Born in Fowey, England, 11 January 1894, Clarence Frederick Leary came to the United States with his family as a boy. After the United States entered World War I he was commissioned lieutenant in the Naval Reserve 12 June 1918, and appointed executive officer in Carlton Hall. He died of burns and smoke inhalation when he entered the ship’s burning hold 20 July in an attempt to save both ship and crew. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his self-sacrificing valor.
(DD-158: dp. 1,090; l. 314'; b. 30'6"; dr. 12'; s. 35 k.; cpl. 176; a. 6 3", 6 21" tt., 2 dct., 1 Y-gun; cl. Wickes)
The first Leary (DD-158) was laid down 6 March 1918 by New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J.; launched 18 December 1918; sponsored by Mrs. Anne Leary, mother of Lt. C. F. Leary; and commissioned 5 December 1919, Comdr. F. C. Martin in command.
Leary departed Boston 28 January 1920 for Guantanamo on shakedown and training, then continued her training in northern waters before transiting the Panama Canal 22 January 1921 to join the Battle Fleet in the Pacific. Upon completion of large-scale maneuvers off the coast of Peru in February, she returned to the Caribbean where in June she observed the effects of seaplane bombardment upon ex-German ships. In the wake of the Washington Naval Disarmament Conference, Leary was placed out of commission in reserve at Philadelphia Navy Yard 29 June 1922.
Reactivating 8 years later, on 1 May 1930 she joined the Atlantic Fleet with Newport, R.I., as her home port. In addition to annual exercises in the Caribbean, every other year she operated off the West Coast in joint maneuvers with the Pacific Fleet. After 1935 training cruises for reserves and midshipmen occupied most of her time.
The rising war clouds over Europe changed this schedule. In September 1939 destroyers Leary and Hamilton (DD-141) established a continuous antisubmarine patrol off the lower New England coast. The following year her patrol functions enlarged and 9 September 1941 she began a series of hazardous escort missions to Iceland. On 19 November Leary became the first American ship to make radar contact with a U-boat. After 26 February 1942 she spent a year escorting convoys from the midocean meeting point to various Icelandic ports.
Leary departed this duty 7 February 1943 for Boston and a new area of service. Emerging from drydock the old four-stacker departed Boston 1 March for Guantanamo Naval Base where she engaged in antisubmarine exercises with R-5 before resuming escort duty, guarding four convoys to Trinidad, British West Indies, between mid-March and mid-June 1943. She returned to New York 25 June.
Leary now began transatlantic escort voyages to guard ever-increasing amounts of supplies from the United States to the Mediterranean. She picked up a convoy off New York harbor 7 July, sailed first to Aruba, Dutch West Indies, and then across to Algiers, arriving the 31st. A return convoy using the same route entered New York 27 August. A second voyage concluded 30 October but Leary would not return from her third transatlantic assignment of 1943.
Late in November she departed the East Coast with escort carrier Card (CVE-11) on a hunter-killer operation. Early in the mid-watch 24 December, Leary suddenly found herself in the midst of a German submarine pack. Leary took two torpedoes within minutes of her discovery of the enemy and a third torpedo finally sank this valiant ship. Ninety-seven members of the ship’s company were lost, including her commanding officer, Comdr. James E. Keyes.
Leary received one battle star for World War II service.