The History of the USS Duncan (DDR-874)

Duncan during the period 1945-47
while operating in the Pacific.
Photo provided courtesy
Joseph Carlino.

The USS DUNCAN (DD-874) keel's was laid down on 22 May 1944 and launched on 27 October 1944. She was built by the Consolidated Steel Corp. of Orange, Texas. She was commissioned on 25 February 1945 with Commander P.D. Williams in command. She is named in the Honor of Commander Silas Duncan, whose gallantry was outstanding in the Battle of Lake Champlain in September 1814. She is the third of four U.S. Naval ships to bear the name.

USS DUNCAN (DD-874) was reclassified as (DDR-874) on 18 March 1949. She was converted to a radar picket ship during her post shakedown overhaul. She sailed from Norfolk on 2 June 1945 for the Pacific, and after brief stops at San Diego and Pearl Harbor, she joined the USS Cabot (CVL-28) for screening and plane guard duty during the strikes on Wake Island in August. After calling at Eniwetok, she continued to Okinawa to join the Seventh Fleet for Patrol duty off the Chinese and Korean coasts during the landing of occupation troops at Tsing tao, Taku, and Jinsen. Duncan served in the Far East on occupation duty until March 1946 when she sailed for the West coast, arriving at San Diego on 28 April 1946.

For the next year Duncan trained along the West Coast, keeping high her operational skills and readiness. In May 1947, she departed from San Diego for a six months cruise to the Far East, where she visited Japan, Okinawa, and China. On her return to the states, Duncan resumed coastal operations with aircraft and submarines.

On 1 March 1948 while underway, enroute to Pearl Harbor from San Diego, an explosion aft, rocked the Duncan killing Shipfitter Third Class Claude Douglas Greene, Jr., and injured 14 others. According to Gunners Mate striker Bill Maslak who was aboard at the time, "Some time during the night or early morning, an acetylene bottle which was secured to the bulkhead broke loose causing the valve to leak acetylene gas into the compartment. When ship fitter Greene went into the shop he switched on a fan to clear the area of the gas. A spark from the fan ignited the gas into a explosion killing Greene and (as some reports said) burning 14 others in the adjacent sleeping compartment. The explosion caused extensive damage to the area, buckling the deck and opening the side. Several feet of water flooded the compartments." I was in mount 52 at the time of the explosion, felt the shock and thought we had hit something,"he added. After repairs at Long Beach, California, Duncan rejoined the Fleet for training until January 1949, when she again sailed for the Western Pacific, this time for eight months.

Duncan operated between San Diego and Pearl Harbor until November 1950, when she steamed into Korean waters to join the Seventh Fleet in its unremitting projection of sea power against the communist aggression. Duncan served a total of three tours off Korea during the fighting in that ravaged land. She became known as the " Galloping Ghost of the Korean Coast ". She sailed as plane guard for carriers and as anti-submarine escort for battleships Iowa and Wisconsin; she fired shore bombardments in support of minesweepers and to interdict enemy communications; she patrolled against North Korean minesweepers and fishing craft. Through all she added her significant contribution to the vast and indispensable sea-borne support of the United Nations troops ashore. Duncan received seven battle stars for Korean war service, and the Korean Presidential Unit Citation.

From September to November of 1952, she underwent a major conversion at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. This conversion changed her from a conventional type destroyer to a radar picket destroyer.

After the end of the Korean fighting in 1953, Duncan remained busy in the Pacific, alternating Far East duty with training and maintenance on the West Coast. She visited Australia, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and many islands of the Pacific during her far-flung travels in guarding peace and order. Duncan was awarded an "E" with her MK 37 director and 5"38 gun mounts 52 and 53 in April 1960.

In October of 1960. Duncan entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a Mark II Fram (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) overhaul, which extensively altered her appearance added five to eight years to her operational life. This overhaul gave her advanced electronic and sonar equipment, advanced anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and more adequate messing, and office spaces. All superstructures aft of her forward stack were replaced.

Upon leaving the shipyard on 16 June 1961 Duncan underwent several weeks of refresher training. On 1 September she became a member of Destroyer Division 91 and on 18 September, she was designated flagship of Commander Destroyer Squadron Nine. On October 1961 she departed Long Beach, California bound for her new home port in Yokosuka, Japan as a permanent member of the Seventh Fleet.

After serving a tour on Formosan Patrol, Duncan completed 1961 by operating in a fast carrier group with the USS Lexington (CVA-16) and USS Ticonderoga (USS-14).

From January 1962 to June 1962, Duncan, along with the other ships DesDiv 91 supported the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) in a fast carrier task group. During this period, on the evening of 29 April, Duncan, while acting as plane guard, rescued pilot who had been forced to bail out of his F3H fighter plane, a Ltjg Guy Freeborn, USN.

The task group visited Kobe, Japan, Subic Bay, Philippines, and Hong Kong. Completing her tour with the group spent the latter part of June and early July as stationship in Hong Kong managing the administrative work connected with U. S. Navy ships visiting the port. Duncan returned Yokosuka in August to conduct needed repairs, followed by a period of independent steaming exercises in the Tokyo Bay area. In September, she engaged in operations with ships of the Korean (ROK) Navy, visiting Chinhae and Pohang, Korea. Then she operated with a fast carrier task group led by the USS Kitty Hawk(CVA-63) until mid- December when she returned to Yokosuka, Japan for an extended yard availability period.

Completing her yard period in mid January 1963, Duncan participated in a large Seventh Fleet ASW operation. Late February was spent firing shore bombardment exercises, surface and air exercises, in the Philippines. Then she returned to join a fast carrier task group headed by USS Ranger (CVA-61) on 11 March 1963, during this time she visited Beppu and Kure, Japan. As Duncan was weighing anchor at Beppu, she witnessed a boiler explosion on USS Ranger that later required an extensive repair period in Yokosuka.

Duncan participated in support Of Project Mercury. In celebration of the Fourth of July, the ship represented the U. S. Navy in the crown colony of Singapore; in connection with this visit, she carried the Seventh Fleet band to the celebration. Before heading north she made a quick trip to the Equator to the joy of one KING NEPTUNE REX.

From July to December, Duncan operated with fast carrier task groups including USS Constellation (CVA-64) and USS Hancock (CVA-19), visiting Manila, during this time. Then she participated in Operation Big Dipper with The USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2). After operating with the USS Kitty Hawk, she returned to Yokosuka for a month of repair.

Duncan spent the first seven weeks of 1964 in her homeport of Yokosuka. Then she operated with the USS Kitty Hawk, spending a short period with the USS Midway (CVA-41). Being detached, she spent a week conducting gunnery exercises off Tablones, Philippine Islands, During this time, Duncan intercepted a distress signal from a sailboat floundering in the South China Sea on 26 March, speeding to her rescue over a hundred miles of rough seas. Towing the unfortunate vessel CYGNUS to Subic Bay, Philippines with its party which included an army colonel, and the American Minister to the Philippines and his aides. She then joined the USS Kitty Hawk for operations, visited Hong Kong, then headed home for a short stay in Yokosuka.

Late May, she was operating with the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31). After a long delay, she returned to Yokosuka, Japan, to make preparations for her goodwill journey to Brisbane and Sidney, Australia, then head for her new home port of San Diego, California. 12 June 1964 will bring sadness to many and joy to others from her homeland.

After her return to the United States she spent five months in local operations off a new homeport, San Diego, with a new division, DesDiv 53. In January 1965, she entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, for a major overhaul succeeded in short order by underway training (June), three weeks in the Long Beach Shipyard (July), and on 24 August, deployment to the Western Pacific. Leaving with her sister ships of DesDiv 53 (USS SHELTON DD790, and USS LYMAN K. SWENSON DD724), DUNCAN visited Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Guam enroute to Subic Bay. After a short upkeep period, DUNCAN conducted gunfire support operations off the coast of South Vietnam. From 28 September to 16 October, DUNCAN fired 10 missions against Viet Cong shelter areas, assembly areas, and suspected encampments as well as against enemy gun emplacements firing at friendly spotter aircraft. Two missions necessitated steaming a short distance up the Saigon River to engage targets. On 20 and 21 October, DUNCAN was the U. S. Navy representative at the Leyte Gulf Festival, held annually at Tacloban City, the provincial capital of Leyte. The Leyte Gulf Festival commemorates the American return to the Philippines 21 years ago at landing beaches adjacent to Tacloban. On 26 October 1965, Commander J. E. Weatherford, USN, who had commanded DUNCAN since 25 June 1964, was relieved by Commander S. W. Birch, Jr., USN, who became Duncan's fourteenth commanding officer. DUNCAN participated in Carrier Strike operations in the South China Sea and Tonkin Gulf from 25 October to 4 November, visited Hong Kong from 5 through 10 November and was then assigned to Task Group 77.4, USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31), flagship.

DUNCAN was a participant in extensive Carrier Strike operations off the coast of Vietnam for a period of 40 days, then visited Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for the final 11 days of 1965. From Formosa DUNCAN traveled via Subic Bay to Hong Kong where she acted as SOPA ADMIN HONG KONG from 10 January to 2 February 1966. Duncan's duties were to handle all administrative matters relating to American vessels present in Hong Kong. Departing Hong Kong on Dec. 3, she commenced her return home via Subic Bay, Guam, Midway, and Pearl Harbor finally standing into San Diego harbor on the morning of 26 February 1966.

Following a month period of leave and upkeep Duncan underwent a yard period at Long Beach Shipyard for boiler repairs and a hull paint job. Arriving back in San Diego in early June, Duncan took aboard Midshipmen from institutions of learning across America for a "middie cruise to Pearl Harbor." Then it was back stateside for a fourth of July assignment in port at Tacoma, Washington. It was on this crossing that Duncan underwent a change of administrative organization. DESDIV 53 was dissolved and Duncan was reassigned to COMDESRON 17, as a part of Destroyer Division 171. Midshipmen training was completed on 26 July with Duncan once again back in her home port. Following six weeks acting as an engineering school ship, Duncan served a week's stint as plane guard for the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63). During this time, an E2A aircraft crashed while attempting to land on the carrier and Duncan spent an entire night looking for survivors and wreckage. Upon completion of carrier ops, Duncan underwent a very brief upkeep period in San Diego and on December 27 was underway for the Western Pacific, leaving the old year behind and steaming over the horizon toward 1967.

1967 was a busy year for Duncan. On February 6, while on Sea Dragon Duty in the northern waters of the Tonkin Gulf, DDR 874 sank the first of 193 North Vietnamese Waterborne Logistics Craft during this deployment. Then, two days later, at 1300 (1 pm) on February 8th, Duncan lookouts observed heavy black smoke in the water and a red parachute in the sky. Duncan proceeded to the scene and rescued Air Force Captain John Rodgers, unhurt, from the waters of the Tonkin Gulf. He had been flying an unarmed RF 101 on a photographic mission when shot down by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries.

Duncan wrapped up her Tonkin Gulf duties for this deployment on 22 May and following upkeep and R & R periods in Subic Bay, and Yokosuka, the long transit stateside commenced. She arrived in San Diego on 19 June. The remainder of the calendar year saw Duncan undergoing the required and varied duties including, planeguarding, training, midshipmen training, acting as school ship and the always necessary gunnery practice. Following an early December visit to the waters off San Francisco playing cat and mouse with a soviet hydrographic vessel Gavril Sarychev, Duncan returned to San Diego on December 27 to celebrate a late Christmas and the year end.

The first three months of 1968 saw Duncan performing various operations in and around the coastal waters off southern California. Then on March 8th, Commander C. R. Stephan relieved Commander Birch as the 16th Duncan C.O. The rest of spring and early summer months Duncan spent in overhaul at Long Beach. Following this period, the remaining summer and fall was occupied with refresher training, drills and more drills, as well as plenty of gunnery work. Duncan's third cruise to Vietnam began on November 15 heading into one of California's worst storms of the year. Her first significant duty was to serve as Medical transport for a seriously ill Chief Engineer, Mr. Ching Ping, aboard the Panamanian merchant vessel, Oriental Star to the U.S. Public Health Service hospital in Honolulu. Then it was on to the South China Seas and patrol duties off Vietnam. The last day of 1968, spent enroute to Yankee Station, was also the last day that Duncan went by the Designation DDR. She began the new year, on the way to the Vietnam War, for the first time as DD-874.

The early months of 1969 were spent providing gunfire support for a variety of operations, both inclose shore and riverine against enemy shore guns, troops and facilities. Then more Yankee Station steaming supporting carrier operations until mid March. At this time Duncan proceeded directly to the inland sea of Japan for training support for units of the Japanese Naval Self Defense Force. For participation in Sea of Japan Operations on 19 -23 March and 19 - 26 April, Duncan earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

Duncan departed Subic Bay on May 2nd, for the return transit to the States by way of Australia. Duncan joined by USS Hopewell sailed from Subic enroute to Manus Island via the San Bernadino Straits on the first leg of a 7000 mile voyage. On 7 May, his Royal Majesty King Neptune, Her Royal Pureness, Queen Amphetrite, his courtly righthandedness Davey Jones and the rest of the regal entourage boarded Duncan for equatorial crossing ceremonies initiating some 220 lowly polywogs into the mystic order of the deep. By mid morning, all of Duncan's shivering, shriveled, gutless, guiltridden polywogs had been transformed into sturdy, crusty shellbacks. Then it was on to the Australian Port City of Townsville, North Queensland to represent the United States in ceremonies commemorating the Battle of the Coral Sea in World War II. Then followed a four day visit to New Castle, South Wales. Then it was on to Pago Pago, and the remaining long journey stateside. Shortly before arrival in Pago Pago on 26 May, Duncan's crew had the unique opportunity to view the reentry of Apollo 10 as it flashed across the sky on it's way to splashdown. Later that day, many of the crew were on hand in Pago Pago to welcome our Astronauts back on Earth. The voyage continued with Duncan reaching San Diego on 7 June completing a 204 day deployment. Following regular leave and upkeep periods, the remaing portion of 1969 saw the usual stateside refresher training and predeployment preparations for her next extended overseas stint. On December 12, Commander Stephan was relieved by Commander R. L. Turnage. Duncan closed the year in port San Diego tied up along side the Tender USS Samuel L. Gompers.

March, 1970 saw the Duncan depart San Diego for her final tour of active service. Her final pacific transit to the far east was uneventful and she assumed Seventh Fleet duties with Korean coastal patrols during the later half of March through the middle of April. She was then diverted to conduct surveillance of a Russian Task Force. May thru August were months in which Duncan showed her true mettle hurling over 4,000 rounds of five inch ammunition at the Viet Cong insurgent forces while firing in direct support of Allied Forces. Duncan fired missions from the DMZ to the Cambodian border, steaming into waters plyed previously only by the "brown water Navy," in the steamy Mekong Delta regions. During this period, Duncan also performed screen commander duties for the USS America (CVA-66) in the Tonkin Gulf. Duncan returned to San Diego for the last time in September after traveling over 42,000 miles during the six month deployment.

Commander Turnage was relieved of duty by Lieutenant Commander J. A. Carbone in October 1970 who served as the final skipper of DD 874. In a message from INACTSHIPFAC SDIEGO to CO NAVSHIPSYSCOMHQ dated 14 Jan 71; USS Duncan was ordered decommissioned effective 1810 (6:10 pm) on 15 Jan 1971 and transfered to fleet reserve status.

Duncan, stricken on Sept. 1, 1973, remained berthed at the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, San Diego, California until late 1974, when authorized by the Secretary of the Navy to be stripped and prepared for sinking by naval gunfire. She met her fate on July 31, 1980 and rests on the bottom of the Pacific Missile Range, Point, Mugu, CA.