Bexar (APA-237) was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C. Hull 1132) on 2 June 1945 at Portland, Oregon by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 25 July 1945; sponsored by Mrs. A. E. Henderson; and acquired by the Navy and commissioned on 9 October 1945, Capt. Alexander M. Kowalzyk, Jr., in command.
After fitting out at Portland, Bexar steamed south on 26 October 1945 to San Pedro, Calif., where she received her boat contingent of 19 LCVPs, two LCMs, and three LCPLs. The ship then got underway for shakedown training; and, over the next four weeks, her crewmen practiced loading and unloading cargo and other ship operations. Initially assigned to Magic Carpet duty, the transport of men and equipment from the Far East home to the west coast, Bexar departed San Pedro for Japan on 5 December. The attack transport arrived at Yokosuka on the 20th, embarked homeward-bound troops, and returned to San Pedro on 8 January 1946.
Released from Magic Carpet duty in February, the ship remained on the west coast until 22 May 1946 when she sailed for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Temporarily assigned to Transport Division (TransDiv) 31, Bexar proceeded to the Marshall Islands for Operation Crossroads: nuclear weapons tests held at Bikini Atoll that summer. Arriving at Kwajalein on 10 June, the attack transport served as an equipment supply center during test operations in the Marshalls until departing the area on 29 August. After returning to San Pedro, via Pearl Harbor, on 17 September, she spent the next three months undergoing decontamination procedures and receiving minor repairs at San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Ordered to the east coast on 3 January 1947, Bexar departed San Diego and headed south for Panama on 15 February. Following a week-long decontamination-procedure delay at Balboa (occasioned by a failed radiological test) the attack transport passed through the canal on 14 March and moored at Norfolk on the 19th. Assigned to TransDiv 22, the ship spent the next nine months alternating between training in the Chesapeake Bay and at Onslow Beach, N, C., and carrying troops and cargo between various east coast ports. The latter duty took her as far north as Argentia, Newfoundland, and as far south as Hamilton, Bermuda.
On 2 January 1948, Bexar departed Norfolk and proceeded south to Morehead City, N.C., to embark Marines. She then got underway for the Mediterranean on the 5th. Passing through the Strait of Gibraltar 10 days later, the ship anchored at Malta on 18 January to disembark the marines. Following a one-day visit to Iskanderun, Turkey on the 27th, she headed back to Norfolk, arriving there on 14 February.
Bexar remained on the east coast for the next year and a half carrying troops and cargo between Norfolk, Quantico, and Morehead City. She also ventured south to Kingston, Jamaica; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Cristobal, in the Canal Zone. In March 1949, the attack transport conducted exercises at the Vieques operating area before visiting Lagiuria, Venezuela, and the Dutch island of Curaçao.
During this time, growing tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union led to increased measures to prepare American forces for military operations. As part of this effort, Bexar spent the next nine months planning for and participating in three major amphibious exercises. The first, an Army landing held at Oahu in October 1949, was followed by two Marine Corps amphibious exercises, one in Chesapeake Bay in February 1950 and a second at Vieques in April. She was at Norfolk when North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950.
Underway on 31 July 1950, the attack transport steamed to Gibraltar, arriving there on 10 August. Proceeding to Suda Bay, Crete, she embarked part of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, in the evening of the 14th. In company with the attack cargo ship Montague (AKA-98), Bexar sailed to Port Said the next day and passed through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea on 18 August. Sailing east, the ships stopped for fuel at Columbo, Ceylon, before continuing on to Kobe, Japan, where they moored on 9 September. Allocated to the second wave of Operation Chromite, the United Nations (UN) amphibious invasion of South Korea at Inchon,Bexar remained in Japan through the initial landings on the 15th before delivering her marine reinforcements ashore on 20 September.
Returning to Sasebo, Japan, on the 27th, the attack transport then joined the stream of ships carrying supplies and ammunition to the congested ports of Inchon and Pusan. Bexar also delivered desperately needed cargo to Wonsan on 5 November 1950 before returning to Yokosuka, Japan, on the 19th. These supplies helped UN forces as they swept north toward the Yalu River. She was still at Yokosuka on 25 November when her crew heard the news of communist Chinese intervention in the war.
The offensive caught UN forces in North Korea by surprise; and, by early December 1950, UN troops on both coasts had disengaged and were retreating south. Diverted to Chinnampo on 4 December, the attack transport negotiated the treacherous entrance channel and helped evacuate thousands of troops and Korean refugees to Inchon. As the communist offensive continued south that month, Bexar then helped evacuate Inchon on the 31st, before arriving at Yokosuka on 3 January 1951. Badly in need of repairs to her engines, the ship headed home two days later and moored at San Diego on 17 January.
Following an overhaul at Hunters' Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco during March and April 1951, the attack transport returned to San Diego for three months of refresher training. The ship sailed for Japan on 3 August; and, after an uneventful Pacific crossing, she reported for duty at Yokosuka on the 18th. Bexar spent the next nine months ferrying troops and supplies between Japan and Korea. During this time, she visited Hong Kong twice and conducted several exercises in the waters off Hokkaido, Japan. She returned to San Diego on 5 May 1952.
After a period of leave and upkeep, Bexar spent the next year participating in amphibious operations out of San Diego. Her only diversion was one extended trip to Pearl Harbor in September and October 1952. On 23 July 1953, the attack transport got underway from San Francisco and arrived at Yokosuka on 9 August. With the Korean armistice in effect since 27 July 1953, Bexar took part in Operation Big Switch, the transfer of North Korean and Chinese prisoners from their camps on Koje Do to Inchon, Korea, for repatriation north. After these operations were complete on 3 September, the attack transport remained in Japanese waters, transporting troops between Korea and Japan and conducting several exercises off Hokkaido. The ship also made a short trip to Subic Bay in the Philippines before returning to San Diego on 19 December.
Bexar conducted routine operations until 2 May 1954, when she moved to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, Calif., for a 10-week overhaul. After training out of San Diego that summer and fall, the attack transport sailed on another Far East deployment on 23 October. When she arrived in the Far East, tensions between the U.S. and communist China were higher than usual. Viet Minh forces, with communist Chinese support, had driven the French from northern Indochina the summer before; and communist activity near Taiwan, especially across from the Tachen Islands, had increased dramatically in the preceding months.
After Bexar delivered troop replacements to the tense Korean peninsula in mid-November 1954, she participated in a series of exercises in Japanese waters through the end of the year. Then, on 10 January 1955, communist Chinese aircraft attacked the Tachen Islands. A month later, following a communist Chinese invasion of nearby Ichiang Island, Bexar and 21 other transport, cargo, and landing ships evacuated 28,500 Chinese Nationalist troops and civilians from the Tachens. After visits to Hong Kong and the Philippines, the attack transport returned to San Diego on 22 April.
Bexar continued a similar pattern of west coast training and Far East deployments for the next four years. While on the west coast, the ship mainly trained reservists in the southern California operating areas. These regular exercises were interspersed with trips farther afield, such as the January 1956 cruise to Alaskan waters. During this period, she also conducted two more Far Eastern deployments. The first, between 31 August 1957 and 31 March 1958, concentrated on amphibious support training, including helicopter replenishment operations with the escport carrier Thetis Bay (CVE-90). This culminated in Exercise Phiblink in December and Exercise Strong Back in February at Dingalen Bay in the Philippines. During her second deployment, conducted between 16 April and 24 November 1959, the highlight was a joint South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) amphibious landing exercise held near Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
Following her usual leave, upkeep, and training period in the spring of 1960, Bexar got underway from San Diego on 27 June for her regular deployment to the Far East. First, she carried 688 marines to Okinawa before sailing south to Subic Bay, where she delivered emergency supplies to flood victims at Lingayen Gulf. From there, the attack transport moved to Hong Kong for three weeks of duty as "station and evacuation" ship. In the meantime, owing to civil disorder following Congolese independence from Belgium on 30 June 1960, the UN, asked by the newly sworn-in government of the Congo, called for troops to restore order. Shortly thereafter, Bexar sailed south from Hong Kong to pick up a battalion of 1,150 Indonesian troops for transport to central Africa.
Leaving Djakarta on 10 September 1960, the attack transport proceeded west across the Indian Ocean, stopped at Simonstown, South Africa, for fuel and then moved north to the Congo. The large ship navigated the treacherous mouth of the Congo River, sailed some 85 miles upstream, and moored at the port city of Matidi, where the Indonesian troops disembarked. As part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "People-to-People" program, Bexar then visited such west African ports as Lagos, Nigeria; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Monrovia, Liberia; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sailing west across the Atlantic, the attack transport visited Recife, Brazil; the island of Trinidad; Cartagena, Colombia; and Acapulco, Mexico; before completing her round-the-world cruise at San Diego on 4 December.
Shortly thereafter, Bexar resumed her standard pattern of west coast exercises and overseas deployments. She made one cruise to the Far East between October 1961 and May 1962, during which time she participated in two major amphibious exercises; Operation Silver Sword held in Hawaiian waters and Operation Tulungan off Mindoro in the Philippines. After returning home to San Diego, the attack transport resumed her regular training schedule.
Meanwhile, several months of mounting tensions over Cuba suddenly exploded on 14 October 1962 when reconnaissance flights indicated that the Soviet Union intended to establish missile bases there. As part of the U.S. response, Bexar and 20 other amphibious ships loaded four battalions of marines from the 5th Marine Expeditionary Force at San Diego and sailed for Panama on 27 October. Although the crisis had eased by the time the force passed through the canal on the 31st, the transports remained in the Panama area for several weeks for support and contingency operations. Bexar returned home to San Diego on 15 December.
Following another western Pacific cruise between March and September 1963, during which time she participated in Operation Flagpole, an amphibious exercise with naval forces from the Republic of Korea, the ship moved to San Francisco in December for an extensive overhaul. Entering the shipyard on 10 January 1964, she received a fleet rehabilitation and modernization (FRAM) upgrade, which included the installation of shipwide air conditioning. Bexar left the shipyard on 3 June and, after returning to San Diego, soon began preparations for her next overseas deployment.
Following the Tonkin Gulf incident of August 1964, U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict gradually escalated. As part of the buildup of forces in the area, Bexar got underway from San Diego on 26 October and sailed to Vietnamese waters in November. Steaming into Danang harbor late that month, the attack transport acted as station ship there while her boats assisted in local flood relief operations. Her embarked underwater demolition teams (UDT) also surveyed local beaches for possible landing zones.
After moving to Subic Bay three weeks later, Bexar was tapped for contingency operations following a communist terrorist attack on Americans in Saigon's Brink Hotel. As part of TF 76, the transport took up a position off the Vung Tau peninsula, with a battalion of marines embarked, and stood ready to act in the event of additional attacks. She remained there, aside from short replenishment trips to Subic Bay, through February 1965. On 8 March, she supported the landing of two battalions of marines at Danang. Following a well-deserved trip to Hong Kong, the attack transport then helped deliver three battalion landing teams and a naval mobile construction battalion at Chu Lai in early May.
After returning to San Diego in late June 1965, Bexar received special orders to lift a battalion of marines to Okinawa and carried out the round-trip voyage between 10 August and 30 September. Following two months of leave and upkeep, Bexar proceeded to Long Beach on 6 January 1966 to commence another troop lift to Vietnam. Loading the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, as well as assorted vehicles and cargo, the attack transport sailed to the Ryukyu Islands, via Pearl Harbor, arriving at Okinawa on 3 February. After shifting cargo, she proceeded north to Sasebo for five days of upkeep and liberty before steaming south to Vietnam. She arrived at Danang on 18 February and took over station-ship duties from Magoffin (APA-199). Departing on 12 March, the ship returned to San Diego via Yokosuka on 9 April.
Over the next two months, Bexar divided her time between minor repairs in port and refresher training at sea. On 27 July 1966, in company with Henrico (APA-45) and five other amphibious ships, Bexar departed San Diego for another troop lift to Danang. Arriving there on 27 August, she disembarked the marines that same day. Loading a contingent of Republic of Korea (ROK) marines the next day, Bexar transported them to Chu Lai on the 30th. After a brief upkeep and liberty visit to Subic Bay, the attack transport returned to Danang for station-ship duty on 11 September. Aside from one short liberty cruise to Keelung, Taiwan, in early November, she remained at Danang until 17 December when she was relieved by Okanogan (APA-220). Sailing to Okinawa, she ended the year anchored in Chit Wan Bay with the 2nd battalion, 4th Marines, embarked.
In company with the dock landing ship Port Defiance (LSD-3) and attack cargo shipUnion (AKA-106), Bexar transported those marines to Danang on 5 January 1967. After returning to Okinawa on the 14th, the ship visited Subic Bay, Manila, and Hong Kong before sailing to Yokosuka on 10 February. Following 17 days of upkeep and liberty, the ship got underway for home, arriving in San Diego on 16 March.
Aside from a brief two-week cruise to Pearl Harbor in late May 1967, Bexar remained in San Diego until 25 July when she shifted to the Todd Shipyard in San Pedro for a regular overhaul. This work, which included modernizing her communications and medical equipment, was completed on 7 November. She then returned to San Diego for refresher training until ending the year in a leave and upkeep status.
Underway 1 February 1968, the day after North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops began the Tet Offensive against South Vietnam, Bexar carried elements of Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/27 to Danang, where the troops disembarked on the 28th to stiffen the regions defenses. Returning north, the ship loaded equipment at Sasebo before sailing to Pohang, South Korea, on 11 March. While there, she conducted amphibious landing exercises with ROK marines. Departing the area on the 17th, she received upkeep and repairs at Sasebo and Subic Bay before sailing to Hong Kong on 12 April for a week of liberty. After Bexar visited Singapore in late April, she then carried cargo between Okinawa and Subic Bay through 29 May.
On 1 June 1968, Bexar steamed back to Vietnamese waters and took up station in the Vung Tau area. There, she spent nine weeks supporting River Patrol Groups (RPG) 13 and 15. Relieved by Okanogan on 8 August, the ship sailed to Saigon on the 11th for a troop lift to Thailand. Embarking 1,608 men of the Royal Thai Queen's Cobra Regiment on the 15th, she carried them home to Bangkok two days later. Bexar then sailed to Okinawa and, after refueling stops there, at Yokosuka, and at Pearl Harbor, the attack transport arrived in San Diego on 20 September.
Although redesignated LPA-237 on 1 January 1969, Bexar reported to the San Francisco Naval Shipyard for inactivation and was decommissioned there on 1 December 1969. She entered the Maritime Administration's (MarAd) National Defense Reserve Fleet at its facility at Suisun Bay, Calif., on 7 August 1970, MarAd assuming custody at 3:00 p.m. that day. The Navy transferred permanent title to the ship to MarAd on 1 July 1972.
On 1 September 1976, Bexar was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. Ex-Bexar was traded-out by Farrell Lines, Inc., together with three other VC2-S-AP5 vessels, for Ambassador, then re-sold to C.W. Enterprises and Investment, Inc., to be scrapped abroad (either Taiwan or Japan) on 19 February 1982. The well-traveled veteran was physically delivered to her purchaser at 10:07 p.m. on 16 June 1982 and broken uip subsequently.
Bexar received four battle stars for Korean War service and six battle stars for Vietnam War service.
Timothy L. Francis
31 January 2006