USS Duncan (DDR - 874)

" Galloping Ghost of the Korean Coast ".

Duncan 1952 Cruise Log

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It seemed as though San Diego didn't want to let us go that day; it was Monday, January 21st, and we were off to the other rim of the pacific. And once a sailor points his bow to westward, he wants to get going. But the diving operations scheduled for that day in the channel were creating a bottleneck in the harbor and so we had to practically tip - toe out. Out past the long swells, and past the turbulent main we finally sailed, escorting ahead of USS Dixie, the latter had many civilian guests of the Secretary of the Navy aboard.

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The trip to Pearl held little incident except for a few bad days when the rolling got more vicious than ever. Each day we'd nudge in under the Dixie's quarter to pick up press news. Half out of water and tossing like a jumping bean, we gave the VIP's a good thrill (according to them) while we passed in mid - air for them to take snaps of us.

Then to Pearl --- Diamond Head, like a stolid sentry --- Waikiki --- Moana, The Surfrider, and the pink old Royal Hawaiian --- palm trees --- old statues and buildings of the days of Queen Liliuokelaui --- Pali Pass --- a bit of strictly Stateside (mainland to you) civilization far out and alone in the Pacific.

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And we were to stay longer than we thought. We had been sent ahead five days earlier than the other ships in the division so as to get a rudder and the sound dome fixed. But like the dentist when he spots a cavity, the Shipyard, when they saw the old girl naked in the dry-dock, said, "Tut, tut! You'll need some more work done on you. So most of the time we stayed in the deep, hot, dusty hole in the ground while the yard workers swarmed around with sand blast machines, paint and spray guns, cranes, chain hoists, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of repair. Otherwise it was a pleasant enough stay. We had a chance to throw a couple of departmental beach parties (strictly stag of course) and many of us were able to tour the island more leisurely and with greater thoroughness than we had at first thought possible.

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But the urge to get going and catch up with our job in the Far East stayed with us all the time. Stronger and stronger the impatience set in until finally on February 21 we showed our stern to Aloha Tower and set off on the three-day leg to Midway Island.

It was early morning February 24 when we first sighted the low sand stretches and scattered palms of this "Home of the Gooney Birds." After waiting outside for other ships to clear, we finally entered the treacherous narrow channel into the inner basin, with ugly looking coral heads on either side of us guiding the way. It took several hours to refuel ship and crew, then in a wild rainstorm we beat our way out of the tiny anchorage. Off again we were --- and this time on the long last lonely leg to Yokosuka. From here on it was playing constant tag with the bad weather and watching our fuel expenditure at the same time. And on the morning of March 2, there lay before us the purple mountains of Japan.

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After six days upkeep, we departed Yokosuka in another raging wind and reaching the outer harbor, we finally took station ahead of the battlewagon Wisconsin, flagship of Vice Admiral Robert P. Briscoe, Commander, Seventh Fleet. Down to Sasebo we escorted her for an overnight stay; thence finally to the operating area off the east coast of Korea.

From March 11 to March 17 our duty consisted of being part of the screen for TF 77, the fast carrier force. Then on March 18 we reported to CTF 95 for two weeks of blockade and coastal bombardment duty. Entering the treacherous harbor of Wonson at night, we relieved destroyer escort Edmonds. Morning mist and haze found us in the middle of the "hot spot" of Korea. As the fog lifted, we commenced scheduled bombardment of various targets in Wonson City. However, our stay was short, and we soon found ourselves roaming north and south along the coast on blockade patrols. On one of these patrols, urgent orders came in during the night for us to join an amphibious group on a secret troop lift. And for the next ten days this was our allotted task. We escorted the amphibious group around to Inchon and then hightailed it back to the Japan Sea where we finally joined up with the USS Manchester and the Stickell for a trip through Tsugaru Straits and thence to Yokosuka for rest and upkeep (and for us, our administrative inspection).

Leaving Yokosuka on April 14 (in a high nasty wind, of course) we then commenced the long hard grind of six straight weeks with TF 77. It was hard mainly because of its monotony; the latter being broken up only by the days of replenishment, which brought with them the mail from home we needed so much. Also breaking up the routine were the special gun strike missions we drew. Our first one on April 29 took us to Chaho and the area around it. Here we unlimbered our guns for two nights and a day trying to keep the rail lines cut. This was also the first occasion we used our small boat loaded with volunteers for close inshore work such as gunfire spotting, anti-sampan patrol, etc. On the last night a starshell revealed a long black train making like a snake for it's hole. Firing starshells and explosives, we tried to catch him, but he didn't have far to go and soon ducked into a tunnel. Subsequent efforts to catch him as he emerged were unproductive and we had to shove off at midnight. Our next mission was in company with the Juneau on 13 May. Our main job was to screen her but we managed to get in some good licks on some bridges and a group of sampans, getting at least two enemy casualties in the latter target.

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Our last venture with TF 77 was on May 24 when we departed with the battleship Iowa to participate in the air-gun strike on Chongjin the following day. Although our part in this operation was a small one, we were able to get some good shots in on some cranes and other targets in the harbor area. It also gave us a good opportunity to observe the awesome devastation of heavy air strikes as the tiny carrier planes came buzzing in on the target like angry hornets. We were all rather amused to hear over the communist radio that we and all the other ships which had "invaded peaceful Chongjin" that morning had been sunk.

On May 28 in company with the rest of DesDiv 52 we left the task group and headed for Sasebo, Japan, for a week of much needed rest and upkeep. During this period some of us had the opportunity to go to rest camps. This gave us a better chance to forget our Navy duties for a time and enabled us to see a bit more of Japan.

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Then on June 6 our recess ended and it was back to sea again. This time we were slated for blockade duty with Task Force 95 in the Hungnam-Chaho area. This proved to be a very interesting two weeks for us. Our normal duties consisted of firing daily on assigned targets and furnishing gunfire support for the small minesweepers, those indomitable little vessels that have the dirty job of going into all the dangerous places first to prepare the way for the larger ships. On these missions we were often in close enough to the beach to use our 20 and 40MM guns on the targets. There was always the chance that shore batteries might open up on us at any time, though this never happened. Then too, there were enough new things coming up from day to day to keep the job from becoming boring. One day our whale boat returned from an anti-fishing patrol with a pair of octopi. We learned octopus might be all right for the Korean diet, but somehow it didn't appeal to most of us. Then on another occasion our small boat returned with two bullet holes from small arms fire and a rather scared crew. This was the closest the ship came to having battle casualties.

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On June 18 we had our memorable race to pick up a downed pilot near Mayang Do. We found it almost heart breaking at the end of our flank speed chase to see a helicopter arrive just in time to beat us to the pilot.

Shortly before our blockade duties ended, we met up with our four refugees. It was a very surprised look-out who spotted their small sampan signaling frantically in the early morning light. Naturally we were curious about these voluntary guests, and through our Korean liaison officer we learned they were trying to escape to South Korea. But above our curiosity we had to admire these plucky people who risked so much in a small boat for a very uncertain future --- it made us realize how lucky we were to be Americans.

On the following night we had seven more visitors when our whaleboat returned from a patrol mission with another sampan in tow. These North Koreans had been quietly fishing until they were surprised and captured in the early morning fog by our armed boat crew.

After transferring this last group of prisoners we headed south with the rest of the division for Okinawa and hunter-killer operations. We arrived at Buckner Bay on June 24 and were there long enough to refuel and have another ship's party on the beach. This also gave us our first taste of the hot, humid, stifling weather, which was to plague us for the rest of our tour in the Far East. It came as quite an unpleasant change from the cool weather up north.

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After our short rest ashore we joined the hunter-killer group and headed for Yokosuka. On this trip we learned that anti-submarine warfare wasn't as simple as we expected; in fact this proved to be a very busy and worthwhile training period for most of us.

Staying in Yokosuka only long enough to refuel and replenish, we were off again on July 6. This time we were headed for the most interesting and most eagerly awaited phase of our tour overseas --- two weeks on Formosan patrol with a trip into Hong Kong. We had our worried too, since we were steaming into the heart of the typhoon zone and we were dangerously low on fuel. As things turned out our fears were groundless; we didn't meet a typhoon. We were on patrol only a short time when we stopped in at Kao Hsuing, Formosa. This was the first time most of us had set foot on "Free China," and we were all quite curious to find out what the place had to offer besides a different kind of money. By now we were all getting quite confused with the U. S. dollars, military payment certificates, Japanese yen, Okinawa yen, and Formosan Yuan which circulated freely aboard ship.

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After a one-day stay we were off for Hong Kong on July 10, arriving in that famous port the following day. We had all heard that Hong Kong was a "fabulous" liberty port, and some of us had been there before. We certainly weren't disappointed. The moment we arrived it looked as if all the local merchants had rented boats to come out to the ship to barter goods. For the next two days it was almost a constant battle with fire hoses and night sticks to control this mass invasion of merchants and peddlers. Trying to control this mob was like trying to control a Mississippi flood, and soon the Duncan looked like a country fair with merchants and their goods spread over virtually every square inch of the main deck.

Another memorable night sight was Mary Soo and her girls. This enterprising group in their paint-streaked clothes and boat, with its "Duncan" flag cleaned and touched up the Duncan's rusting sides from stem to stern. For pay they received the food left over from crew's mess. (Webmaster's Note: It was also unpublished practice over the years to pay similar local painting parties with the brass shell casings from expended ammunition.)

Not all our purchases were made aboard ship. Most of us braved the assembled mass of small boats, which surrounded the ship and went ashore. On Victoria Island (Hong Kong proper) we could find just about anything we wanted in one of the modern air-conditioned European stores or in one of the more colorful Chinese shops. Then too Kowloon Peninsula, part of Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland, a bare 15 minutes across the harbor by ferry, offered an additional source of supply.

The first day many of us were quite gullible, easy prey for the crafty Chinese trader. By the second day when money became scarce we became quite adept at bargaining with these peddlers; this sometimes cut prices as much as fifty percent. We bought our fill of suits, shoes, jewelry, chest, vases, and other knick-knacks. No wonder the Duncan was just about the poorest ship in the Navy when she left Hong Kong --- almost the entire crew had spent their last available dollar on souvenirs and presents.

On July 13 we left fabulous Hong Kong and turned our brow for Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands. We spent three days in this port which seemed quiet after Hong Kong, especially since we weren't allowed out of the bay area and couldn't visit the famous places like Manila, a mere sixty miles away. Among our memories of Subic Bay is the oppressive heat, the refreshing but very crowded swimming pool, and the funny looking converted jeeps they used for taxis which took us any place in town for 10 centavos.

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We left the Philippines on July 17 and spent the next week as escort for Task Group 50.8. From there we went to Sasebo, Japan, for five days of upkeep and repair. Then is was on to Yokosuka where we spent our last few days buying the souvenirs we had forgotten to buy before and making preparations for our return to our home port.

Finally on August 10 that great day came! We were homeward bound! Our cruise overseas had been an interesting one; we would have many sea stories to tell the folks at home. Still few if any of us regretted leaving the Far East behind; it had been a long time since we left the States. We were all too eagerly awaiting our arrival in San Diego and our reunion with families and friends.

The trip across the Pacific with brief stops at Midway and Pearl Harbor seemed to last forever. Finally on the afternoon of August 26 the tall cliffs of Point Loma came into view. Before we knew it we had passed through the harbor entrance, left the familiar Coronado ferries behind and were tied up at the Naval Station. Our cruise was over; we were home.

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Created: Sunday, July 27, 1997
Last update: Tuesday, July 18

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