A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS BIGELOW DD-942
The Tin Can Sailor, October 1999
The DD-942 was named for Elmer C. Bigelow, a Water Tender Second Class, killed at Corregidor extinguishing a blaze in the magazine of the FLETCHER (DD-445). She was commissioned on 8 November 1957 and after her shake-down cruise, became the flagship of the South Atlantic Forces in September 1958. The newly established command took her to fifteen African ports. As flagship of Destroyer Squadron Six, she embarked on her first Mediterranean cruise in March 1959. The rest of 1959 was taken up with an extensive overhaul, exercises along the Atlantic coast, and a midshipmen’s cruise to Canada and New York.
In 1960, the BIGELOW was homeported in Mayport, Florida, and spent six months in the Mediterranean. The following year she engaged in local fleet operations, served as station ship for President Kennedy’s European trip, and was part of the first Project Mercury space flight recovery fleet. Then, it was back to the Mediterranean in March 1962. The BIGELOW participated in Middle East Forces exercises in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf in late summer and upon her return to Mayport, steamed south in October to join the Cuban quarantine forces.
During the spring of 1963, the BIGELOW was operating out of Guantanamo Bay when she responded to trouble in Haiti as part of America’s contingency operation in the surrounding waters. That fall, she operated in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Arabian Sea.
A midshipman training cruise to the North Atlantic highlighted the summer of 1964 and in 1965, she took part in the Gemini III recovery and at mid-year patrolled the coast of Hispaniola during the Dominican Republic crisis. Her fifth tour with the Sixth Fleet took her into 1966, when she went into the Charleston Naval Shipyard for overhaul.
Her first tour in Vietnam began on 7 February 1967, and in mid-March, her gun crews fired their guns in combat for the first time. For thirty days, the BIGELOW’s guns supported U.S. forces ashore near the Demilitarized Zone. An explosion and fire in Mount 52 forced the ship to withdraw to Subic Bay for repairs, but she was back off Vietnam in May. She patrolled the North Vietnamese coast shelling key roads, bridges, and ports. Her gunners then focused their attention on enemy positions in South Vietnam, supporting U.S. Marine and U.S. and South Vietnamese army units.
After a short break in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, the BIGELOW resumed combat operations in the Tonkin Gulf. During one ten-day period, she struck more than twenty-five North Vietnamese targets and on 21 July, fired her ten thousandth projectile. Her tour in Vietnam ended on 1 August 1967. In 100 days of operations against the enemy, her five-inch guns fired 10,728 rounds. Home in Mayport that fall, the BIGELOW underwent engineering modifications for conversion to the use of navy distillate fuel, the first destroyer to do so.
A Mediterranean deployment and routine operations kept the BIGELOW’s crew busy through the beginning of 1971. That year found her in Northern Europe as the U.S. Navy’s first flagship for NATO’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic, the world’s first permanent peacetime multi-national naval squadron. North of Scotland, the five destroyers and frigates purposely conducted two days of exercises in the vicinity of a Soviet force of seven submarines, two guided missile destroyers, and several support ships. By the time the BIGELOW returned to Mayport, she had visited ten countries and steamed 30,000 miles.
The first half of 1972 was spent in operations in the Caribbean and the Jacksonville area followed by a return to the NATO Standing Naval Force. During this cruise, she covered more than 29,000 miles and crossed the Arctic Circle. Much of 1973 was spent in the Charleston Naval Shipyard for a regular overhaul and removal of the BIGELOW’s Hedgehog mounts, her last World War II-vintage antisubmarine armament.
Various periods at sea for training and tests led up to her November 1974 deployment to the Mediterranean until June 1975. She returned to the Mediterranean in September. With the DALE (DLG-19), she conducted surveillance operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, at one point shadowing the helicopter carrier LENINGRAD.
Two tours in Newport, Rhode Island, as the school ship for the Surface Warfare Officer School and operations with the JOHN F. KENNEDY (CVA-67) took her into October 1976. At that time, her 3-inch 50 caliber gun mount was replaced by the Vulcan Phalanx close-in weapons system, the last line of defense against anti-ship missiles. Testing and evaluation of the system in the Caribbean was interrupted on 5 July 1977 when the BIGELOW was ordered north of Cuba to keep an eye on a Soviet task force operating in the Gulf of Mexico. She was back in Mayport on 20 July. She ended the year on her ninth deployment in the Mediterranean.
Southeast of Sicily in 1978, she was called to the scene of a burning Indian freighter. Sailors from the BIGELOW successfully fought the blaze and then stood by until a tug arrived to tow the stricken ship to port. Fire called the BIGELOW’s firefighting teams into action again in April 1978 when they joined in the battle to put out a serious blaze aboard the CONCORD. In early July, the destroyer headed for home and at year’s end, she was in dry dock in Boston for a twenty-one-month overhaul.
Back in Mayport early in 1981, she was soon off for training and exercises in the Caribbean before departing for the Middle East in April. On the night of 9 May, the BIGELOW and SELLERS (DDG-11) left Port Said at the head of a convoy southbound through the Suez Canal. At Djibouti, the BIGELOW set a course for the Persian Gulf and radar picket surveillance in the western approaches to the Straits of Hormuz. The SELLERS went on to operations in the Indian Ocean, but in August, the two destroyers joined company again for their return home. The BIGELOW returned to Mayport on 2 October. She was occupied with routine operations until preparations began for her de-commissioning, which occurred on 5 November 1982. She was finally struck from the navy’s list on 1 June 1990.