Wayne Maurice Caron -- born in Middleboro, Mass., on 2 November 1946, son of Aime Joseph and Lorraine Janet (Paradise) Caron -- attended Memorial High School in Middleboro, where he was president of his class his sophomore and junior years and president of the student council his senior year. During his sophomore year, Caron was elected to the school’s Silver “M” Society, a group that, according to his senior yearbook, was “established to recognize students with outstanding citizenship… based on dependability, honesty, fairness, cooperation, consideration for others, courage to stand up for high ideals, and emulation of the qualities which enable people to live together well.” At the end of his high school career, Caron’s peers further recognized him with the superlatives “Most Artistic,” “Did Most for Class,” and “Best All Around.” Further illustrating his character, for his senior yearbook quote, Caron selected the words “He Never Forgot… that everyone matters.”
Shortly after graduating from high school, Caron enlisted in the U.S. Navy at Boston, Mass., on 12 July 1966. He completed his recruit training in October 1966 at Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Ill. Desiring to eventually become an ophthalmologist, Caron attained the rating of hospital apprentice on 23 September 1966 and entered the Naval Hospital Corps School at Great Lakes. While serving at Naval Hospital, Great Lakes (January 1967–April 1968), Caron advanced to hospitalman on 1 April 1967 and hospital corpsman third class on 16 January 1968. Prior to his deployment to Vietnam in July 1968, Caron completed additional studies at Field Medical Service School, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
In Vietnam, Caron was stationed in Quang Nam Province with Company K of the Headquarters and Service Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force. On 28 July 1968, Caron’s platoon came under fire while they swept an open rice field. He ran to assist two fallen marines but found that they were already dead. With the platoon still under fire, Caron was shot in the arm and fell as he moved to assist another wounded leatherneck. Ignoring his own injury, Caron got up and raced to the next injured marine he found, performing a tracheotomy on the man to help him breathe, saving his life. Caron then rushed to aid another downed marine and was again hit by enemy fire, this time in the leg. No longer able to walk, Caron gamely crawled to the gravely injured man and again rendered medical assistance. According to a report in Navy News, Caron gave himself a shot of morphine but saved his other supplies for the marines. Despite his own wounds, he continued to help the other casualties, saving at least three men’s lives. When he ran out of bandages, he crawled his way to the rear, admonishing another corpsman who tried to help him to stay away. At that point, an enemy rocket exploded and sent shrapnel through Caron’s temple, killing him instantly.
For his heroic acts of bravery that day, Caron was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, for his “inspiring valor, steadfast determination, and selfless dedication in the face of extreme danger.” Caron also received the Purple Heart Medal for wounds sustained in the aforementioned action. His additional awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm.
In addition to his parents, Caron was survived by his wife of less than one year, Teresa, who was pregnant at the time of his death. She gave birth to a boy, Scott W. Caron, in November 1968. In addition to his eponym destroyer, a park outside the hospital at Great Lakes, the auditorium of his alma mater Middleborough [Memorial] High School, and the medical clinic at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C., were also named in his honor. Caron lies buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
(DD-970: displacement 7,800 tons; length 563'; beam 55'; draft 29'; speed 30+ knots; complement 261; armament 2 5-inch, Mk. 122 Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC), Mk. 29 Improved Point Defense Missile System (IPDMS) NATO Sea Sparrow, 6 Mk. 32 torpedo tubes; aircraft 2 Kaman UH-2 Seasprites or 1 Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King; class Spruance)
Caron (DD-970) was laid down on 1 July 1974 at Pascagoula, Miss., by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries; launched on 9 August 1975; sponsored by Mrs. Teresa (Caron) Young, widow of the ship’s namesake; and commissioned on 1 October 1977, Cmdr. Earle G. Schweizer Jr. in command.
Caron departed Pascagoula on 3 October 1977 for her assigned homeport of Norfolk, Va., via Miami, Fla., and Charleston, S.C. The Atlantic Fleet’s newest destroyer made her arrival at Norfolk on 23 October. For the next three months, Caron’s crew tested the ship’s equipment and systems. On 28 November, two former Chiefs of Naval Operations, Adm. Robert B. Carney (Ret.) and Adm. Arleigh Burke (Ret.), embarked on board Caron for a one-day Spruance-class orientation cruise, during which Adm. Burke gave the order to leehelm for 31 knots, reminding all hands of his famous nickname, “31 Knot Burke.”
In January 1978, Caron successfully completed her final contract trials and returned to Pascagoula in February for post-shakedown availability, which she completed on 1 March.
Caron spent much of March in company with frigate Miller (FF-1091) and submarines William H. Bates (SSN-680) and Bergall (SSN-667), participating in SubASWEx 3-78 in the western Atlantic. On 8 April, Gen. Gholam Reza Azhari, Chief, Supreme Commander’s Staff and Iran’s highest ranking military official, visited Caron for a tour and luncheon. Following a port visit to Annapolis, Md., on 10 April, Caron served as a test ship for Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Project 025, evaluating a torpedo detection system off of St. Croix, U.S.V.I., in May and June 1978.
Over the following six months, Caron completed a Shipbuilding and Conversion/Fleet Modernization Program restricted availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Va. (30 June 1978–12 January 1979). The work included enhancing the ship’s electronic and weapons systems capabilities with the addition of the Classic Outboard surveillance system as well as RGM-84 Harpoon over-the-horizon, antiship missiles.
From 6 April through 4 May 1979, Caron participated in modified refresher training at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The destroyer then steamed to Roosevelt Roads, P.R., for her Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (9–11 May). Caron returned to Norfolk, and on 26 June, the ship had the experimental Outlaw Shark over-the-horizon targeting system installed for operational evaluation. The destroyer’s 1979 cruise book proudly noted that Caron became the only Atlantic Fleet destroyer with both Classic Outboard and Outlaw Shark installed and was the first ship to operate the two systems simultaneously.
On 28 June 1979, Caron departed Norfolk for her first Mediterranean deployment to the Sixth Fleet. After crossing the Atlantic, the destroyer stopped briefly at Rota, Spain, to embark Capt. Allen B. Higginbotham, Commander, Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 22, on 6 July. She then operated south of Crete, conducting surveillance on Soviet antisubmarine warfare carrier Leningrad for several days before calling at Naples, Italy, to embark Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light (HSL) 32, Detachment 2, on the 21st.
After stopping at Augusta Bay, Sicily, to hold the destroyer’s first change of command ceremony on 26 July 1979, Caron and guided missile destroyer Farragut (DDG-37) operated together from 1–6 August in the international waters of the Black Sea, demonstrating American presence and freedom of navigation in an area of Soviet hegemony. The Soviets responded by directing several naval vessels to track the American destroyers and by sending military aircraft to not only observe but also to practice missile attack maneuvers against the ships. Caron departed the Black Sea on 6 August, and the crew enjoyed port visits at Messina, Sicily, and Ashdod, Israel.
Following a restricted availability period at Palermo, Sicily (10–25 September 1979), Caron participated in Display Determination 79 (5–9 October). The destroyer called at Athens, Greece, and then from 12–17 October returned to the Black Sea for operations with McCandless (FF-1084), once again attracting the attention of Soviet surveillance ships and aircraft. Through the remainder of October and November, Caron touched at Livorno and Genoa, Italy; Toulon, France; Palma and Rota, Spain; and participated in one additional exercise, Iles D’or 79 (14–24 November). The ship outchopped from the Sixth Fleet on 6 December and made the Atlantic transit with other vessels of the Independence (CV-62) Battle Group. She concluded her first deployment with her arrival at Norfolk on the 14th.
Caron remained in port at Norfolk until 11 February 1980, when the destroyer got underway for New Orleans, La., with HSL-32, Detachment 2 embarked. After calling at New Orleans (15–20 February), Caron departed for the Jacksonville operational area for gunnery service and then went to Bloodsworth Island, Md., to participate in naval gunfire support (NGFS) qualifications from 27–28 February. Caron not only became the first Spruance-class destroyer to successfully qualify for the gunfire support at Bloodsworth Island, she also used an airborne spotter flying in a Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) equipped helicopter to spot the fall off shot. The destroyer returned to Norfolk on 29 February and disembarked the helicopter detachment.
In March 1980, Caron had two major pieces of equipment installed for operational evaluation, Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) and Sunflyer. On 20 March, Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, Chief of Naval Operations; Adm. Harry D. Train II, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; Vice Adm. Jay D. Johnson, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; and Vice Adm. Thomas J. Bigley, Commander, Second Fleet, visited the ship for a briefing on the upcoming special operation Aggressive Knight to conduct surveillance on the Kiev battle group.
On 28 March 1980, Caron sailed from Norfolk with HSL-32, Detachment 2 embarked to participate in Aggressive Knight. The ship visited Southampton, U.K. (6–10 April) and Holy Loch, Scotland (12–18 April) before commencing the operation. Caron sharpened over-the-horizon targeting techniques while using her Classic Outboard system to monitor the Soviet Kiev battle group through 28 April. In the process, she became the first Spruance-class destroyer to operate north of the Arctic Circle, and all hands became initiates into the Order of the Blue Nose. Following the operation, Caron called at Portsmouth, U.K. (3–6 May) before returning to Norfolk on 16 May.
In preparation for late summer operations, Caron remained in port at Norfolk for most of the next three months. After unloading weapons at Yorktown, Va. (29–30 May 1980), the destroyer spent most of June in dry dock at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, continuing in intermediate availability through 11 July. From 21–31 July, Caron provided training to midshipmen in surface warfare operations in the Virginia capes operating area. From 13–16 August, the ship engaged in workups for United Effort 80 in company with aircraft carrier Nimitz (CVN-68) and guided missile cruiser Texas (CGN-39).
On 29 August 1980, Caron stood down the channel with Commander, DesRon 24 and HSL-32, Detachment 2 embarked, participating in United Effort 80 through 2 September. During United Effort, U.S. ships exercised against Canadian vessels and then combined forces for antisubmarine warfare (ASW) exercises. United Effort immediately transitioned to Teamwork 80, a multi-threat North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise in the Norwegian Sea that also included British, Dutch, West German, and Norwegian forces. At the conclusion of her participation in Teamwork, Caron visited Rotterdam, Netherlands (24–29 September). From 30 September through 9 October, Caron conducted surveillance in the Baltic Sea during Baltops 80. The ship then made diplomatic port visits to Stockholm, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland, with Vice Adm. Ronald J. Hays, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, embarked (10–16 October). At Helsinki, the ship also welcomed to her decks U.S. Ambassador to Finland James E. Goodby, on the 14th. Caron then made her way home, stopping at Leith, Scotland, and Portsmouth, U.K., en route.
Caron returned to Norfolk on 6 November 1980 and had the FLIR system removed on the 10th. The ship then completed an intermediate maintenance availability (15–30 November). Caron participated in the CNO Project for Conformal Array (1–12 December), which included a two-day port call at Nassau, Bahamas. The destroyer then returned to Norfolk and spent the rest of December in holiday leave and upkeep, during which Sunflyer was also removed from the ship. Remaining in port into the New Year, Caron went to sea from 3–17 February 1981 to participate in Readex 1-81 and carried out NGFS qualifications at Vieques Island. The destroyer then returned to Norfolk to begin preparations for overseas movement.
On 18 March 1981, Caron began the Atlantic transit for her second Mediterranean deployment. The destroyer fired one RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missile while en route and called at Rota on 28 March to conduct turnover with John Rodgers (DD-983). From 1–3 April, Caron held a pre-overhaul test and inspection while en route to Malaga, Spain, and from 4–19 April, the warship completed an availability with destroyer tender Puget Sound (AD-38) at Malaga. Following the availability, Caron participated in joint exercises with the Italian (Tridente) and the French (Dual Dagger) navies in the first half of May and then operated in the eastern Mediterranean south of Crete. The ship next visited Izmir, Turkey (29–30 May), and Rear Adm. Henry C. Mustin, Commander Task Group 60.2, broke his flag in Caron during this period of the deployment.
Entering the Black Sea in company with Miller on 2 June 1981, Caron arrived at Constanta, Romania, the same day. Departing on the 7th, the destroyer returned to the Mediterranean and steamed to Sicily, visiting Catania and Taormina. Caron ended the month of June at Livorno, Italy, for a work definition conference. The ship then touched at Toulon, France, for the Independence Day holiday before heading to Gaeta, Italy, to complete another tender availability alongside Puget Sound (6–12 July). Caron visited Palma, Mallorca, Spain, before participating in Operation Eagle Eye on 17 July, once again tracking Kiev. From 5–10 August, Caron visited Malaga before resuming operations in the western Mediterranean. On the 18th and 19th, Caron took part in freedom of navigation operations in the Gulf of Sidra off the Libyan coast as part of Sixth Fleet’s Open Ocean Missile Exercise.
Following turnover with Donald B. Beary (FF-1085) at Rota on 21 August, Caron immediately steamed for the Norwegian Sea. There she participated in Open Venture/Magic Sword North (27 August–3 September), operating north of the Arctic Circle from 26–28 August. On 4 September, Caron set course for Norfolk, arriving at her home port on 15 September 1981. She spent the next several weeks in upkeep and preparation for her first Board of Inspection and Survey (InSurv) inspection. After completing sea trials and InSurv at the end of October, she spent the first three weeks of November in an intermediate availability at Norfolk. Caron next (30 November–14 December) steamed to the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) Range in the Caribbean to conduct acoustic trials, followed by active submarine prosecution.
The destroyer departed Norfolk on 18 January 1982 to participate in special operations in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Between port calls at Port Everglades, Fla., Caron supported Arkansas (CGN-41) with shock tests in the vicinity of Key West, Fla., on 29 January and 2 February. Following her second stop at Port Everglades (3–5 February), the ship steamed for Naval Station Rodman, Panama Canal Zone. While moored there (12–14 February), HSL-34, Detachment 5 transferred onto Caron from Deyo (DD-989). Caron spent the rest of February and March operating out of Rodman for Operation Jittery Prop, collecting intelligence in the Gulf of Fonseca an in effort to stem Cuban arms trafficking thru Nicaragua to guerrilla fighters across the gulf in El Salvador. On 10 March, the ship completed a Harpoon exercise and medical evacuation transfer with guided missile frigate Fahrion (FFG-22), and on 25 March, Caron rendezvoused with guided missile destroyer Chandler (DDG-996). After a visit from Vice Adm. James R. Sanderson, Commander, Task Force 24, on 4 April, Caron departed Rodman and arrived home at Norfolk on the 8th.
On 30 April 1982, Caron set course for Pascagoula, where she would commence her first regular overhaul at Ingalls Shipbuilding on 4 May. On the 5th, the mayor of Pascagoula visited the ship, and on 10 May, Caron’s crew held a picnic on the fantail for the yard workers. A contemporary press account relates that the picnic “captured the hearts of the shipyard,” noting that “from that moment on the shipyard was dedicated to doing the best it could for Caron’s overhaul.” During the overhaul period, Caron had the Vulcan Phalanx CIWS Mk. 15 MOD 2 and Mk. 23 Target Acquisition Systems installed. On 9 July, “Can-Do” Caron also received her first Battle Efficiency “E” Award for fiscal year 1981. Following inspections and trials and a brief trip to dry dock, Caron completed her regular overhaul on 17 December, nearly two months ahead of schedule. The ship arrived home in Norfolk on 21 December, just in time for her crew to spend the Christmas holiday with their families.
Fresh from her major overhaul, in early 1983 Caron began training and evaluations to prepare for deployment later in the year. On 16 February, the destroyer was underway for the Virginia capes operational area to complete her training readiness evaluation (TRE) and a technical assist visit. She then completed post-overhaul combat systems ship qualifications trials (28 February–10 March) before returning to Norfolk. Operating out of Roosevelt Roads from 11–15 April, Caron next completed NGFS qualifications at Vieques before participating in special operations in the southern Caribbean for the next week. On 28 April, Caron arrived at Guantánamo Bay to begin refresher training. In late May, Caron visited Kingston, Jamaica, before completing refresher training on 4 June. The ship next completed her antisubmarine warfare operational readiness evaluation at the AUTEC Range on 5 June. On the 9th, Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman Jr. visited Caron. After touching briefly at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Caron returned to the AUTEC Range on 16 June for weapons systems accuracy testing. She spent the Independence Day holiday at Boston, Mass. (30 June–5 July) and then returned to Norfolk to participate in the CNO Mk. 86/Mk. 45 Gun Weapon Systems Tactics/Doctrine Project.
Following an intermediate availability at Norfolk, on 15 August 1983 Caron once again set course for the Caribbean, this time in company with the aircraft carrier Independence. The destroyer visited Frederiksted, U.S.V.I. (21–22 August) before conducting operations at the acoustic range off the island of St. Croix on the 23rd and then proceeding to Roosevelt Roads. From 26 August through 2 September, the ship participated in Readex 2-83 with the Independence Battle Group before returning to Roosevelt Roads. Caron spent a week in dry dock at Pascagoula before putting in to Norfolk on 16 September.
After embarking Capt. Grant A. Sharp, Commander, DesRon 32, on 19 October 1983, Caron got underway for deployment to the Mediterranean the following day as part of the Independence Battle Group. However, on 21 October, Caron was detached from the battle group and diverted to Grenada at “max speed” in support of Operation Urgent Fury.
As the first U.S. Navy ship to arrive on the scene on 23 October 1983, Caron paused 12 miles off the coast of Grenada to gather intelligence. With the Special Forces amphibious assault on the island already underway, in the early morning hours of 25 October, destroyer Moosbrugger (DD-980) and guided missile frigate Clifton Sprague (FFG-16) joined Caron, and the ships steamed at 25 knots for Point Saline with their arrival planned for daybreak. While advancing toward the island, Caron recovered a small craft with 12 Special Forces troops embarked that had been carried to sea by strong currents. Later in the morning while conducting a search and rescue operation for a downed Bell AH-1T Cobra of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 near St. George’s Harbor, Caron avoided enemy mortar rounds while operating close to shore.
On the afternoon of the 25th, Caron fired her 5-inch guns towards the site of the communist propaganda station “Radio Free Grenada,” allowing a 12-man Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) team to evade enemy forces surrounding their position there. That night, as fighting continued to rage on the island, Caron responded to a visual signal from shore and rescued ten of the SEALs who had escaped from the radio transmitter site, two of whom had suffered serious injuries. While Caron’s medical staff treated the wounded men, the destroyer directed Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawks to the beach to rescue the two remaining SEALs from the team. The following evening, the ship also saved 11 U.S. Army Rangers whose helicopter had crashed.
Caron remained on the scene at Grenada through 2 November 1983. During this time, she continued to patrol within range of hostile gunfire, ready to provide naval gunfire support for land and amphibious troops. All told, Caron’s search and rescue efforts saved 41 soldiers and sailors. “Caron demonstrated in a wartime environment what our forces are capable of,” Capt. Sharp remarked, “and the readiness that ‘Can-Do’ Caron is known for.” For her actions in the Grenadian conflict, Caron received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
On 3 November 1983, Caron began her transit of the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and served as escort to the Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) led by Guam (LPH-9) while en route. From 15 November–12 December, Caron operated in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Lebanon near Beirut. After passing through the Strait of Messina on 14 December, Caron entered an intermediate upkeep availability at Gaeta, where she remained through 1 January. Following her availability period, Caron stood out to sea on 3 January 1984 to return to the eastern Mediterranean. Supporting the multi-national peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Caron fired 450 5-inch rounds over seven hours on 8 February, destroying several hostile targets. On 25–26 February, the ship fired 141 additional rounds. Caron later received the Navy Expeditionary Medal for her service off Lebanon.
The destroyer steamed to Naples for a port visit beginning on 4 March 1984 and commenced intermediate availability at Trieste, Italy, on 19 March. She then departed for the eastern Mediterranean on the 30th, operating in the area through 18 April. Nearing the end of her deployment, Caron embarked ten “Tigers” (male dependents of crewmen) at Malaga on 22 April for the transatlantic crossing and received a hero’s welcome upon her return to Norfolk on 2 May. On 1 June, Adm. Wesley L. McDonald, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, presented the Navy Unit Commendation to Caron for her performance off of Grenada and Lebanon.
The destroyer spent most of June and July 1984 in port at Norfolk. On 6 August, Caron stopped at Yorktown to offload weapons before steaming to Annapolis for the U.S. Naval Academy’s Parents’ Weekend (10–12 August). After returning to Norfolk, Caron completed a selected restricted availability at Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. (21 August–16 October). The ship left Norfolk on 6 November for a brief deployment to the Caribbean and eastern Pacific for a special operations intelligence-gathering mission off Central America, returning on 23 December for the holiday standdown period.
In mid-January 1985, Caron completed NGFS qualifications at Vieques and then exercised at AUTEC at the end of the month. The destroyer returned to Norfolk and operated in the Virginia capes area through June engaged in workups in preparation for her upcoming Mediterranean deployment. Caron participated in Readex 2-85 in July and then entered dry dock on the 30th. After completing repairs on 20 August, the ship held sea trials on the 22nd and 23rd. On 27 August 1985, Caron deployed from Norfolk to the Mediterranean with HSL-34, Detachment 3 embarked.
During the Atlantic transit, Caron participated in the multinational NATO exercise Ocean Safari 85. The ship reached the Mediterranean on 7 September 1985 and steamed for Naples to change out one of her gas turbine engines. The work was completed in less than 96 hours (10–14 September) with assistance from destroyer tender Yellowstone (AD-41). Caron then got underway to participate in the NATO amphibious exercise Display Determination, which began on 16 September. However, early that morning, a Marine AH-1T Sea Cobra from amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima (LPH-2) crashed and sank two miles from Caron’s position south of the island of Sardinia. Caron launched a search and rescue operation, and the destroyer’s whaleboat rescued the helo’s co-pilot. Regrettably, the pilot was lost at sea.
Caron called at Marseille, France (19–23 September 1985) before resuming operations in Display Determination. Following the exercise, the destroyer returned to Naples for a port visit and then spent most of October operating in the central Mediterranean. Caron ended the month with a port call at Izmir (25–30 October). She then visited Haifa, Israel, for the first three weeks of November to complete a tender availability with Yellowstone. Caron operated in the eastern Mediterranean through 9 December before rendezvousing with guided missile cruiser Yorktown (CG-48) for freedom of navigation operations in the Black Sea (9–13 December). For this mission, Caron had an SH-3 Sea King from Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) 17 of aircraft carrier Coral Sea (CV-43) embarked to conduct night flight operations. The destroyer arrived at Istanbul, Turkey, on the 13th for a five day port visit including a change of command ceremony. Departing Istanbul on 17 December, Caron arrived at Palma on Christmas Eve and remained in port through 4 January 1986.
After the short holiday respite, Caron departed Spain en route to Naples, where she completed a brief availability with Yellowstone (6–7 January). With the exception of a week-long tender availability with Yellowstone from 1–7 February, Caron operated in the vicinity of Libya conducting surveillance as part of Operations Attain Document and Attain Document II through mid-February. Caron’s crew then enjoyed port visits at Naples (17–27 February) as well as Catania (3–7 March) before returning to the Black Sea on 10 March.
In company once again with Yorktown to exercise freedom of navigation in the Black Sea, Caron steamed through what was indisputably Soviet territorial waters off the Crimean Peninsula on 13 March 1986. Coming within six miles of the shore near Sevastopol, the U.S. warships cruised well within the Soviet Union’s internationally-recognized 12-mile territorial perimeter. Although a Soviet frigate demanded that the ships leave and bombers flew overhead, Caron maintained her course and remained in Soviet waters for two hours. In the diplomatic aftermath of this incident, the U.S. government asserted that Caron and Yorktown were engaged in “innocent passage,” an established right in international maritime law that allowed foreign vessels to transit through territorial waters under certain conditions. The Soviets countered that they considered the American action “provocative,” accusing the U.S. ships of espionage and warning of potential consequences if such an incident were to happen again.
Caron left the Black Sea on 17 March 1986 and soon took part in another operation pertaining to a festering freedom of navigation situation. Since the mid-1970s, Muammar al-Qaddafi had claimed Libyan sovereignty over the Mediterranean waters south of 32°30'N latitude, an area 250 miles wide at its mouth between Misrata and Benghazi that includes the entire Gulf of Sidra. The territory claimed by Libya exceeded the recognized 12-mile coastal territorial limit, and the U.S. government rejected the claim as an illegal encroachment upon international waters that hindered freedom of navigation. In January 1986, Qaddafi referred to 32°30' as the “line of death” and vowed that Libya would defend its rightful territorial border.
From 22–29 March 1986, Caron participated in Operation Attain Document III, during which the Saratoga (CV-60), America (CV-66), and Coral Sea Battle Groups would operate south of 32°30'N. While most of the ships steamed north of the Gulf of Sidra, Caron served as the flagship of a surface action group (SAG), also including Ticonderoga (CG-47) and Scott (DDG-995), that at 1300 on 24 March crossed over the “line of death” and entered the Gulf. While Libyan forces did engage aircraft from the carriers that flew over the line, Caron’s SAG steamed in the Gulf of Sidra uncontested for more than three days. For her participation in this battle group operation, Caron received her second Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, second Navy Expeditionary Medal, and second Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon. She then proceeded to Catania to conduct turnover with her relief. Caron, in company with the other units of the Saratoga Battle Group, departed the Mediterranean on 6 April and arrived back at Norfolk on 16 April 1986.
Following post-deployment leave and upkeep, Caron operated locally, conducting antisubmarine warfare, deck landing qualifications, and seaborne powered target training. From 3–7 July 1986, Caron visited Philadelphia, Pa., as the CNO’s representative for the city’s Independence Day festivities. More than 11,000 people, including local flag officers and city officials, toured the destroyer over the weekend. After the holiday celebration, Caron remained in Philadelphia for two additional weeks for an intermediate maintenance availability. The increasingly-seasoned warship underwent InSurv inspection from 28 July–1 August, passing successfully.
On 18 August 1986, Caron sailed for the Caribbean via Port Everglades. From 25–28 August, the destroyer served as ASW school ship at the AUTEC Range, and on 30 August at Vieques, Caron passed her NGFS qualifications with the second highest range score in the Atlantic Fleet. The ship spent several days at St. Thomas before returning to Norfolk on 8 September. Caron spent the balance of the year (29 September–10 December) at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in a selective restricted availability.
Caron steamed for Newport, R.I., on 7 January 1987 to serve as a Spruance-class engineering officer of the watch and surface warfare officer school ship. On the 15th, several members of Caron’s crew visited Middleboro High School, alma mater of the destroyer’s namesake HM3 Wayne M. Caron, to speak to students and citizens of Middleboro, Mass. During an assembly honoring Corpsman Caron in the high school auditorium that also bears his name, Caron’s commanding officer Cmdr. Louis F. Harlow Jr. presented the school with a framed battle flag that had flown on the destroyer during the Gulf of Sidra “Line of Death” action off the coast of Libya in March 1986. That afternoon, many Middleboro High School students and educators as well as members of the community traveled to Newport and toured the ship. On Caron’s return trip to Norfolk, she also called at New York City (17–20 January).
After returning to Norfolk, Caron underwent an intermediate availability (26 January–12 February 1987), after which (13 February), she sailed to take part in law enforcement operations (LEO) along the East Coast and in the Caribbean that lasted through March, earning her the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation. Also in March, Caron participated in a missile exercise off Puerto Rico, completed her gunnery qualifications at Vieques, and made port visits to Aruba and St. Thomas. From 19–23 March, Caron made a special visit to Port of Spain, Trinidad, hosted by the State Department. The destroyer welcomed 7,000 visitors during an open house on 21 March, and more than 50 of Caron’s crewmen spent two days volunteering to repaint a local orphanage. On 27 March, the ship returned to Norfolk.
Caron was underway again on 13 April 1987, bound for the Caribbean and eastern Pacific off Central America to participate in special surveillance operations and various training exercises and drills. The destroyer additionally helped Army UH-1 pilots earn their deck landing qualifications, worked with Air Force LTV A-7 Corsair IIs in targeting exercises, and assisted the Coast Guard with LEO. Caron returned to Norfolk on 20 May and entered a three-week intermediate availability period with the tender Vulcan (AR-5) on the 26th. Operating locally during the month of July, Caron hosted two groups of midshipmen for summer training.
Departing on short notice, Caron sailed for FleetEx 4-87 on 12 August 1987 with Commander, DesRon 24 embarked. Returning to Norfolk on the 28th, the destroyer passed an Intermediate Unit Commanders inspection in late September and took only seven weeks to successfully meet all requirements to qualify for deployment. On 29 September, Caron departed for the Mediterranean as flagship for DesRon 24. From 15–16 October, the ship participated in National Week in the Gulf of Sidra. She then conducted turnover at Augusta Bay before making a series of port visits at Valencia and Cartagena, Spain, and St. Cyr Sur Mer, France. From 13–19 November, Caron operated with the Dutch and French navies during Passex/Louisiane. She spent ten days at Naples before engaging in surveillance operations in the eastern Mediterranean during the first week of December. Caron rounded out the year with port visits at Antalya, Turkey (7–13 December); Alexandria, Egypt (16–20 December); and Haifa (23 December–2 January). From 9–24 January 1988, Caron had an intermediate maintenance availability in Genoa, Italy. She then held three days of training at Augusta Bay followed by a diplomatic port visit in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, during the first week of February.
On 10 February 1988, Caron entered the Black Sea, commencing a freedom of navigation exercise once again in company with Yorktown. As they had two years earlier in the same general area, the U.S. warships entered Soviet territorial waters near Sevastopol on the morning of 12 February. Very quickly, several Soviet warships intercepted the pair and warned them that they were trespassing and that the Soviet ships were authorized to strike the intruders if they did not leave. Caron responded by invoking the right of innocent passage and remained on course. Soviet Mirka-class frigate SKR-6 then deliberately ran into Caron’s side, inflicting only cosmetic damage and no casualties. One minute later, a Soviet destroyer also struck Yorktown, causing minor damage. Both American ships continued on their courses uneventfully for more than an hour after the ramming incidents. Caron spent two hours in Soviet waters and came within seven miles of the coast. This physical contact between American and Soviet warships attracted a great deal of international press attention and placed additional strain on relations between the two countries.
Caron departed the Black Sea on 14 February 1988 and proceeded to Catania for a port visit (18–24 February). Following a torpedo exercise in the Central Mediterranean on the 25th, the destroyer spent several days at Tunis and then conducted a passing exercise with the Tunisian navy on 2–3 March. Caron concluded her Mediterranean deployment operating with the Coral Sea Battle Group, which joined up with the Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) Battle Group (12–14 March) for dual battle group operations and a display of American military might. After conducting turnover at Cagliari, Sardinia, on the 15th, Caron began her journey homeward, arriving in Norfolk on 29 March 1988.
After a post-deployment standdown, Caron spent the month of May preparing for and successfully passing her operational propulsion plant examination. From 6–19 June 1988, the destroyer took part in the NATO exercise Marcot off Bermuda with the Canadian, Dutch, and German navies. She then called at Halifax, Nova Scotia, for three days before returning home. Following an intermediate maintenance availability in Norfolk (25 June–17 July), Caron operated locally for the rest of the summer with the exception of port visits at Port Everglades (23–25 July) and Boston (12–14 August). Caron departed Norfolk again on 5 September en route to the Gulf of Mexico with port visits at Mayport and Port Everglades along the way. From 17–21 September, she participated in Kingfisher Operations off the Gulf Coast of Florida, a special assignment from the CNO requiring the use of her sonar systems. After unloading her ammunition at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, the destroyer spent the next month in an intermediate availability to remove major weapons equipment.
On 31 October 1988, Caron arrived at Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans for her second regular overhaul. She entered dry dock at Marreo, La., on 12 December and remained there until 13 March 1989. During that dry dock period, in addition to stripping and repainting the hull and cleaning and reconditioning the propeller blades, Caron had her sonar dome repaired. Caron was the last of the Spruance-class destroyers with her original sonar dome. On 22 March, the destroyer was taken in tow down the Mississippi River to Avondale’s Algiers Division, where she remained through the duration of the overhaul period. Among the many structural alterations and combat systems upgrades made to the ship, Caron had her Classic Outboard system completely reconditioned and her ASROC launcher was removed. Additions to her hardware included the Tactical Towed Array Sensor (TACTAS), Mk. 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS), and the Recovery at Sea Transverse (RAST) System. The helicopter hangar on the starboard side of the ship was extended as well.
During the destroyer’s year-long stay in the New Orleans area, Caron’s sailors exemplified the Caron “Can Do” spirit by participating in a variety of community projects. Among their many service activities, the crew cleaned and refurbished a community swimming pool, volunteered with the local and statewide Special Olympics, rebuilt a Girl Scout camp, and renovated the ex-Cabot (CVL-28), a World War II small aircraft carrier loaned to the Spanish Navy in 1967 where she served as Dédalo, and prepared her for service as a museum ship. Caron sailors also revitalized the Naval Recruiting Delayed Entry Program in the New Orleans and Shreveport areas, transforming a high drop rate that threatened the continuation of the program into a retention rate greater than 90%.
Caron completed her second overhaul on 27 February 1990 and left New Orleans the next day. Following her Norfolk homecoming on 5 March, the ship commenced a lengthy and intense schedule of post-overhaul inspections and certifications. Caron passed the Fleet Training Group’s training readiness evaluation in May. From 8–12 June, she engaged in ASW exercises off of St. Croix and then completed NGFS training at Vieques. At the end of the month, Caron went to Guantánamo Bay for refresher training, which she completed ahead of schedule in early August. The ship also completed an operational propulsion plant examination in August. Caron’s program of systems updates, training, assist visits, and inspections continued through September and October. During November and December, Caron made final preparations for her upcoming Sixth Fleet deployment.
On 28 December 1990, Caron departed Norfolk as a member of the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) Battle Group en route to the Middle East in support of Operation Desert Shield. The destroyer arrived on station in the Red Sea on 14 January 1991. Two days later, on the opening night of Operation Desert Storm, Caron fired two BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi targets. Over the course of this deployment, the destroyer operated out of Hurghada, Egypt, engaged in Maritime Interception Operations (MIO), boarding vessel traffic in the northern Red Sea to conduct inspections to check for compliance with sanctions imposed upon Iraq by the United Nations. Caron was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for her service during Desert Storm.
Caron passed through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean on 12 June 1991 and then turned west, traveling in company with various vessels of her battle group. Reaching the Strait of Gibraltar on the evening of the 16th, the warship set course for Bermuda, where she anchored briefly on the 24th. On 28 June, Caron steamed into Norfolk with Theodore Roosevelt, Puget Sound, cruiser Virginia (CGN-38), and oiler Platte (AO-186), concluding her lengthy deployment and beginning a leave and upkeep period that lasted through the month of July.
Following post-deployment standdown, Caron stopped at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station (7–9 August) and then went to sea on the 12th for three weeks of underway training in the Virginia capes operating area. After only two days back home, on 3 September 1991, Caron departed Norfolk again, headed south to conduct LEO in the central and southern Caribbean. From 20–23 September, the ship paused for a port visit in Willemstad, Curaçao, before commencing counter-narcotics operations in the southern Caribbean. After touching at Guantánamo Bay on 10 October, Caron returned to Norfolk, arriving on the 15th. Exactly one month later, the destroyer sailed again to resume counter-narcotics operations in the southern Caribbean, with a respite at Port of Spain from 6–9 December. Returning to Norfolk on the 19th, Caron remained in port for holiday leave and upkeep through mid-January 1992.
Preparing for deployment later in the year, Caron spent much of 1992 in maintenance and workups, including an availability at Moon Engineering in Portsmouth, Va. (2 March–24 April). In early October, Adm. Henry H. Mauz Jr., Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visited the destroyer. On 7 October, Caron departed Norfolk with the John F. Kennedy (CV-67) Battle Group en route to the northern Red Sea to carry out MIOs to enforce U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq. Arriving on station on 25 October, Caron served as the flagship of the multinational MIO force, boarding and inspecting cargo ships headed into or out of Aqaba, Jordan. On 23 December, Caron took a brief break and rendezvoused with Louisville (SSN-724) for three days of ASW and marine amphibious group exercises.
In addition to MIO, Caron also served as a ready-strike platform during this deployment. On 17 January 1993, Caron fired 12 Tomahawk missiles at a facility outside of Baghdad approximately 700 miles away from the ship’s position in the northern Red Sea. At the same time from somewhat closer locations in the Persian Gulf, cruiser Cowpens (CG-63) and destroyers Hewitt (DD-966) and Stump (DD-978) launched an additional 30 Tomahawks at the same Iraqi site. The ship earned a Navy Unit Commendation for her role in destroying the Zaafaraniya nuclear fabrication plant during this missile strike.
Transiting the Suez Canal on 3 February 1993, Caron steamed for Toulon where she arrived on the 8th to enjoy some liberty time. After stopping at Augusta Bay, Sicily, Caron participated in Exercise Magellan Phase II (19–22 February). On the 24th, she rendezvoused with John F. Kennedy and Wainwright (CG-28) in the Ionian Sea, proceeded in company with these ships to the Adriatic Sea, and then resumed independent operations participating in humanitarian relief efforts in the former Yugoslavia. The destroyer made additional calls at Naples and Rota before beginning the return trip to Norfolk on 27 March. Caron stopped briefly at Bermuda on 4 April to pick up some “Tigers” for the final leg of the journey and arrived home on 7 April.
Following post-deployment standdown and training activities over the summer, on 2 September 1993, Caron got underway to the southern Caribbean for Coast Guard counter-drug law enforcement operations off the coast of Colombia. In October, Caron was one of six U.S. Navy ships -- Gettysburg (CG-64), Sterett (CG-31), Vicksburg (CG-69), Jack Williams (FFG-24), and Klakring (FFG-42) -- sent to patrol off the coast of Haiti as part of Operation Support Democracy. Their role was to form a blockade to enforce the U.N. embargo against Haiti and to prevent shipments of oil and munitions from reaching the country. Caron patrolled off Cap-Haitien off the country’s northern coast and in the Windward Passage before returning to Norfolk on 27 October.
After operating locally for the remainder of 1993, Caron arrived at Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. on 19 January 1994 to begin her third overhaul. The ship spent the month from 4 February–6 March in dry dock. She completed the overhaul on 12 July and returned to Naval Station Norfolk.
On 24 August 1994, Caron headed for Cuba, where earlier in the month social unrest over severely deteriorating economic conditions had turned to rioting in Havana. Many Cuban citizens were determined to escape the repressive regime of Fidel Castro, which required an exit visa to leave the country, to seek freedom and economic opportunity in the United States, which since the 1960s had granted Cubans preferential immigration treatment on humanitarian grounds. After his government quelled the protest, Castro accused the United States of encouraging Cubans to illegally flee the country by sea and signaled that he would no longer prevent them from leaving. As a result, thousands of desperate Cubans attempted to make the perilous 90-mile trip across the Florida Straits to the United States by any means possible. On 19 August, the U.S. Coast Guard initiated Operation Able Vigil to interdict Cuban migrants trying to cross the Florida Straits. In a major change of policy, however, instead of transporting the refugees to an American port, they would instead be brought to and held at Guantánamo Bay with no guarantee of ever reaching the United States.
As a participant in Able Vigil, Caron conducted migrant interdiction operations in the Straits of Florida through late September 1994 and rescued more than 2,000 Cubans, young and old, who had embarked upon the dangerous crossing in generally unseaworthy boats and makeshift rafts. Caron’s crew set up outdoor living facilities on the ship’s open decks to provide sanitary living conditions for the refugees while they were on board for transport to Guantánamo Bay for processing by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Caron received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation and the Humanitarian Service Medal for her role in Able Vigil. After calling at Port Everglades (1–7 October), Caron returned to Norfolk on 10 October and operated locally through the rest of the year.
In January 1995, Caron took part in Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) 1-96 as a member of the opposing force to the Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group. She completed a maintenance availability period in Norfolk during the month of February. On 7 March, Rear Adm. Joseph S. Mobley, Commander, Carrier Group Two, visited the destroyer as she prepared to deploy at the end of the month.
On 22 March 1995, Caron departed Norfolk as the flagship of Mine Countermeasures Squadron Two, tasked with leading four Avenger (MCM-1)-class mine counter-measure ships across the Atlantic to the Danish Straits to participate in Operation Blue Harrier. The destroyer rendezvoused with Gladiator (MCM-11), Defender (MCM-2), Pioneer (MCM-9), and Warrior (MCM-10) off Bermuda on 24 March and the ships continued eastward together. While en route to Portsmouth for the first port visit of the deployment, Caron assisted German sailboat Fair Lady, which was running low on both fuel and water. After calling at Portsmouth (11–17 April) and Aarhus, Denmark (21–23 April), the destroyer then provided logistical support to her minesweeper squadron during Blue Harrier as they practiced minesweeping operations in the Baltic Sea with ships from seven NATO nations. During Blue Harrier, Caron also conducted a passing exercise with the Russian frigate Ladnyy on 30 April and 1 May.
After detaching from Mine Countermeasures Squadron Two, Caron began a diplomatic tour of northern Europe. The destroyer participated in the Netherlands Navy’s Victory in Europe (V-E) Day sail-by near Scheveningen on 5 May 1995. She then cruised to Oslo, Norway, to participate in that city’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of V-E Day. Russian destroyer Bestrashnny, Norwegian frigate Trondheim (F.302), British destroyer Cardiff (D.108), and Canadian multi-role patrol frigate Halifax (FFH.330) represented other Allied nations. During official ceremonies on 8 May, the commanding officers of the five ships took part in a wreath laying at the Orlogsgasten Navy Enlisted Memorial, while Caron’s crew observed the U.S. Ambassador to Norway Thomas A. Loftus place a wreath at the statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt near Akershus Fortress to honor the American leader’s role in winning World War II. Rear Adm. David S. Bill III, Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Group 12, hoisted his flag on board Caron upon her arrival at Oslo on 7 May, and the destroyer welcomed more than 2,400 Norwegian visitors during her six-day stopover.
Caron’s next destination took her north of the Arctic Circle for an historic port visit to Severomorsk, Russia, where a Russian delegation greeted her at the pier on 19 May 1995 with their traditional “Bread and Salt” welcoming ceremony. Rear Adm. Vladimir Dobroskochenko as well as other Russian naval officers and town officials met with Rear Adm. Bill, Caron’s commanding officer Cmdr. Steven W. Nerheim, and an American diplomatic party from Moscow, and both the U.S. and Russian parties reaffirmed their country’s dedication to promoting cooperation and open relations between the former Cold War adversaries. The Russian destroyer Bezuderzhnnyy served as Caron’s host during her visit, and the officers and crews of the two ships had many opportunities to visit and interact with each other. Officers from both ships held a wreath-laying ceremony at a Murmansk memorial in honor of American and Soviet sailors who perished during World War II, and sailors from the two navies engaged in some friendly competition in sports and chess. Several thousand Russian visitors toured the American destroyer, and many local residents in turn welcomed Caron’s crewmembers into their homes to enjoy Russian hospitality, further fostering positive relations between the people of the two nations.
Departing Severomorsk on 22 May 1995, Caron set course for home. During the return transit to Norfolk on 12 June, Caron rescued the sole crewman of an American 25-foot sailboat Regina-K, which had lost its mast in rough seas during a race from Newport, R.I., to Bermuda. The destroyer arrived back in Norfolk two days later and began a maintenance and upkeep availability period lasting through mid-August.
From 21–31 August 1995, Caron took part in the Combined Tactical Underway Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the George Washington Battle Group in the Virginia capes area. During the exercise, Caron practiced antisubmarine and antiaircraft warfare and achieved NGFS qualification. Through November, the destroyer engaged in local operations and upkeep in the Norfolk area with the exception of one cruise to the Caribbean between 27 September and 26 October. The ship concluded the year making final preparations for her next deployment.
On 10 January 1996, Caron stood out from Norfolk for a Middle East Force deployment. Two days later, guided missile frigate Underwood (FFG-36) joined her for the transit to the Arabian Gulf via the Cape of Good Hope, on the southern tip of Africa. On the 29th, Caron arrived at Cape Town, South Africa. In the early 1990s, the African nation ended its Apartheid system of institutionalized racial segregation and held an open general election in 1994, electing Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. Caron’s port visit was indicative of improving relations between the two countries. On 31 January, many South African senior military officers and local government officials attended Caron’s change of command ceremony in Cape Town. Underway again on 2 February, Caron joined forces with the South African navy for Danielle 96, an antisubmarine and surface warfare exercise intended to promote cooperation and cross-training between the two navies. After the exercise concluded on 8 February, Caron completed her transit to the Middle East, making additional port calls en route at Mombasa, Kenya (10–14 February); Manama, Bahrain (19–23 February); and Muscat, Oman (26 February–3 March).
Caron participated in Sea Falcon with the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force of Oman on 4–5 March 1996. The destroyer then commenced her primary missions of MIO to enforce UN-imposed sanctions against Iraq and escort duty for maritime preposition ships in the northern Persian Gulf. Caron continued to participate in exercises as well, including Sharem-115 (24–30 April), Keynote III (2–6 May), and the joint surface gunnery exercise Neon Spark with the Bahraini navy and air force (11–15 May). For the bulk of her time in the Gulf, Caron also acted as flagship for Commander, DesRon 50, and for Capt. David M. Stone, Commander, Middle East Force.
Coming about from the Persian Gulf on 11 June 1996, Caron encountered rough weather during her transit of the northern Arabian Sea. On the 13th, Caron conducted a search and rescue operation after Somali cargo ship Berbera I collided with yacht Poseidon Quest and sank in the storm on the 10th. The destroyer’s SH-60B helicopter located and saved one survivor who returned to shore when the ship stopped for fuel in Djibouti on the 15th. Other responders saved another survivor, but Berbera I took at least 12 souls with her to the bottom.
Caron began her voyage home on 18 June 1996 when she passed through the 117-mile Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea. The ship stopped at Malaga (24–28 June) for four days of rest and relaxation before leaving the Mediterranean. During her Atlantic transit, on 5 July Caron carried out another search and rescue mission, assisting disabled American sloop Vision View with fuel, water, and engine repairs. Caron’s deployment concluded at home in Norfolk on 8 July, but her stay in port proved short-lived. Two days after her arrival, Caron once again put to sea to ride out Hurricane Bertha. The ship returned to port on 14 July and began three weeks of post-deployment leave and upkeep.
On 6 August 1996, Caron sailed for Yorktown for a family day cruise and to offload ammunition. Following upkeep and an intermediate availability, Caron departed on a Tiger Cruise to Gloucester, Mass., on 28 August. Arriving on the 30th, Caron was to participate in Gloucester’s Schooner Festival, but after two days in port, Hurricane Fran compelled the ship to relocate to Boston for safe haven. After returning to Norfolk, Caron spent the first half of September making final preparations for her InSurv inspection, completed from 16–20 September. Caron next entered a selected restricted availability with Dreadnaught Marine, Inc., until 22 November, followed by a restricted availability at Norfolk Naval Base through 14 March 1997.
As her availability period wound down in the early months of 1997, Caron conducted extensive training evolutions including Command Assessment of Readiness and Training I and II. Beginning in April, the ship completed Tailored Ship’s Training Availability I, II, and III. In mid-April, Caron traveled to the Puerto Rican operating area to participate in Allied task group operations with the Dutch and Belgian navies through 9 May. During the week of 20 June, Caron served as school ship for the Surface Warfare Officer School in Newport. The destroyer’s intense training culminated in the final evaluation problem conducted while underway from 22–25 July. During the first three weeks of September, the ship completed an intermediate maintenance availability period.
From 24 October–26 November 1997, Caron took part in COMPTUEX with the John C. Stennis (CVN-74) Battle Group. After loading weapons at Yorktown (10–12 December), the ship finished the year in holiday leave and upkeep through 4 January 1998. Caron sailed to Puerto Rican waters for a JTFEX (12–30 January), completing her pre-deployment workups, and then commenced the pre-overseas movement leave period. Serving as flagship for Commander, Task Force 60, Caron set off for her Mediterranean deployment on 26 February 1998.
During this voyage, Caron participated in several exercises with both American and foreign military forces. From 23–24 March 1998, Caron operated in the western Atlantic with two ships from the Royal Moroccan Navy. Some of the ship’s officers switched places with their Moroccan counterparts, gaining a fresh perspective on naval operations. Working with American submarines, Caron practiced her ASW skills during Shark Hunt (4–6 April). The destroyer joined forces with the Federal German Navy to hold a passing exercise (22–30 April), providing each ship the opportunity to practice tactical signals, maneuvering, and communications. Caron also took part in Destined Glory, a large exercise allowing several NATO navies to collaborate in carrying out an amphibious landing operation.
The crew also had numerous opportunities to visit several Mediterranean ports and to spend some of their leave time engaged in community service activities. Caron crew members painted the Sixth Fleet Center Building in Palma (13–16 March 1998) and painted and performed electrical work for a women’s shelter in Casablanca, Morocco (19–22 March). At the ship’s last port visit in Lisbon, Portugal, the sailors participated in EXPO ’98, helping to set up the United States’ display. While in Lisbon, Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton visited the destroyer and participated in an awards ceremony.
Caron arrived back in Norfolk on 2 July 1998 and began a month-long leave and upkeep period. The ship entered a Fleet Maintenance Availability on 24 August, but the next evening, the entire Second Fleet was ordered to emergency sortie in the Virginia capes operating area where the ships rode out Hurricane Bonnie in the Atlantic for the next three days. At the end of September, Caron participated in JTFEX 99-1, acting as a member of the opposition force against the Enterprise (CVN-65) Battle Group. The destroyer then made a port visit (1–4 October) to Morehead City, N.C., welcoming almost 7,000 visitors on board to tour the ship during the North Carolina Seafood Festival. The destroyer departed on her last cruise of the year on 12 November, bound for Savannah, Ga., on a brief Tiger Cruise. Caron spent 13–16 November in Savannah and then steamed for the Jacksonville operating area for helicopter deck landing qualifications, immediately followed by a training readiness evaluation for a deploying submarine in the Virginia capes operating area.
Returning to Norfolk on 22 November 1998, Caron began preparations for an extended dry-docking selected restricted availability at Newport News Shipbuilding that began on 20 January 1999. During the availability, workers refurbished Caron’s engineering plant and combat systems.
After finishing her overhaul on 2 June 1999 and completing sea trials, Caron spent the summer months in training. In-port periods provided opportunity to install the components of the IT-21 communications suite, which would improve the ship’s connectivity with the battle group and make it easier for the crew to stay in touch with family and friends with the addition of email capability. From 16–18 September, yet another storm disrupted Caron’s routine as Hurricane Floyd forced the ship to leave Norfolk for emergency sortie. On 13 October, Secretary of the Navy Richard J. Danzig visited the ship to assess the Smart Tools initiative, which had been instituted on Caron as a trial. The Smart Tools program aimed to simplify and speed up shipboard maintenance and upkeep tasks. During his visit, Secretary Danzig also helped the destroyer’s crew celebrate the Navy’s 224th birthday.
On 14 October 1999, Caron departed on the Commander DesRon 22 group sail to the Caribbean. On this voyage to Puerto Rican waters, Caron participated in JTFEX as a member of the opposition forces and conducted ASW operations as part of the training of the submarine fleet’s prospective commanding officers. Upon her return from group sail on 19 November, Caron entered a fleet maintenance availability period prior to beginning holiday standdown on 15 December.
As the year 2000 began, Caron ramped up her upkeep and training efforts to prepare for her upcoming summer deployment. On 11 January, the destroyer sailed for Mayport to engage in several days of exercises with her helo detachment. After loading weapons at Yorktown, Caron departed for Nassau, Bahamas, on 10 March, exercising with Donald Cook (DDG-75), Albany (SSN-753), and Simpson (FFG-56) while in transit. The ship spent three days at Nassau and then stood out to sea on 20 March for the Gulf of Mexico to participate in COMPTUEX with the rest of the George Washington Battle Group, which in addition to her transit partners included Normandy (CG-60), Cole (DDG-67), Briscoe (DD-977), Hawes (FFG-53), Pittsburgh (SSN-720), and Supply (AOE-6). At the conclusion of the exercise, the battle group conducted a sinking exercise (SINKEX) using the hull of ex-Dale (CG-19) as a target. Caron arrived at Norfolk on 7 April and beginning on 8 May spent two additional weeks at sea for JTFEX. Returning to Norfolk on the 22nd, the ship made final preparations to deploy.
On 21 June 2000, Caron steamed from Norfolk for her final Mediterranean deployment. Prior to transiting the Atlantic, the ship sailed for the Puerto Rico operating area for type training with the other units of DesRon 22. While in the Mediterranean, the destroyer served as a member of Standing Naval Forces Mediterranean and participated in operations and exercises, including Destined Glory in October with foreign forces from Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, and France. Caron’s ports of call included Malaga and Valencia, Spain; St. Tropez, France; Civitavecchia, La Maddalena, Augusta Bay, Trieste, Catania, and Taranto, Italy; Zakinthos and Souda Bay, Greece; and Izmir, Antalya, and Aksaz, Turkey. Caron’s last Mediterranean port of call was Naples, from which she departed on 8 December. The destroyer made the voyage across the Atlantic in company with various ships of the George Washington Battle Group and returned to Norfolk on 19 December.
Following her post-deployment leave and upkeep period, Caron sailed for Port Canaveral, Fla., on 31 January 2001, arriving on 2 February. After nearly a week in port, the ship departed on 8 February, stopping at Yorktown to unload weapons before returning to Norfolk on the 12th. Caron spent the next month in Norfolk and then embarked upon a series of special public relations port visits. On 12 March, Caron set course for Savannah to take part in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration (15–21 March). During “Port Days” in Wilmington, Del. (25–30 May), thousands of visitors toured the ship over the Memorial Day weekend. In June, the destroyer hosted groups of ROTC students for summer training. Caron welcomed another 10,000 visitors to her decks while moored at Fort Trumbull in New London, Conn., as part of the city’s festivities over the Independence Day holiday week. On 6 July, Caron made the brief transit to Newport for her last port call before returning home on the 13th. The destroyer took part in one last gunnery exercise in the Virginia capes operating area on 26 July, and then on 10 August, Caron moved to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard to prepare the ship for decommissioning.
After 24 years of distinguished service, Caron was decommissioned on 10 October 2001. Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 5 June 2002. The service intended to use Caron’s hull in explosives testing in 2002 and then subsequently as a SINKEX target. Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility Philadelphia prepared the ship for the tests, reinforcing the hull and installing gauges and monitors to record test results. Towed to the waters off Puerto Rico, ex-Caron inadvertently sank as a result of the first of the planned explosives tests on the morning of 4 December 2002.
||Date Assumed Command
|Cmdr. Earle G. Schweizer Jr.
||1 October 1977
|Cmdr. David P. Yonkers
||26 July 1979
|Cmdr. David G. Kaiser
||23 June 1981
|Cmdr. James S. Polk
||22 August 1983
|Cmdr. Louis F. Harlow
||14 December 1985
|Cmdr. John Z. Stepien
||22 April 1988
|Cmdr. Brent B. Gooding
||18 October 1990
|Cmdr. Peter D. Squicciarini
||18 July 1992
|Cmdr. Steven W. Nerheim
||15 April 1994
|Cmdr. James R. Miller
||31 January 1996
|Cmdr. Joseph C. Peterson Jr.
||22 August 1997
|Cmdr. William J. Harden
||9 April 1999
|Cmdr. William Morales
||5 October 2000
7 November 2016