USS O'BANNON was the second of the FLETCHER class ships
to be laid down at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. As became common
practice in the days of "mass-produced destroyers," her
construction began on the same day as her sister, USS NICHOLAS, and
O'BANNON was launched on February 19, 1942, just like her sister. She
would follow NICHOLAS into commission, on June 26, 1942.
The new destroyer's brief training period in the
Caribbean ended in August with the order to report to American forces in
the Southwest Pacific. The land and naval battles of Guadalcanal had
reached the critical phase and control of the island, just over eight
hundred miles from Australia, could decide the outcome of the war in the
Pacific. The new destroyer was based southeast of the embattled island,
at the American facility at Noumea, New Caledonia. Each time she sailed
toward the battle zone, O’BANNON faced a new challenge.
On her first voyage to Guadalcanal, DD-450 served as
an escort for USS COPAHEE (CVE-12) a "jeep" or
"escort" carrier delivering replacement aircraft to the
Marines at Henderson Field. Her escort duties took her all over the
region, but her activities in November 1942, were among the most
significant. On her approach to the island, defending a large convoy of
reinforcements and supplies, O'BANNON spotted a large enemy submarine on
the surface. The destroyer succeeded in forcing the sub to submerge,
then, with an adroit application of depth charges, was able to hold the
undersea attacker down while the convoy passed. Within days, after the
convoy had arrived and begun to unload cargo and troops, O'BANNON's
charges were attacked by fifteen Nakajima B6N2 "Jill" torpedo
bombers. All but one of the enemy aircraft were shot down; O'BANNON
engaging four herself. The battle seemed won, but heavier Japanese
forces were moving south into the battle.
Early in the morning of November 13, 1942, heavy
Japanese surface units steamed toward Guadalcanal. Two battleships, a
light cruiser, and fourteen destroyers were supposed to bombard the
American air base at Henderson Field, smash the concentration of troop
transports reinforcing the Allied beachhead, and cover reinforcements of
their own. Two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight
destroyers stood between the marauding Japanese and victory at
Guadalcanal. The American force, formed in a column with destroyers in
the van and the rear guard, hit the lead destroyers of the Japanese unit
in pitch darkness. The subsequent battle was bloody and critically
USS O'BANNON, fourth in line in the van of the attack,
broke through the screen of destroyers and headed for the Imperial
Japanese battleship HIEI. DD-450 passed so close to the Japanese
battlewagon that the huge vessel could not depress her guns sufficiently
to fire on the speeding tin can. Spraying the battleship with every
weapon that would bear, the destroyer steamed past the KONGO-class
behemoth, her 14-inch weapons impotent against the destroyer. Several
other American destroyers took their chances with the Japanese
battleship as well. The fire was so effective that HIEI was a sitting
duck for American carrier planes, which sank the big battleship the
following day. Henderson Field had been saved and the American
reinforcements were landed successfully.
For the next several months, O’BANNON would have
little rest. She helped sweep the Japanese from the Solomons Island
group in a series of classic surface actions. Her anti-barge patrols
were legendary. In a two-month period, she was credited with sinking or
damaging more than a score of barges, two submarine chasers, an armed
boat, and a gunboat. At the Battle of Vella Lavella, DD-445, in company
with USS SELFRIDGE (DD-357) and USS CHEVALIER (DD-451), USS O’BANNON
slashed at the final Japanese effort to evacuate the area. The three
American destroyers took on six Japanese destroyers. The Imperial
Japanese destroyer YUGUMO was sunk, but SELFRIDGE and CHEVALIER were
heavily damaged. O'BANNON protected the stricken tin cans until help, in
the form of three American destroyers, could aid the ships. SELFRIDGE
would survive, CHEVALIER would not.
For the remainder of the war, O’BANNON would serve
in a variety of roles. She would escort convoys, screen fast carriers,
protect oilers providing fuel for the attacking task forces, and furnish
gunfire support for landings from Vella Gulf to the Philippines and
Borneo. The end of the war found her patrolling off the Japanese island
of Honshu. She joined two other destroyers to escort USS MISSOURI
(BB-63) into Tokyo Bay for the formal Japanese surrender. DD-450 sailed
for the West Coast on September 1, 1945. She was decommissioned in the
summer of 1946.
Strained relations between the United States and the
Soviet Union prompted a recommissioning program which saw the
re-equipping of a number of FLETCHER-class destroyers with the latest of
anti-submarine weaponry. Relabeled DDE for destroyers fitted out as
anti-submarine escort craft, the FLETCHERs would go to sea again. Under
the program, O'BANNON became DDE-450.
With the beginning of the Korean War, O’BANNON found
herself back in the Pacific. For the duration, she would alternate
between screening carrier groups of both coasts of the peninsula and
providing fire support United Nations forces. DD-450 also served as
flagship of the Wonsan Element, East Coast Escort and Bombardment Group.
Service off Korea alternated with all-too-brief training periods,
centered around Pearl Harbor. At one point, the destroyer screened
Atomic Energy Commission experiments at Eniwetok.
Following the cease-fire in Korea, O'BANNON began a
cycle of deployment and training that marked the routine for many Cold
War units. Service with the U.S. Seventh Fleet meant that the destroyer
screened carrier forces and patrolled the trouble-spots of the Pacific
rim, then rotated back to Pearl Harbor for training and refit.
The destroyer's third Pacific war began for O'BANNON
in December, 1964 with her first combat tour off Vietnam. For much of
her service, she served as plane guard and screen for USS KITTYHAWK
(CVA-64), although, during the summer months off the coast of Southeast
Asia, she was frequently found firing shore bombardment missions against
Viet Cong base camps, troop concentrations, and coastal craft.
O'BANNON would also serve as capsule recovery vessel
in the American space program and provide security for nuclear testing
sites in the Pacific. DD-450 was finally stricken from the Navy List in
1970 and was sold for scrapping in 1972.
USS O'BANNON earned seventeen battle stars for service
in World War II as well as three battle stars for Korean service and
additional awards for service off Vietnam.