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Scheduled to graduate in 1942, Lawrence Savadkin was enjoying “the thrill of a lifetime” at Lafayette when his education was cut one year short by the call to serve his country in World War II. His action in the war also was curtailed after he was captured by the Japanese and spent the last nine months as a prisoner of war.

A winner of the Navy Cross, Savadkin drew upon his wartime naval experience while being filmed for Silent Service, a submarine documentary shown on the History Channel earlier this year. He spoke about Commander Richard O'Kane, skipper of the Balao-class diesel submarine USS Tang, for “The Captains,” one of the four parts of the series.

Providing commentary on camera was a new, interesting experience. “The History Channel person would ask a question, and the hard part was that I was supposed to respond in a positive way so people knew what the question was without hearing it,” says Savadkin. “My role was to give an idea of how O'Kane felt about what he was doing.”

The Tang waged a legendary campaign of destruction against Japanese ships before one of its torpedoes malfunctioned, circling back and sinking the sub. Although he was the last man on board, Savadkin was one of just nine to escape, executing a free ascent to the surface. “The secret is that you don't hold your breath, or your lungs will expand and burst,” he explains.

After the war, Savadkin went on to complete a 31-year Navy career, which included command of several vessels. He retired at the rank of captain, finishing in Brussels as part of the multinational planning group that devised ways to prevent Berlin from being blockaded again by the Soviet Union.

Savadkin ran track and field and cross-country at Lafayette, where he was majoring in engineering physics.

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles