The bombing of Pearl Harbor 80 years ago changed the lives of most Americans. Some who served went beyond the call of duty.
Richard M. McCool Jr. had graduated from the University of Oklahoma and received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He was supposed to be a member of the class of 1945, but because of the war, the academy was condensed to three years.
McCool signed up to command an amphibious craft. It was similar boats that brought soldiers ashore, but it was heavily armed, carried a crew of 70 and six officers. According to the book “Medal of Honor,” the LCS had 40 mm and 20 mm guns, .50-caliber machine guns and 120 preloaded 4.5-inch rockets.
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In Okinawa in June 1945, McCool’s ship and others were patrolling for Japanese kamikazes. The destroyers identified the planes on their radar and sent word to the LCS boats, which attempted to shoot them down. One got through and hit a destroyer. McCool’s boat was first to render aid and pick up surviving crew members.
The next day, the planes targeted McCool’s boat. His gunners knocked this one out, but a second one got through and hit them.
He suffered chest wounds but managed to rally his men to fight the fire. He rescued others from the burning deck house before a collapsed lung brought him down. He was hospitalized and sent home to Norman to recover. He received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in 1945.
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Alfred Naifeh was born to a Lebanese immigrant family in Tennessee but was reared in Norman. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1940.
He furthered his education with an LLM in 1941 and served as a law clerk for U.S. Federal Judge Alfred P. Murrah. Naifeh was part of the Naval Reserve and was called to active duty in 1941 as the U.S. anticipated entering World War II.
Naifeh was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) while assigned to the USS Meredith as a destroyer division disbursing officer.
In October 1942, Japanese planes mounted a massive air attack on the Meredith, which quickly sunk. Lt. Naifeh worked tirelessly for two days and nights to keep his wounded shipmates alive and place exhausted survivors aboard life rafts. On the third day, he was overcome with exhaustion and died.
He was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart. In 1944, the Navy named a destroyer escort ship in his honor. His mother, Rathia Naifeh, of Norman, christened the USS Naifeh. A brother, Robert Naifeh, and his son, Robert, both practiced law in Oklahoma.
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A small highway marker on the north side of Lexington notes the heroics of Cleveland County war hero Col. John L. Smith, USMC. Born in Lexington in 1914, Smith graduated from OU in 1936.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He learned to fly in Pensacola, Florida, and was designated a Naval Aviator and promoted to first lieutenant.
Smith commanded a Marine fighter squadron during the first two months of the Guadalcanal campaign.
In a three-week period, Smith was personally credited with shooting down 16 enemy planes. His squadron was credited with 83 kills. According to Navy records, the squad’s accomplishments contributed to Japan’s inability to drive U.S. forces from Guadalcanal.
Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor for his “conspicuous gallantry and heroic achievement.”
After leaving Guadalcanal, he served in Washington, then deployed back to the Pacific and flew missions in Bismarck, Archipelago, northeast of New Guinea, the Philippines and other battle sites. He retired in 1960 and died in 1972.