A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History


The eighth ALLEN M. SUMNER class destroyer to be laid down by Federal Shipbuilding at the Kearney yard was named for LCDR John Charles Waldron. Few who are familiar with the history of naval air power or the battle of Midway haven't heard of the exploits of LCDR Waldron and Torpedo "8". The commander knowingly led his aging and vulnerable torpedo bombers to attack Japanese carriers. Although everyone but ENS George Gay was killed in the attack, the torpedo bombers drew the Japanese fighters out of position. The dive-bombers that followed decimated the Japanese carriers and changed the course of the war in the Pacific.

DD-699 was launched on March 26, 1944 and commissioned just over two months later. Although her shakedown and subsequent crew training were rushed by peacetime standards, the new destroyer was soon ready for action. DD-699 was ordered to the Pacific and on October 1 she transited the Panama Canal. Within three weeks, she was operating in Hawaiian waters, experiencing the standard "work up" training in preparation for combat. The end of the year found her at the fleet anchorage at Ulithi assigned to the screen of the fast carrier task force.

USS WALDRON spent her entire career in the Pacific War protecting the carriers that were pivotal to the American victory. That didn’t mean that the valiant tin can was a "supporting actor." For months at a time, the destroyer was at sea, only one or two hundred miles off the coast of Japan. The experience was stressful and often unusual.

In one memorable experience, WALDRON and two of her sisters happened across several small Japanese patrol boats. The reports fail to explain that these "small patrol boats" were newly launched turbine-powered vessels each carrying two 4.7-inch guns and displacing almost 1,000 tons. In any event, the Japanese skippers unwisely chose to close on the three American destroyers and began to shoot up the larger vessels. Unfortunately for WALDRON, the position of the other vessels and the closeness of the enemy made it impossible for the tin can to bring her main weapons to bear. DD-699 did the next best thing; she rammed the Japanese patrol vessel NUMBER FIFTY-SIX and neatly cut her in half. The remaining enemy vessels left the area "precipitously." Damage to the destroyer’s bow, repaired at Ulithi in three days, was well worth the result.

WALDRON soon returned to her screening duties and, over the next two months accounted for at least two definite aircraft "kills", while assisting in the destruction of at least four more. The armistice found the destroyer still serving with Task Force 38 off the coast of Japan. WALDRON finally left for home in November, after aiding in the repatriation of troops in the area.

Following extensive yard repairs, WALDRON took her place in the Cold War Navy. Like her sisters, she alternated between training operations and Mediterranean cruises with the Sixth Fleet. She was decommissioned in May 1950, but the respite lasted only three months. The worsening situation in the Far East meant that all effective destroyers were needed, and WALDRON reentered service.

DD-699 spent the next ten years in fleet service in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific areas, completing a circumnavigation of the World June 4, 1954. The Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program (FRAM) took WALDRON in hand in June of 1962, completing the modification of the aging vessel at the Norfolk Navy yard.

In less than five years, DD-699 was back in action, this time off the coast of Vietnam. Her 5-inch weapons proved useful, especially to the Marines of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force. The leathernecks were operating against Communist forces along the fourteenth parallel when Marine firepower proved too weak to handle the entrenched enemy. DD-699's "floating artillery" provided the solution. WALDRON's second tour on the "gun line" found the destroyer providing fire "on call" for the U.S. Army's First Air Cavalry and South Vietnam's 40th Division. By October 20, 1967, WALDRON returned to a role she knew well. She began screening the carriers far to the north, in the Gulf of Tonkin.

For the next several weeks, WALDRON alternated between screening carriers and providing fire support to the troops ashore. Little of the Vietnam coast was unfamiliar to the destroyer and scores of "grunts" were happy for DD-699's accurate gunfire. With her service concluded, WALDRON returned to the States in January 1968.

WALDRON almost immediately resumed her pre-Vietnam role as a training vessel, this time homeported at Mayport, Florida. Although her crews maintained the aging tin can in a high state of repair, her electronics and weaponry were no longer up to the exacting standards of the fleet. Navy survey teams recommended that WALDRON be decommissioned and scrapped or sold to a friendly nation.

The Colombian Navy expressed an interest in WALDRON and purchase was arranged. On October 13 and 17, 1973, the Colombian crews arrived at Mayport and, by the end of the month, DD-699 was decommissioned, stricken from the Navy List, and transferred. WALDRON became ARC SANTANDER (DD-03), CDR Enrique Roman commanding. She served the Colombian Navy for thirteen more years, finally being discarded for scrapping in 1986, when Colombia, too, needed more modern vessels.

USS WALDRON earned four battle stars for her service in World War II and an additional star for her service in Vietnam.


From The Tin Can Sailor, July 1998

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