A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History


Stephen Decatur commanded U.S. ships during the Tripolitan War and the War of 1812. The fourth DECATUR, DD-936 was launched 15 December 1955 and commissioned at Boston on 7 December 1956. Sailing out of Newport in 1957, she participated in NATO exercises in the North Atlantic, followed in February 1958 by her first Mediterranean deployment. Subsequent operations took her into the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Arabian seas, the Indian Ocean, and above the Arctic Circle.

In September 1961, the DECATUR recovered the first orbital spacecraft and its robot 'astronaut.' The year 1964 started with a pounding by the weather off Cape Hatteras, then on 6 May, she collided with the LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CVS-39) while refueling. Only the conning officer suffered injury, but the collision crushed her port-side superstructure, left the bridge a mass of twisted metal, bent her stacks, and carried away both masts. She made it as far as the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where she was met by a fleet tug that towed her through the channel to Norfolk. Highlighting 1965 was the DECATUR’s June conversion to a guided missile destroyer. Recommissioned the DDG-31 on 29 April 1967, she left Boston in August for her new home port in Long Beach, California.

In August 1968, she began her first deployment in the Far East. On Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf in August 1968, she was screen commander supporting air strikes over North and South Vietnam by planes from the carrier HANCOCK (CVA-19). She also participated in antisubmarine warfare exercises, retired briefly to Subic Bay and Singapore, and then was back on the gun line, on plane guard duty, or on search and rescue duty in the Gulf of Tonkin. On 20 November, the DECATUR joined the unsuccessful search for a Phantom II F-4 jet that had crashed on take-off from the CORAL SEA (CVA-43).

At home early in 1968, the ship and her crew went through the usual 'turn-around' cycle of leave time, repairs, refresher training, and fleet exercises before returning to Yankee Station. She left Vietnam for a visit to Australia in January 1969. The visit got off to a rocky start when sailors from the DECATUR, SAMUEL N. MOORE (DD-747), and HARRY E. HUBBARD (DD-748) upset Brisbane’s conservationists by going on a kangaroo hunt sponsored by local civic groups. The rest of the tour of Australia and New Zealand was a great success, however. She finished the year in local operations along the West Coast, exercises in Hawaii, and overhaul in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard before her February 1970 deployment in the Western Pacific. 

A joint amphibious exercise with South Korean naval forces along Korea’s south coast preceded the DECATUR’s return to plane guard duty on Yankee Station in June. The ship’s engineering department struggled with problems that plagued the ship and hampered operations through July. In August, she began another visit to Australia. 

The DECATUR began 1971 in Long Beach with a regular overhaul and spent the summer in local operations and refresher training. All routine was shattered on the night of 22 September, when her starboard lookout heard a cry for help. A quick count of the crew found all safely aboard and briefly cast doubt on the lookout’s alarm. The darkness, high winds, and rough seas argued against continuing the search, which was about to be abandoned when a lookout spotted a paddle and a civilian life jacket. Renewing their efforts, the crew eventually pulled a man and woman from the sea that earlier had sunk their yacht. The destroyer’s corpsman tended to them on the way back to Long Beach and safety. Later that fall, the DECATUR returned to the Far East and duty with the CONSTELLATION (CVA-64) on Yankee Station. She ended 1971 with the ENTERPRISE Task Force in the Indian Ocean and then after another tour on Yankee Station again visited Australia. 

Foul weather hounded the DECATUR throughout her homeward trek. In Australia in March 1972, torrential rains turned Darwin’s iron piers into rivers of red mud, and a tropical storm battered the ship on her way to Melbourne. Another gale hit her on the way to New Zealand. The MORTON (DD-948), ARNOLD J. ISBELL (DD869), and MCKEAN (DD-784) joined her on the return home. A midshipman training cruise and an overhaul took her into 1973, which began with a return to Vietnam and minesweeping operations off the port of Haiphong. She left the Gulf of Tonkin just ahead of a typhoon that damaged several ships of Task Force 77. 

In the Western Pacific in 1974, the DECATUR took part in amphibious exercises with U.S. Marines on Okinawa, successfully evaded a typhoon, and joined a major joint U.S. and Philippine exercise. She spent most of 1975 at Long Beach for an overhaul that extended into February 1976. Later that year, she took part in a U.S. and Australian amphibious exercise. Exercises continued in 1977, along with maneuvers to escape yet another typhoon. Operations in the Eastern and Western Pacific filled 1978. 

Early in 1979, the DECATUR headed for the Middle East with the KINKAID (DD-965) and HOEL (DDG-13) to support the evacuation of civilians from Iran. On the night of 21 February, she embarked eight American, one British, and twenty-five Thai citizens and took them to Al Bahrain. With the KINKAID, HOEL, BRADLEY (DE-1041), DAVIDSON (DE-1045), and SOMERS (DDG-34), she returned home in March. She spent much of 1980 undergoing overhaul and in 1981, visited Japan, Korea, and the lands 'Down Under.' She then operated off California and in the South China, Yellow, and Japan seas until she was ordered to the Persian Gulf in February 1983. There, she patrolled the perimeter of the Iran-Iraq war zone until May. 

Headed for home, she began preparations for decommissioning on 30 June 1983. In April 1988, the DECATUR was turned over to the Naval Sea Systems Command, Portsmouth, Virginia, for use as an antiaircraft warfare test hulk.


From The Tin Can Sailor, October 1999

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