William Lewis Herndon, one of the Navy's outstanding explorers and seamen, was born 15 October 1813 in Fredericksburg, Va. Appointed Midshipman 1 November 1828, he cruised in Pacific, South American, Mediterranean, and Gulf waters from then until 1842. From 1842 to 1846 Herndon served in the Depot of Charts and Instruments (to become the U.S. Naval Observatory) with his cousin and brother-in-law, Matthew Fontaine Maury, preparing oceanographic charts and performing other scientific work invaluable to the safe and accurate navigation of the seas. During the Mexican War, Herndon commanded brig Iris with distinction.
In 1851 Herndon headed an expedition exploring the Valley of the Amazon, a vast area as uncharted as the wildest part of central Africa. Departing Lima, Peru, 21 May 1851, Herndon and his small party of six men pressed into the wild and treacherously beautiful jungles. After a remarkable journey of 4,366 dangerous miles, which took him through wilderness from sea level to heights of 16,199 feet, Herndon reached the city of Para 11 April 1852. On 26 January 1853 Herndon submitted an encyclopedic and profusely illustrated 414-page report to Secretary of the Navy, John P. Kennedy.
After 2 years of active service in Potomac and San Jaointo, Herndon, now a commander, was given leave in 1855 to command the Pacific Mail steamer George Law, renamed Central America, 20 June 1857, on the New York to Aspinwall run. Making his way up the coast from Aspinwall with $2,000,000 in gold and 474 passengers, as well as 101 crew members, Herndon encountered a heavy gale off Cape Hatteras 7 September 1857. The gale steadily increased in savagery until the 12th, and Central America was shipping water through several leaks. As the ship pitched and rolled through the pounding seas, water in her hold put out her boiler fires. Commander Herndon reluctantly admitted that, despite the valiant efforts of crew and passengers alike, his ship was doomed and summoned aid by firing the ship's minute guns. At 2 p.m., West Indian brig Marine arrived to aid the stricken steamer. Disregarding his own life, Commander Herndon supervised the loading of women and children into lifeboats and watched them pull to safety in Marine. Herndon's bravery and his concern for his passengers and crew helped save 152 of the 575 people on board. Commander Herndon was last seen in full uniform, standing by the wheelhouse with his hand on the rail, as the ship gave a lurch and went down. A monument at Annapolis commemorates this intrepid explorer and gallant seaman.
(DD-638: d. 1,630; l. 347'9"; b. 36'; dr. 17'5" ; s. 37 k.; a. 4 5", 4 20mm., 5 21" tt.; cpl. 261; cl. Gleaves)
The second Herndon (DD-638) was launched 2 February 1942 by the Norfolk Navy Yard; sponsored by Miss Lucy Herndon Crockett, great-grandniece of Commander Herndon; and commissioned 20 December 1942, Comdr. Granville A. Moore in command.
After shakedown off the Maine coast, Herndon escorted a convoy from New York to Casablanca, returning to New York 14 May 1943 escorting a tanker. Sailing from Norfolk 8 June, she reached Algiers 24 June and prepared for a key role in the Sicilian campaign. As Allied amphibious forces under the overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the initial strike at "the soft underbelly of Europe" 10 July 1943, Herndon performed antisubmarine patrol duty as well as fire support for Pat-ton's 7th Army and Montgomery's British 8th Army. Departing the Mediterranean 3 August, Herndon spent the next 9 months escorting troopships across the Atlantic from New York to various British ports as the massive buildup for the invasion of France hit full strike. On D-day 6 June 1944, Herndon was off Omaha Beach, down front in "Bald-headed Row" ahead of the first assault waves. Despite heavy counterfire from enemy batteries, she effectively bombarded enemy targets ashore.
Herndon remained off the Normandy beaches providing fire support, screening troopships, and antisubmarine patrol until 19 June, when she served as a screen for Allied landings at Baie de la Seine. Further screening duties followed until 11 July, when she reported to Belfast for training as an escort in the Mediterranean. Operation Anvil was the Allies' next major blow in the struggle to liberate "Festung Europa." Herndon was part of the joint task force screening carriers 15 August when the invasion of southern France was begun.
The battle-trained destroyer remained in the Mediterranean until sailing for New York 3 September. After 2 weeks of experimental operations in Chesapeake Bay for the Naval Research Laboratory Herndon headed back toward the Mediterranean as a convoy escort 14 October. Returning to the States 12 November, she conducted battle exercises in Casco Bay and escorted convoys along the Atlantic coast through February 1945. In that month. Herndon escorted President Roosevelt on the first leg of his historic voyage to Yalta.
The veteran destroyer and her crew turned south 21 April 1945 and headed for the still-hot war in the Pacific, reaching Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and San Diego 15 May. After training exercises and duty as a carrier plane guard, Herndon sailed to Eniwetok 12 July and remained in the rear area escorting convoys between Eniwetok, Guam, and Saipan through the end of the long Pacific war.
Japanese capitulation came at last with the formal signing of the surrender in Tokyo Bay 2 September, and Herndon proceeded to the China coast to enforce provisions of the peace. Reaching Dairen, Manchuria 10 September, she continued to Tsingtao, China 16 September. On that day Vice Admiral Kanako, UN, and his staff came aboard Herndon to sign and implement the unconditional surrender of all Japanese-controlled combatant and merchant vessels in the Tsingtao area.
Herndon spent the fall and winter escorting Japanese prize vessels along the coast, patrolling the Korean and China coasts, and assisting the repatriation of Japanese soldiers and the movement of Chinese Nationalist troops. On 5 December 1945 she was detached from this duty to participate in Operation "Magic Carpet", the transfer of veterans from the Pacific to the States, and reached San Diego via Shanghai, Eniwetok, Okinawa, and Pearl Harbor 27 December. After disembarking some of the veterans, Herndon continued on to New York with the rest, arriving 15 January 1946. Herndon arrived Charleston 28 January 1946 and decommissioned there 8 May and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was moved to Philadelphia January 1947 and at present is berthed at Orange, Tex.
Herndon received three battle stars for World War II service.