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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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History of USS Decatur

Stephen Decatur, born 5 January 1779 in Sinepuxent, Md., was warranted a midshipman at the age of 19 and made his first cruise in the frigate United States. In command of the schooner Enterprise at the outbreak of the Tripolitan War, he captured the bomb ketch Mastico on 23 December 1803. He used this ship, renamed Intrepid, in his daring raid to burn the captured frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli, 16 February 1804. He also distinguished himself during the attacks on Tripoli in command of a gunboat division. Promoted to captain he was assigned command of Constitution, and later, in November 1804, Congress. He negotiated with the Bey of Tunis at the close of the Tripolitan War, and returned to the United States in September 1805 with the Tunisian envoy.

During the War of 1812 he commanded United States, capturing HMS Macedonian in one of the greatest single-ship actions of navel history. He took command of President at New York and attempting to slip through the blockade fell in with a British squadron of five heavy ships. After 2 hours of furious combat the frigate HMS Endymion was silence but President had suffered such extensive damage that it was impossible to execute an escape. The twice-wounded Decatur reluctantly surrendered, but was paroled, landing at New London 22 February 1815.

Returning to the Mediterranean in 1815, Decatur in Guerriere, negotiated a treaty with the Dey of Algiers which ended tribute and exacted full payment for injuries to Americans, then concluded similar agreements with the Bey of Tunis and the Bashaw of Tripoli. From November 1815 until killed by Commodore James Baron in a duel 22 March 1820, Decatur served on the Board of Navy Commissioners.


I

(Sloop: tonnage 566; length 117'; beam 32'; depth of hold 15'; draft 15'8"; speed 10 knots; complement 150; armament 14 32-pounders, 2 12-pounders)

The first Decatur, a sloop-of-war, was built in 1838 and 1839 at New York Navy Yard. Commanded by Commander H. W. Ogden, she sailed from New York 16 March 1840 for duty with the Brazil Squadron, returning to Norfolk 28 February 1843. Her second cruise, from 5 August 1843 to 3 January 1845 was with the African Squadron for the suppression of the slave trade. She was placed in ordinary during 1845 and 1846.

Decatur sailed from Hampton Roads 1 March 1847, and after a brief stay at Pensacola Navy Yard, arrived off Castle Juan de Uloa, Mexico, 14 April for duty in the Mexican War. Although she was too large to ascend the Tuxpan River, 14 of her officers and 118 men accompanied Commodore Perry's expedition to attack Tuxpan. She also furnished 8 officers and 104 men for the capture of Tabasco from 14 to 16 June. She continued to cruise in Mexican waters until 2 September when she sailed for Boston, arriving 12 November.

Rejoining the African Squadron, Decatur cruised on the northwest coast of Africa on the lookout for slave ships and protecting American interests from 2 February 1848 to 15 November 1849. After a period in ordinary she sailed from Portsmouth, N. H., for duty with the Home Squadron, cruising off the Atlantic coast and in the Carribean until arriving at Boston 21 August 1852 where she was decommissioned for repairs.

Recommissioned 12 July 1853 Decatur joined a Special Squadron to guard the fishing interest of American citizens in north Atlantic waters, returning to Boston in September to prepare for distant service. After searching for the missing merchantship San Francisco in the Carribean in January and February 1854, she sailed from Norfolk 16 June to join the Pacific Squadron. After a stormy transit of the Straits of Magellan, she called at Valparaiso, Chile, arriving 15 January 1855, then visited Honolulu from 28 March to 23 June. Sailing on to Washington Territory, Decatur entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca 19 July.

Decatur remained in the Pacific Northwest to deter Indian outbreaks until 2 June 1856 cruising to San Francisco between 2 August and 27 September 1855 for supplies. On 13 June 1856 she arrived at Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs, and on 8 January 1857 sailed for Panama, touching at Central American ports for the protection of American interests. She sailed 3 June to Nicaragua to evacuate American citizens connected with the filibustering expedition of William Walker to Panama, where she arrived 5 August. She cruised off Panama, Peru, and Chile until 23 March 1859 when she was ordered to return to Mare Island. She was decommissioned there 20 June 1859 and remained in ordinary until March 1863 when she was fitted as a harbor battery and stationed off San Francisco. She was sold at Mare Island 17 August 1865.


II

(Destroyer DD-5: displacement 420; length 250'; beam 23'7"; draft 6'6"; speed 28 knots; complement 73; armament 2 3", 2 18" torpedo tubes; class Bainbridge)

The second Decatur (DD-5) was launched 26 September 1900 by William R. Trigg Co., Richmond, Va.; sponsored by Miss M. D. Mayo, great-grandniece of Commodore Decatur; and commissioned 19 May 1902, Lieutenant L. H. Chandler in command.

Decatur was designated lead vessel of the 1st Torpedo Flotilla with whom she conducted drills and maneuvers along the eastern seaboard and in the Carribean until December 1903 when the flotilla departed Norfolk for the Asiatic Station, sailing by the way of the Suez Canal. Arriving at Cavite, P.I., 14 April 1904, Decatur exercised along the China coast and cruised in Philippine waters until placed in reserve at Cavite 5 December 1905. For the next 3 years she made infrequent cruises, including one to the southern Philippines in January and February 1908 and Saigon in May 1908.

Placed out of commission in February 1909, Decatur was placed in commission in reserved 22 April 1910 and in full commission 22 December 1910. She resumed operations with the Torpedo Flotilla, cruising in the southern Philippines and between ports of China and Japan until 1 August 1917 when she departed for the Mediterranean. Assigned to U. S. Patrol Squadrons she arrived at Gibraltar 20 October 1917 for patrol and convoy duty in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean until 8 December 1918. Decatur arrived at Philadelphia 6 February 1919 and was decommissioned there 20 June 1919. She was sold 3 January 1920.


III

(Destroyer DD-341: displacement 1,190; length 314'5"; beam 30'8"; draft 9'3"; speed 36 knots; complement 126; armament 4 4", 2 3", 4 21" torpedo tubes; class Clemson)

The third Decatur (DD-341) was launched 29 October 1921 by Mare Island Navy Yard; sponsored by Mrs. J. S. McKean; and commissioned 9 August 1922, Lieutenant C. K. Osborne in command.

After completing her trials Decatur sailed to San Diego where she was placed out of commission 17 January 1923. She was recommissioned 26 September 1923 and became flagship of Destroyer Squadron 11, Battle Fleet. Until 1937 she operated along the western seaboard, and in Carribean and Hawaiian waters. From April to September 1925 she cruised to Samoa, New Zealand, and Australia, and in April 1926 made an extensive survey of the Mexican coast. She embarked Secretary of the Navy C.D. Wilbur at Bremerton, Wash.; 28 July 1926 and cruised for official visits at Alaskan ports, returning to Bremerton 6 August. She transported the Haitian Commission to Santiago, Cuba, arriving 14 March 1930, then visited New York and Chesapeake Bay for the Presidential Fleet Review of 19 May before returning to the west coast in June.

Decatur arrived at Norfolk 22 February 1937 for duty with the Training Detachment of the U. S. Fleet. She escorted President F. D. Roosevelt in Potomac (AG-25) to New Orleans and Texas, then served in Midshipman and Naval Reserve training cruises and on neutrality patrol along the eastern seaboard to Cuba until September 1941.

Arriving at Argentia, Newfoundland, 14 September 1941, Decatur served on convoy escort and patrol to ports in Iceland until returning to Boston 17 May 1942. From 4 June to 25 August she operated on convoy duty between Norfolk and Key West, then between New York and Guantanamo Bay from 30 August 10 13 October. Until 14 January 1943 she escorted ships out to sea and to Boston from New York, then departed 11 February for the Mediterranean sailing by way of and returning to Aruba, Netherlands West Indies. She made four more voyages from New York and Aruba to the Mediterranean until 1 October.

Decatur joined the task group centered about Card (CV-11) and sailed from Norfolk 24 November 1943 for an antisubmarine sweep, returning to New York 3 January 1944. From 26 January to 17 February she escorted a convoy to Panama, returning with another to Hampton Roads. On 13 March she cleared Norfolk as flagship of TF 64, escorting a large convoy to Bizerte, Tunisia. On the last day of March while sailing between Oran and Algiers, the force successfully repelled a coordinated strike of German submarines and planes, to arrive at its destination 3 April. Eight days later Decatur was en route to the United States, arriving at Boston 2 May, for brief overhaul and refresher training.

Arriving at Norfolk 2 July 1944 Decatur sailed from this port on escort and training duty in the Caribbean Sea until the last day of June 1945 when she entered Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for inactivation. She was decommissioned there 28 July 1945 and sold 30 November 1945.

Decatur received two battle stars for World War II service.


IV

(Destroyer DD-936: displacement 3,807 (full load); length 418'5"; beam 45'1"; draft 14'6"; speed 33 knots; complement 311; armament 3 5", 4 3", 4 21" torpedo tubes, 1 depth charge track; cl. Forrest Sherman)

The fourth Decatur (DD-936) was launched 15 December 1955 by Bethlehem Steel Co., Quincy, Mass.; sponsored by Mrs. W. A. Pierce and Mrs. D. J. Armsden, descendants of Commodore Decatur; and commissioned 7 December 1956, Commander J. J. Skahill in command.

Decatur sailed from Newport 3 September 1957 to take part in NATO Operation "Strikeback," calling at Largs and Rosyth, Scotland, before returning to Newport 22 October. She served on local operations until 1 February 1958 when she sailed to the Mediterranean for a tour of duty with the 6th Fleet. She returned to her home port 28 August for east coast operations.

She returned to the Mediterranean for duty between 7 August 1959 and 26 February 1960, then joined in antisubmarine exercises and a midshipman cruise in the Atlantic between March and September. On 6 September Decatur sailed on a cruise which took her north of the Arctic Circle, through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, and back to the Mediterranean where she operated with the 6th Fleet. The destroyer returned to Newport in mid-December.

She would continue this pattern of operations--a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean followed by year or so in home waters--for the next three years. A highlight of this period was Decatur's recovery, the first of its kind, of a NASA spacecraft at sea in September 1961.

On 6 May 1964, while operating in an ASW exercise off the Virginia Capes, the destroyer suffered severe superstructure damage--both masts were lost over the side and the bridge and both stacks were crushed, remarkably injuring only one sailor--in a collision with Lake Champlain (CVS-39). Towed into Norfolk, she received temporary repairs alongside Shenandoah (AD-26) before returning to Newport at the end of the month. Tapped for conversion to a new class of guided-missile destroyers, Decatur subsequently sailed north to Boston and, after entering the Naval Shipyard in Charlestown, she was placed in reserve on 1 November and then decommissioned on 15 June 1965. While in the yard, conversion work was begun--which included the installation of the TARTAR missile system, new fire control radars, an ASROC system, and new sonar and other electronics equipment--and she was reclassified DDG-31 on 15 September 1966.

Recommissioned on 29 April 1967, Decatur passed her acceptance trials that summer and sailed to her new home port of Long Beach, Calif., on 22 August. After arrival on 26 September, she received a post-shakedown availability and conducted several months of missile firing tests before being pronounced ready for service on 10 June 1968.

On 18 July, Decatur began her first deployment in the Pacific. Arriving at Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin on 23 August, the warship began six months of task force air defense and air traffic control for the carriers and their air groups. In between duties on Yankee Station, she visited Subic Bay, Hong Kong, and Singapore. She returned home, via Australia, New Zealand, and American Samoa, on 26 February 1969.

Following almost a year of local operations, which included visits to Seattle, Pearl Harbor and Acapulco, she returned to western Pacific operations on 10 February 1970. During this cruise, in addition to operations off Vietnam, she visited Taiwan and Japan, before sailing for home on 27 July. She again swung south across the equator, stopping in Australia and New Zealand, before arriving home on 29 August.

After an overhaul the following spring, Decatur spent the summer of 1971 conducting refresher training off the coast of southern California. She got underway for her third WestPac deployment on 1 October and arrived on Yankee Station on 2 November. Much like her last two deployments, the guided-missile destroyer interspersed her support of carrier operations with visits to Subic Bay, Hong Kong, and the occassional foray into the Sea of Japan or the Indian Ocean. She again returned home via the southern ocean and moored at Long Beach on 7 April 1972.

Decatur continued this pattern--a Vietnam cruise followed by refresher training off California--for her next two deployments. These took place between January and July 1973 and from August 1974 to the following January, before she commenced a long overhaul at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard during the spring and summer of 1975. Although the guided-missile cruiser still deployed to the western Pacific following the end of the Vietnam war, Decatur concentrated on operations in the south Pacific and in the South China Sea during her September 1976 to May 1977 WestPac cruise.

She returned to the area in December of 1978, though she then continued on into the Indian Ocean for operations off India and Pakistan. In February 1979, Decatur ventured into the Persian Gulf for a brief visit to Bahrain before sailing on the long voyage home and mooring in San Diego on 8 April. She underwent another overhaul late that year and did not finish qualifications until March 1981.

The guided-missile destroyer started her next deployment on 27 April, but this time sailed to Japan and Korea for exercises before heading south to the Philippines. In August she steamed south across the equator to Australia and New Zealand before returning home on 20 October.

Decatur's last deployment began on 30 October 1982, when she sailed to the Sea of Japan for a complex "War at Sea" exercise. Following a visit to Hong Kong, she sailed south for exercises off Thailand before moving on to the Persian Gulf. Once there, she helped cover tanker traffic imperiled by the Iran-Iraq war, before returning across the Pacific to Pearl Harbor on 7 May 1983.

Owing to her aging machinery, and old weapon systems, Decatur was decommissioned at Pearl Harbor on 30 June 1983. Struck from the Navy list on 16 March 1988, she was transferred to Naval Sea Systems Command for use as an experimental test platform. As of 2001, she remains at San Bruno, Calif., as a test hulk for the Naval Engineering Command.

Decatur received six battle stars for Vietnam service.


IV

(Destroyer DDG-73: displacement 6,624 (light); length 504'6"; beam 66'6"; draft 20'8"; speed 30+ knots; complement 342; armament 2 VLS, w/Standard, Tomahawk, Harpoon missiles, 5", 1 CWIS, 6 12" torpedo tubes, 2 SH-60 helicopters; class Arleigh Burke)

The fifth Decatur (DDG-73) was laid down on 11 January 1996 by Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine; launched on 9 November 1996, sponsored by Mrs. Joan E. Shalikashvili, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and commissioned 19 June 1998, Commander Pete Gumataotao in command.

Following a combination shakedown and transit cruise to the west coast, during which Decatur visited San Juan, Puerto Rico; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; and Portland, Oregon; the guided-missile destroyer arrived at her new home port of San Diego on 4 September. She spent the remainder of the year conducting acoustic trials and combat system evaluations. Decatur then spent three months in a post-shakedown availability in the Southwest Marine Yard.

In April 1999, the warship conducted a short cruise to the northwest, visiting Decatur Island, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, before returning to San Diego in early May. After a second visit to Washington in August, Decatur helped Bunker Hill in assisting MV Gardenia Ace--a car carrier--which had suffered a fire in her engine room.

Upon completion of her final missile tests and sea trials, Decatur commenced her first western Pacific deployment on 7 January 2000. After stopping at Pearl Harbor to load Tomahawk land-attack missiles, the guided-missile cruiser proceeded to the Yellow Sea for Exercise Sharem 2000--a joint U.S. and South Korean naval exercise--in late January. On the 30th, the warship visited Chinhae, South Korea, and over the next two weeks also stopped at Yokosuka and Nagasaki, Japan. She then sailed south through the Taiwan Strait, made a three-day port visit to Hong Kong, and then commenced a South China Sea exercise with units of the Philippine Navy.

In early March, Decatur visited Malaysia and Guam before sailing south across the equator to Fiji in April. After visits to American Samoa, and numerous ports in Australia, the guided missile cruiser returned to San Diego on 8 June.

Following upkeep and voyage repairs, the warship operated locally out of San Diego for the rest of the year. In February 2001, Decatur began preparations for carrier battle group operations off the west coast.


26 September 2001