Samuel David Dealey was born in Dallas, Texas, on 13 September 1906. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1930 and was subsequently commissioned as an ensign. He served aboard several surface ships and was promoted to lieutenant (jg) before reporting, in the summer of 1934, to Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut. After graduation he was assigned to several subs in quick succession: USS S-34 (SS-139), USS S-24 (SS-129), USS NAUTILUS (SS-168), and USS BASS (SS-164). Then he was off to Pensacola Naval Air Station and another surface vessel before returning to submarines as Commanding Officer of USS S-20 (SS-125), where he remained for two years.
When war broke out, Dealey, now a lieutenant, was pulled from the aging S-20 and given the brand-new USS HARDER (SS-257). Although he turned out to be an incredibly successful skipper, it was for actions undertaken during the boat’s fifth war patrol that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation reads as follows:
“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. Harder during her 5th War Patrol in Japanese-controlled waters. Floodlit by a bright moon and disclosed to an enemy destroyer escort which bore down with intent to attack, Comdr. Dealey quickly dived to periscope depth and waited for the pursuer to close range, then opened fire, sending the target and all aboard down in flames with his third torpedo. Plunging deep to avoid fierce depth charges, he again surfaced and, within 9 minutes after sighting another destroyer, had sent the enemy down tail first with a hit directly amidship. Evading detection, he penetrated the confined waters off Tawi Tawi with the Japanese Fleet base 6 miles away and scored death blows on 2 patrolling destroyers in quick succession. With his ship heeled over by concussion from the first exploding target and the second vessel nose-diving in a blinding detonation, he cleared the area at high speed. Sighted by a large hostile fleet force on the following day, he swung his bow toward the lead destroyer for another ‘down-the-throat’ shot, fired 3 bow tubes and promptly crash- dived to be terrifically rocked seconds later by the exploding ship as the Harder passed beneath. This remarkable record of 5 vital Japanese destroyers sunk in 5 short-range torpedo attacks attests the valiant fighting spirit of Comdr. Dealey and his indomitable command.”
The patrol was characterized as “epoch-making” and “magnificent” and helped to earn Dealey his nickname: “Destroyer Killer.”
When the boat returned to port, Admiral Ralph Christie met with Dealey and encouraged him to move on; Dealey, however, knew that a third of the crew was about to rotate out and didn’t want to leave a new C.O. with such a green group. He asked for one final patrol. Christie allowed him to go.
24 August 1944 found HARDER and USS HAKE (SS-256) just outside Dasol Bay, which lies on the western coast of the Philippine island of Luzon. They were waiting to see if the Japanese would chance putting a recently injured destroyer to sea. At 0600 two ships made their way out of the bay, a minesweeper and an ancient Thai destroyer. Dealey offered HAKE first crack, although she eventually broke away when the destroyer returned to port. By the time HAKE attempted to rendezvous with HARDER, both she and the minesweeper were gone. HAKE’s C.O., Frank Haylor, recalls catching a glimpse of his sister sub’s periscope at 0647—and then hearing a string of fifteen depth charges explode at 0728. It never occurred to him that the great Sam Dealey could have been taken out by something so mundane, but as the days stretched into weeks and nothing was heard from HARDER, Haylor was forced to reconsider. (Japanese records examined after the war confirmed that the minesweeper’s attack had, in fact, succeeded.) Finally, on 10 September, the C.O. of another boat who had been keeping watch for her sent a message to Admiral Christie: “I MUST HAVE TO THINK HE IS GONE.” Christie was devastated. “The most ghastly, tragic news we could possibly receive,” he wrote in his diary. “We can’t bear this one.”
When the dust settled after the war, it was determined that Dealey had been responsible for the destruction of 16 enemy vessels (54,002 tons), including four destroyers and two frigates. The totals put him fifth on the list of top-scoring U.S. submarine commanding officers. His Medal of Honor was presented to his wife in 1945 and the destroyer escort USS DEALEY (DE-1006) was named in his honor.
Dealey himself remains on eternal patrol with the other 79 members of HARDER’s crew.