Retired Navy Captain Awarded Navy Cross

Story Number: NNS020410-01Release Date: 4/10/2002 9:25:00 AM
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By Chief Journalist Michael Foutch, Submarine Warfare Division Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Retired Capt. Charles W. Rush Jr., of Port St. Lucie, Fla., a 20-year veteran of the submarine service, was awarded the Navy Cross 59 years after his heroic efforts during a World War II combat patrol aboard USS Billfish (SS 286), in a ceremony held April 5 at the U.S. Naval Academy's Memorial Hall.

Under the famous admonishment "Don't give up the ship," Rear Adm. Paul F. Sullivan, director, Submarine Warfare Division, who represented Secretary of the Navy Gordon England for the presentation, told the heroic story of the stricken submarine.

Then-Navy Lt. Rush was chief engineer and diving officer aboard Billfish in enemy-controlled waters of Makassar Strait Nov. 11, 1943, off the coast of Indonesia when the submarine was attacked by a series of depth charges. As the assault burst stern tubes, hull fittings and the after pressure hull, the attack also incapacitated all officers senior to Lt. Rush; many of the crew gave up hope of survival.

The young officer cooly assumed command of damage control efforts and spent 12 exhausting hours under continual depth charge assault by courageously directing actions that saved the ship, including efforts that maintained the boat almost 170 feet below test depth. He understood if the Billfish sank much further, the ocean pressure would crush the ship. After another officer relieved him from damage-control leadership, he rushed to the conning tower only to discover no one available to direct evasive action.

Realizing the enemy had been tracking the submarine from oil leaking from explosions that ripped open the ship's fuel ballast tanks, he directed the ship to retrace its path through the strait and into its own oil slick, confusing efforts from the surface to track his submarine. Four hours later, the submarine safely surfaced far from the attacking enemy forces, where he charged the ship's depleted batteries with a single operable generator to complete the escape.

"I was not alone when this attack happened," the retired captain remarked during the ceremony, "and I'm not alone today." He smiled as he looked over the audience at several members of his former crew aboard Billfish, as well as friends from his 1941 Naval Academy class who visited Annapolis for this event.

The story of then-Lt. Rush's even-headed leadership under the difficult stress of enemy attack came to light when the officer began steps to honor his friend, Navy Chief Electrician's Mate John D. Rendernick, for his emergency repair efforts that terrible day. As an independent investigation led to awarding a Silver Star to the chief before he passed away in December, facts eventually were revealed that led to the Navy Cross for Capt. Rush.

Over the years, Capt. Rush never lost the pride he had as a member of the silent service.

"Submarines did the job when no one else could do it. I think it's important today to maintain our undersea fleet because it is very important to the security of the U.S.," he said during the ceremony.

During Captain Rush's 20-year career, he served aboard five submarines, including Billfish, and began the program leading to the successful transarctic journey of the Navy's first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571).

Since his retirement from the Navy in 1961, Capt. Rush has served as a representative for a major aviation business and has served as a consultant for ocean systems and submarine safety matters.

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