything, a cook who would feed them if they got stranded ashore, a signalman who would take care of flashing light communication and navigation, an electrician that had a knowledge of the railroads and last but not least, as Fluckey described in his book, "Jim Richard, a crack motor machinist and born Pirate." The chapter is entitled "Hear That Train Blow!"
"I can remember everything about that night," said Richard. "We had to get on shore and bury the charges underneath the tracks to blow-up the train."
In retrospect, it was a sheer stoke of good luck how Richard ended up on the Barb because just a week prior to receiving orders to that submarine he had been assigned to USS Trout - that was sunk, all hands lost.
Richard's adventures in the Navy began when he was a young man playing football in his hometown at Bakersfield Junior College. The draft began and Richard knew he had better register for the service he wanted before "Uncle Sam" decided for him.
"I didn't want to be drafted into the Army and end up in the mud," said Richard. "I enlisted in the Navy because I knew I'd have a hot meal and a bunk to sleep in."
He wanted one other thing from the Navy to be a submariner.
"The Navy sent me to diesel school but I made sure my instructors knew that I wanted to go on to submarines; they told me I had be in the top of my class," said Richard. "I bugged them constantly and they, in turn, reminded me again that I had to graduate in the top of the class in order to go on to submarine school."
He chuckled when he told the next part of the story of his graduation ceremony where the leaders of the class called the top students to stage in the large auditorium. Each was asked where he wanted to be assigned.
"They didn't even have to ask me," remembered Richard. "They all just laughed and said, we know he wants submarines."
And that's exactly what he received - 30 years of submarine duty, from diesel-powered submarines to advanced technology of nuclear propulsion.
Richard retired from the Navy on May 31, 1974. Today, Jim and his wife Helen are content with educating others about the incredible service, creativity, and heroism of those who served on submarines during one of the most tumultuous eras in that service's history.
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