William Edwin Hank was born at Norfolk, Va., 25 September 1902 and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1925. During the years before World War II, he served at various shore stations and in New York, Hull, and Saratoga. Commissioned Lieutenant Commander in 1940, Hank took command of destroyer Laffey 1 April 1942. He received the Navy Cross for his skillful handling of the ship during the Battle of Cape Esperance October 11-12 and a second Navy Cross for heroism during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal 12-13 November. As Laffey gallantly fought battleship Hiei against great odds in a decisive fleet action that helped turn the course of the war, she was sunk by large caliber gunfire and a torpedo. Lt. Cmdr. Hank was reported missing and presumed dead 14 November. His ship received the Presidential Unit Citation.
(DD-702: dp. 2,200; l. 376'6" ; b. 40'; dr. 15'8" ; s. 34 k.; cpl. 336; a. 6 5", 12 40mm., 11 20mm., 10 21" tt; cl. Allen M. Summer)
Hank (DD-702) was launched 21 May 1944 by the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Kearny, N.J.; sponsored by Mrs. William Edwin Hank, widow of Lt. Omdr. Hank ; and commissioned 28 August 1944, G. M. Chambers in command.
After completing her Caribbean shakedown 18 October, Hank joined battleships Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas at New York and then sailed for the Pacific reaching Pearl Harbor 6 December via the Panama Canal and San Francisco. Hank reported to Ulithi 28 December and sortied 2 days later as part of the screen for Task Force 38, a fast carrier force under Vice Admiral John S. McCain. The primary mission of the carriers was to conduct air strikes against strategic Japanese positions along the China coast and on Formosa and Luzon to distract enemy attention and to divert Japanese ships from the landings at Lingayen Gulf which were to begin 9 January 1945. The day after the invasion was launched, Task Force 38 moved into the South China Sea to conduct a series of devastating raids on targets along the China Coast and in Indochina. After launching one final raid against Okinawa, the carriers and escorts, Hank included, returned to Ulithi 26 January 1945.
Joining Task Force 58, a reorganized fast carrier strike force under the command of Admiral Mitscher, Hank sortied 10 February. Carrier planes launched massive raids against airfields, aircraft factories, and shipping in the Tokyo area 16 and 17 February in paralyzing diversionary strikes prior to the invasion of Iwo Jima, 19 February. These raids, launched less than 125 miles from Tokyo Bay itself, were the first carrier air strikes to hit Japan proper since the Halsey-Doolittle raid of 1942.
Among the ships which Hank helped screen in the 116 unit task force were such illustrious veterans as Indianapolis, Bunker Hill, Hornet, Wasp, Lexington, Essex, Yorktown, Enterprise, Saratoga, Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, and Washington. Deploying to the Iwo Jima area the afternoon of 18 February, Hank remained there to provide support for the invasion which began the following day ; and she operated off the bitterly contested island until returning to Ulithi 4 March.
As the Pacific war moved into its climactic phases, Hank steamed from Ulithi with Task Force 58 14 March for further strikes against the Japanese home islands. Closing to within 75 miles of their targets, the carriers launched massive strikes against airfields on Kyushu and ships in the Inland Sea 18 and 19 March. Although under heavy air opposition from time to time, the carrier planes claimed a total of 528 Japanese aircraft destroyed. After participating in the bombardment of enemy shore positions—including radio facilities, a weather station, and an airfield—on Minami Daito Shima 27-28 March, Hank headed for Okinawa. Her task force furnished support for landings made on that heavily fortified island 1 April, and Hank spent a busy week screening the carriers and stopping kamikazes with highly effective antiaircraft fire. The destroyer then reported to a lonely radar picket station, where on the afternoon of 11 April she narrowly averted disaster by her effective gunfire. As a kamikaze came in low off the port bow, heading directly for the bridge, Hank's accurate antiaircraft fire deflected it slightly, but the "Zeke" came in close enough to kill three sailors before crashing into the sea and exploding close aboard.
After repairs at Ulithi, Hank again joined Task Force 58, 1 May to resume screening and radar picket duties off Okinawa. June was spent at San Pedro Bay, Philippines, undergoing replenishment and training, and on 1 July the carriers redesignated Task Force 38 and operating under Vice Admiral McCain in Admiral Halsey's 3d Fleet sortied to launch further strikes against the Home Islands. Hank spent most of this period on hazardous and lonely radar picket duty, steaming 50 miles from the main body of ships to provide early warning of enemy air attacks. On the night of 18 July she joined Destroyer Squadron 62 and Cruiser Division 18 for an antishipping sweep across the entrance to Tokyo Bay. As she patrolled her radar picket station 9 August, Hank and Borie found themselves in the midst of five kamikaze planes. One of the aircraft came so close to Hank that it drenched both ship and personnel forward with gasoline before the veteran ships destroyed it and the other four attackers. Borie had been hit in the after bridge structure and suffered 48 dead and 66 wounded, while Hank had to report 1 man missing in action and 5 wounded.
Hostilities ceased 15 August 1945, and Hank steamed proudly into Tokyo Bay 10 September to participate in the occupation. She continued operations around Japan and Pearl Harbor through 30 December, when she sailed for Charleston, S.C., via Eniwetok, Pearl Harbor, San Diego, and the Panama Canal.
The veteran ship operated primarily out of New Orleans for reserve training cruises and good will visits to Caribbean and Central American ports until sailing 6 September 1949 for the Mediterranean. During her 5 months with the 6th Fleet, Hank participated in amphibious operations and visited Gibraltar, Malta, France, Sicily, Italy, and Algeria. Returning to Norfolk 26 January 1950, Hank engaged in training operations and a cruise to the Caribbean until sailing for the Far East and the Korean War 6 September. She arrived Yokosuka, Japan, 1 month later and joined the United Nations Blockade and Escort Force off the Korean coast. Her movements centered mainly around Wonsan Harbor, then under seige, with frequent interruptions for blockade patrol and bombardment missions. Hank supported the evacuation of Wonsan in early December and then moved up to Hungnam to help provide the curtain of fire which covered the evacuation of Allied troops. In January and February 1951, Hank supported the 8th Army as it moved to recapture and consolidate Seoul and Inchon. Screening,blockade patrol, and shore bombardment constituted the destroyer's duties along the Korean coast until she sailed for the United States, reaching Norfolk 9 June via SanDiego, the Panama Canal, and Guantanamo.
After a yard overhaul at Norfolk, Hank resumed the peacetime training operations, Caribbean exercises, and annual deployments to the Mediterranean that kept the fleet ready to serve America well at any moment on the seas. In the fall of 1956 as warfare flared over the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Hank was there. She conducted patrols in the eastern Mediterranean to assert and confirm America's determination to keep the peace as well as to protect her citizens and interests.
In 1960 the destroyer with the Navy began to reach into space. She participated in training for Project Mercury, America's first man-in-space effort, off the Virginia capes, and she was designated one of the recovery ships when Astronaut Lt. Oomdr. Scott Carpenter made his orbital flight 24 May 1962. Hank operated with Independence on blockade and surveillance duty during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, remaining in the tension-filled Caribbean for nearly a month. She was designated a Naval Reserve Training Ship in October 1963 and proceeded to her new home port, Philadelphia. After undergoing repairs at Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Chester Pa., in 1964 Hank began reserve training cruises along the East Coast from Fort. Lauderdale, Fla., to Halifax, Nova Scotia, continuing into 1967.
Hank received four battle stars for World War II, and four tattle stars for Korean service.