PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- The United States Navy is steeped in customs, courtesies and rituals. One of the U.S. submarine traditions that few, other than submariners, know about is the guardian of the cribbage board.
The nuclear-powered attack submarine, USS Los Angeles (SSN 688) departed its homeport of Pearl Harbor on May 7 for deployment. This time the submarine deployed with a cribbage board that belonged to Medal of Honor recipient and World War II prisoner of war Rear Adm. Richard H. "Dick" O'Kane.
O'Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor for his daring attacks on two Japanese convoys while in command of the World War II submarine USS Tang (SS 306) during its fifth and final patrol in 1944.
"With ships bearing down from all sides, he charged the enemy at high speed, exploding the tanker in a burst of flame, smashing the transport dead in the water, and blasting the destroyer with a mighty roar which rocked the Tang from stem to stern. Expending his last two torpedoes into the remnants of a once powerful convoy before his own ship went down," states O'Kane's citation.
After his submarine was sunk, the Japanese captured then-Cmdr. O'Kane who spent the rest of the war in secret captivity.
After it was cleaned and restored, the more than 60-year old cribbage board came into the possession of the Pacific Submarine Force and the tradition of passing the cribbage board from the oldest submarine to the next was started.
O'Kane's wife Ernestine was the sponsor of the second submarine named USS Tang (SS 563), the original keeper of the board. Tang was stricken from the Navy Vessel Register in 1987.
USS Kamehameha (SSN 642) was then the longest commissioned of the oldest submarines to safeguard the board. Kamehameha was decommissioned in 2002 after nearly 37 years of service, and the game board then went to USS Parche (SSN 683). Parche was the namesake of one of the most highly decorated subs to serve in the Pacific Fleet during World War II. Although Parche decommissioned in July 2005, the cribbage board was finally sent to Los Angeles this year.
"It's an honor to deploy with O'Kane's cribbage board," said Los Angeles Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Erik Burian. "Embarking with a piece of submarine history is a constant reminder of the legacy that we will continue. My crew and I enjoy passing time playing cribbage while not on duty and we are proud that we can carry on the tradition."
Card games were a favorite form of entertainment for submariners while on deployment during World War II and cribbage was a popular game on USS Wahoo (SS-238) with executive officer O'Kane and his commanding officer, World War II legend Dudley "Mush" Morton.
Cribbage lore among submariners is that while patrolling in the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea during its fourth war patrol, Morton dealt O'Kane a perfect 29, the highest possible score for combinations in a single cribbage deal. The crew felt that it was a lucky omen and Wahoo sank two Japanese freighters that night.
Three days later, while patrolling off the Korean coast south of Chinnampo, Morton dealt a 28-point hand to O'Kane. They sank two freighters that day and another one the following day.
During its deployment, Los Angeles will honor the traditions of American submarine fleet in the Western Pacific while carrying out its mission.
"We have the newest technology on the oldest U.S. submarine," said Burian. "I have complete confidence in my crew to get the job done."
Every time a Sailor earns a special qualification, Burian reads a different passage from Theodore Roscoe's United States Submarine Operations in World War II.
"It helps to keep the crew grounded and to stay focused on the big picture," said Burian.
Los Angeles, the fourth naval ship to be named after the City of Los Angeles, is the lead ship of her class. Designed as a follow-on to the Sturgeon class submarines built during the 1960s, the Los Angeles class incorporated improved sound quieting and a larger propulsion plant than previous classes.
Its many capabilities include wartime functions of undersea warfare, surface warfare, strike warfare, mining operations, special forces delivery, reconnaissance, carrier battle group support and escort, and intelligence collection. Her missiles can reach targets on 75 percent of the Earth's land surface.
For more news from Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/subpac/.