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March 5, 2000

George Street, Medal of Honor WWII Submarine Commander Dead at 86

 By Richard Goldstein

 

Capt. George L. Street III, who won the Medal of Honor in World War II for directing a daring submarine attack that destroyed three Japanese ships off the coast of Korea, died Feb. 26, 2000 at a nursing home in Andover, Mass. He was 86.

Serving as the skipper of the submarine Tirante, Street, then a lieutenant commander brought his boat into the Japanese anchorage off Quelpart Island, a high, rocky spot containing an air base, in the early hours of April 14, 1945.

The waters, about 100 miles south of Korea, were heavily mined and the Japanese had radar-equipped patrol vessels off the island in addition to five shore-based radar stations.

But Street was determined to find Japanese ships and sink them. He approached the harbor on the surface at night, gun crews at their stations. If the submarine was detected, it would have to shoot its way out of trouble because the waters were too shallow for it to dive.

At 4 a.m., the Tirante fired torpedoes at a large ammunition ship.

"A tremendous, beautiful explosion," Street would write in his report. "A great mushroom of white blinding flame shot 2,000 feet into the air. Not a sound was heard for a moment, but then a tremendous roar flattened our ears against our heads. The jackpot, and no mistake!"

The explosions lighted up the harbor.

"In the glare of the fire, Tirante stood out in her light camouflage, like a snowman in a coal pit," Commander Street would report. "But, more important, silhouetted against the flame were two escort vessels, both instantly obvious as fine new frigates of the Mikura class. Steadied to pick off the two frigates."

The Tirante did just that, using two torpedoes to blow up one of the frigates and destroying the other one with one torpedo. Street then took the Tirante out of the harbor at full speed and dived, eluding depth charges from a pursuing patrol.

While the Tirante had been approaching the Japanese-held harbor, it had received word over its radio of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the ascension to the presidency of Harry S. Truman. A few hours after the Tirante completed its mission, it sent a message to the Pacific submarine command reading: "Three for Franklin ... Sank ammunition ship two escorts."

Street received the Medal of Honor from Truman at the White House on Oct. 6, 1945, and was a recipient of the Navy Cross. He was decorated a second time by Truman in December1947, receiving a gold star in lieu of a second Silver Star for his actions in World War II.

George Levick Street III, a native of Richmond, Va., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1937. He took part in war patrols on the submarine Gar before assuming command of the Tirante. After World War II, he held a variety of administrative and seagoing posts before retiring from the Navy in 1966 as a captain.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, of Andover; a son, George L. Street IV of Portland, Maine; a daughter, Kris Terry of Kingsport, Tenn.; a sister, Melinda Ogilvy of Old Greenwich, Conn.; and four grandchildren.

Street's executive officer on the Tirante was Capt. Edward L. Beach, also a recipient of the Navy Cross, whose best-selling novel "Run Silent, Run Deep" (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1955) drew on his experiences aboard the Tirante and other World War II submarines. Endicott Peabody, a future governor of Massachusetts, was a lieutenant on the Tirante.

Despite all his individual honors, Street was exceedingly proud of a collective award, the Presidential Unit Citation, which went to the Tirante for its overall combat record. As Street put it, "I really treasure that more than the Medal of Honor because every man was there with us."

 

2000, by The New York Times
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