A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS GEARING DD-710
The Tin Can Sailor, January 1999
The USS GEARING carried on the proud tradition of three generations of navy men. Commander Henry Chalfant Gearing (1855-1926) served on a variety of navy ships in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. His son, Henry Chalfant Gearing Jr. (1884-1944), was a navy Captain who spent most of his career in command of destroyers. Lieutenant Henry Chalfant Gearing III (1912-1942) was aboard the cruiser USS JUNEAU (CL-52) when she was lost in the Solomon Islands. He and all but ten of the crew, including the ship’s captain and the five Sullivan brothers, were lost.
Fittingly, Mrs. Thomas M. Foley, daughter of the first Henry Gearing, sponsored the destroyer when she was commissioned on 3 May 1945. The ship’s shakedown cruise took her into waters off Cuba, where at a later date she was the first ship to intercept a Soviet bloc vessel during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.
For most of her career, the GEARING served with the Atlantic fleet. She participated in a wide variety of U.S. and Allied exercises from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and the Persian Gulf. She sailed out of home ports that included Casco Bay, Maine; Norfolk, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; Newport, Rhode Island; and New London, Connecticut. Operations took her through the Red Sea, up the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and into the South Atlantic.
Nicknamed ‘Dux,’ meaning leader, the new long-hull version of the SUMNER set the standard for the rest of the ships of her class. She joined the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean for the first time in 1951. Her crews kept the ship at the ready as part of the U.S. Navy’s arsenal of anti-submarine weaponry. For her first quarter-century, the GEARING fulfilled far-ranging duties in the nation’s defense, sailing for most of that time as part of Destroyer Squadron Twenty out of Newport, Rhode Island, and as a unit of Destroyer Squadron Twenty-four in the Mediterranean.
Whatever sea they sailed, the men of the GEARING honed their skills in antisubmarine and antiaircraft warfare. They also maintained their proficiency in ship-handling, underway replenishment, engineering, damage control, and the many other operations necessary to keep the ship at fighting trim. Their Mediterranean deployments fulfilled the U.S. government’s commitments to NATO and gave the GEARING and other destroyers of the Atlantic Fleet the best training available short of actual combat. Stateside, the GEARING’s crew provided invaluable practical training to Destroyer, Sonar, and Officer Candidate School students, U.S. Naval Reservists, NROTC trainees, and U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen.
On 11 July 1959, the GEARING made the pages of The New York Times. Sailing near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay not far from Norfolk, she collided with the coal steamer MALDEN of Mystic, Connecticut. Damage to the MALDEN was minor, and no one aboard either ship was hurt, but the collision left the GEARING with a gaping hole in her starboard side. The destroyer’s damage control team swung into action as she headed for port and repairs.
In 1962, the GEARING underwent Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM I) conversion at the Boston Naval Shipyard. In mid-1966, an overhaul at the Boston Naval Shipyard gave the GEARING improved sonar, engineering, and DASH capabilities. Because subsequent operations demonstrated the ASROC system’s superior stand-off capability, her DASH system was removed three years later.
Beginning during operations in the Mediterranean in 1968, the GEARING and her crew were the subjects of the TV documentary ‘Destroyerman.’ A combat camera crew spent the summer aboard recording everything from shipboard routine to plane-guarding drama at sea. In August 1968, the GEARING was on duty when one of the USS FORRESTAL’s (CVA-59) F-4 Phantoms went down. The pilot was lost and the destroyer’s crew shared in the sad recovery of the plane’s wreckage.
A year later, on 10 May 1969, the GEARING was in the Mediterranean participating in NATO exercises. She continued to show her stuff, scoring more submarine ‘kills’ than all other friendly surface units combined. The accomplishment proved to be bittersweet. One of her simulated strikes during those exercises was the USS SCORPION (SSN-589), which disappeared with all hands less than a month later crossing the Atlantic.
In April 1970, the GEARING entered the Boston Naval Shipyard for a major overhaul to upgrade and renovate her shipboard systems. She spent her twenty-fifth anniversary in the yard’s Dry Dock Number 2, but that did not stop her crew from gathering for a ceremony on the flight deck. Following her overhaul, the GEARING reported to New London, Connecticut, in August. As part of Reserve Destroyer Squadron Thirty, she because the first FRAM I destroyer to enter the Naval Reserve Training program, once more living up to the nickname ‘Dux.’ Her crew plunged whole-heartedly into the job of training a steady stream of reservists.
After twenty-seven years of service to the fleet, the GEARING was beginning to show her age. In September 1972, the navy’s Board off Inspection and Survey found that she could not meet the navy’s requirements without costly repairs. As a result, the Chief of Naval Operations ordered the USS GEARING to be struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 July 1973. Over the ensuing months, her crew began the sad and tedious process of stripping the ship of usable equipment. On 2 July 1973, the USS GEARING was decommissioned and sold for scrap.