A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS EPPERSON DD-719
The Tin Can Sailor, January 1999
The USS EPPERSON (DD-719) was named in honor of Harold Glenn Epperson, a U.S. Marine Corps private killed on Saipan on 25 June 1944 when he threw himself on an enemy grenade to save the lives of his comrades. The ship was launched on 22 December 1945, but the navy halted construction until 28 January 1948 when she was redesignated DDE-719.
She was then completed by the Bath Iron Works Corporation, Bath, Maine, and was commissioned 19 March 1949.
Following intensive antisubmarine warfare exercises off Key West, Florida, she sailed for Pearl Harbor in September 1950. Operating out of Pearl Harbor as the flagship of Commander, Escort Division 12, the ‘EPPE’ entered the Korean War in June 1951. There, her duties included carrier screening and coastal patrol and bombardment. Her second Korea tour, from November 1952 to May 1953, found her performing similar duties, as well as patrolling the Taiwan Straits and shelling enemy shore batteries from Wonsan Harbor. In addition to serving with Task Force 77, she worked with the cruisers USS ROCHESTER (CA-124) and USS MANCHESTER (CL-83) at Wonsan.
She began a different but no less dangerous patrol in January 1954 when she joined the Surface Security Unit for the detonation of six nuclear devices at the Bikini and Eniwetok test sites. Well out of fallout range during the first test, the EPPERSON’s monitors showed her receiving fallout after the second detonation. The ship quickly left the area and her crew activated her wash down system to further reduce contamination.
Deployments in the Western Pacific with antisubmarine warfare groups filled much of the next four years. In 1958, she was again engaged in securing the area for nuclear tests, this time at Johnson Island. Over the next several years, the EPPERSON was one of the ships stationed on stand-by in the mid-Pacific for the possible splash down of a Gemini or Apollo space capsule.
In 1964, the ship received the latest antisubmarine warfare weapons during her FRAM I conversion at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. In September 1965 while on her way to the Western Pacific she suffered a collision with the USS HORNET (CVS-12) that sent her to Yokosuka for repairs. She then proceeded to Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf and later performed Naval Gun Fire Support off South Vietnam. Following eight months at home in Pearl Harbor, she returned to the Western Pacific in December 1966. In addition to picket and search and rescue duty, her crew kept an eye on Chinese Communist and Soviet vessels, provided gun fire support for troops ashore, and refueled helicopters in flight.
For three nights in February 1967, the EPPERSON’s five-inch guns shelled a Viet Cong staging and assembly area prompting messages of appreciation from U.S. spotters ashore. Later, she joined the Taiwan Patrol and antisubmarine exercises with the Nationalist Chinese Navy. She concluded the year with her first visit to the West Coast since 1950.
The EPPERSON’s 1968 WestPac cruise included supporting the Third Marines in Quang Tri Province during the Tet Offensive and the shelling of North Vietnam during Operation Sea Dragon. She expended a total of 16,110 rounds and came under hostile fire on several occasions.
During an April 1969 training period at Pearl Harbor, the ship developed shaft problems that put her in dry dock. Yard workers labored day and night to remove and repair the 107-foot starboard shaft in time for the ship’s deployment to the Far East in June. She made the June deadline and was in the Tonkin Gulf in July riding plane guard for the USS KITTY HAWK (CVA-63). Still in the Tonkin Gulf in August, the EPPERSON provided gun ship support for the USS KING (DLG-10), USS CHICAGO (CG-10), and USS BIDDLE (DLG-34). Frequently, she prowled among the huge fleets of Chinese and Vietnamese junks, as her crew watched their every action for possible smuggling or threat to U.S. ships.
In the fall of 1969, the EPPERSON was in the Sea of Japan, steaming in lifeguard station astern of a refueling destroyer and oiler. When a seaman from the oiler was knocked overboard into the icy waters, the crew of the EPPE had him out of the water in eight minutes. After giving him dry clothes and a steak dinner, they returned him by high line to his ship. On her way to Yankee Station in late October, the EPPERSON suffered rudder problems that sent her to the shipyard at Subic Bay. After eight days in a floating dry dock, she joined the gun line off the coast of South Vietnam. Between 11 and 19 November, the destroyer’s gun crews fired over 1,200 rounds during twenty-five call-for-fire, nightly harassment, and interdiction bombardment missions.
The Eppe spent the first half of 1970 in local operations out of Pearl Harbor and then she headed for the Western Pacific, fighting rough weather all the way. Riding shotgun for the USS MAHAN (DLG-11) in the Sea of Japan, an August typhoon sent her racing for shelter at Sasebo. Operations off Taiwan and in the Tonkin Gulf and multiple repairs in between occupied the EPPERSON through October 1970. She then moved into position off the western coast of Vietnam to support allied forces fighting in the area of the U Minh Forest. Her gun crews fired 790 five-inch rounds.
A May 1971 multi-threat exercise in Hawaiian waters became serious business when the EPPE joined in the fruitless search for a pilot forced to bail out of his disabled jet fighter. Local operations occupied her crew until mid-August and another deployment in the Western Pacific. By September, her gunners were firing in support of the South Vietnamese in the swampy U Minh Forest. The troops fighting ashore repeatedly called on the Eppe’s guns, which never failed to deliver needed support. In November, the EPPERSON was the gun line commander in operations near Vietnam’s DMZ, stopping in Danang and Cam Rahn Bay. She ended the year on plane guard duty for the USS CORAL SEA (CVA-43). Routine operations with the Seventh Fleet and at Pearl Harbor carried the Eppe through 1972, her seventh Far Eastern deployment, and gun line duty off South Vietnam. Arriving on station on 26 January 1973, the destroyer’s gun crews fired 530 five-inch rounds before the general cease fire went into effect two days later. Thereafter, she served as a surface gunnery support ship during mine clearing operations in North Vietnamese waters.
On 1 August 1973, she became a Naval Reserve Training ship and shifted her home port to Seattle, Washington. Her decommissioning took place on 1 December 1975. She remained in the mothball fleet at Bremerton, Washington, until 29 April 1977, when the USS EPPERSON was sold to the Pakistani navy. Following an overhaul, she began her second career as TAIMUR (D-166).