Obituary: F. Neal Sever / Last survivor of unique WWII sabotage mission

Dec. 11, 1925 - Aug. 27, 2012

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After choosing eight men to blow up a train in Japan near the end of World War II, the skipper of the USS Barb told the group to communicate with bird whistles.

"I had each man practice the call, and each one passed save one," the submarine's skipper, Rear Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey, recalled in his memoir, "Thunder Below!"

"Sever," Fluckey told him, "you sound like a sick quail. If you can't whistle this, I'll have to substitute a quartermaster for you."

F. Neal Sever mastered the whistle and went on to receive a Silver Star for his role in what has been described as the U.S. military's only WWII ground operation on mainland Japan.

Mr. Sever, 86, who lived most of his life in the Pittsburgh area and worked as a Westinghouse Electric Co. lawyer, died Monday in Virginia Beach, Va., of complications from a heart attack.

Mr. Sever was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and was orphaned by the time he was 12. He enlisted in the Navy at 17, said his wife of 64 years, Marian Sever, and served multiple patrols aboard the celebrated Barb.

The sub sank nearly 30 enemy ships "and climaxed its final patrol with an audacious commando raid on land during which the crew destroyed a 16-car train," Publishers Weekly said with the release of "Thunder Below!" in 1992. "This was the sole U.S. military landing" on mainland Japan during WWII, it said.

The late Rear Adm. Fluckey, who received the Medal of Honor, said he carefully selected eight men, including Mr. Sever, a signalman, for the prestigious but dangerous mission at Patience Bay. The group blew up the train under cover of darkness and returned to the sub safely.

"With complete disregard for his own safety, he voluntarily landed on the coast of enemy-held territory in a rubber boat and, despite the proximity of an enemy lookout tower and the many other dangers involved, aided in planting a demolition charge," said Mr. Sever's Silver Star citation, provided by C. Douglas Sterner, curator of the Virginia-based Military Times Hall of Valor. Mr. Sever was the last surviving member of the sabotage party.

After the war, Mr. Sever graduated from the University of South Dakota, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

He attended George Washington University Law School and graduated from the University of South Dakota Law School.

Mrs. Sever said she knew her husband in grade school but lost track of him after he moved following his parents' deaths.

Many years later, she said, their romance began with a chance meeting in their hometown.

A job opportunity brought the couple to Pittsburgh, where Mr. Sever rose to the position of associate general counsel at Westinghouse.

He liked to golf and to run -- he took part in more than 20 marathons -- and was active in Zion Lutheran Church of Brentwood.

Surviving, in addition to his wife, are a son, Mark, of Pine; a daughter, Mary, of Virginia Beach, with whom the couple had lived for the past year; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Zion Lutheran Church, 4301 Brownsville Road. Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Zion Lutheran Church Memorial Fund.

obituaries

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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