Lawson Paterson Ramage, nicknamed “Red” because of the color of his hair, was born in Monroe Bridge, Massachusetts, on 19 January 1909. He attended the Naval Academy, where he injured his right eye in a wrestling match. Nevertheless, he was commissioned as an ensign shortly after he graduated in 1931 and served four years aboard surface ships. He requested a transfer to the submarine fleet but was denied because of his eye injury. Ramage would not be deterred. “I took the opportunity to memorize the eye chart,” he recalled later, “so that when I returned [to retake the vision test] I had no problem reading off the eye chart.” The next time he took the test he “just exchang[ed] the card before my right eye and [read] with my left eye in both instances.” Apparently the examiner did not notice. He passed.
After spending a couple of years aboard USS S-29 (SS-134), Ramage returned to the Naval Academy for graduate school and then moved on to become executive officer of the destroyer USS SANDS (DD-243). He was on the staff of the Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
That’s when his impressive career truly began. Ramage went on his first patrol, as a navigator, with USS GRENADIER (SS-210) just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and earned a Silver Star for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity.” In June of 1942 he took over as commanding officer of USS TROUT (SS-202), a post that would earn him a Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism. It was during that time that he discovered the advantages of his supposedly-disqualifying eye condition: “I didn’t have to fool around with the focus knob on the periscope. Before I raised it, I turned the knob all the way to the stop [extreme focus]. When the scope came up, I put my bad eye to the periscope and could see perfectly.”
In May of 1943 Ramage was given a brand-new submarine: USS PARCHE (SS-384). The boat went out on her first patrol as part of a wolfpack with USS TINOSA (SS-283) and USS BANG (SS-385) and immediately made a name for herself, scoring two of the pack’s seven kills. But it was the next patrol, during which he performed the actions for which he was awarded a Medal of Honor, that made Ramage a submarine celebrity. His citation explains what happened:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Parche in a predawn attack on a Japanese convoy, 31 July 1944. Boldly penetrating the screen of a heavily escorted convoy, Comdr. Ramage launched a perilous surface attack by delivering a crippling stern shot into a freighter and quickly following up with a series of bow and stern torpedoes to sink the leading tanker and damage the second one. Exposed by the light of bursting flares and bravely defiant of terrific shellfire passing close overhead, he struck again, sinking a transport by two forward reloads. In the mounting fury of fire from the damaged and sinking tanker, he calmly ordered his men below, remaining on the bridge to fight it out with an enemy now disorganized and confused. Swift to act as a fast transport closed in to ram, Comdr. Ramage daringly swung the stern of the speeding Parche as she crossed the bow of the onrushing ship, clearing by less than 50 feet but placing his submarine in a deadly crossfire from escorts on all sides and with the transport dead ahead. Undaunted, he sent 3 smashing ‘down the throat’ bow shots to stop the target, then scored a killing hit as a climax to 46 minutes of violent action with the Parche and her valiant fighting company retiring victorious and unscathed.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Ramage with his medal on 10 January 1945. Afterward, Ramage had a certificate printed up for each PARCHE crewman: “The Captain wishes to emphasize the fact that the Medal of Honor was accepted from the President of the United States as the Nation’s tribute to a fighting ship and her courageous crew. He feels that every officer and man whose loyal cooperation and able assistance contributed to the success of the ‘Parche’ has an equal share in this award which he holds in trust for you. With great pride and respect. Sincerely, L.P. Ramage.” In addition, the crew was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
After the war Ramage continued to ascend through the ranks, becoming an admiral in 1956 and a vice admiral in 1964. He finally retired in 1969. Twenty-one years later he passed away at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, and was buried at Arlington National Ceremony. The guided-missile destroyer USS RAMAGE (DDG-61) was named in his honor, as were buildings at the Submarine Training Facility in Norfolk, Virginia, and Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut.