John Francis Laboon Jr., born on 11 April 1921 in Pittsburgh, Pa., attended the Carnegie Institute Technology at Pittsburgh for a year following his graduation from high school. In 1939, he entered the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., excelling at athletics and academics. Laboon graduated through the accelerated program (because of the urgency resulting from World War II) in 1943, and then trained as a submarine officer at New London, Conn. He reported to submarine Peto (SS-265), serving variously as her communications officer, gunnery officer, and torpedo officer during her final war patrols.
Lt. j.g. Laboon sailed with Peto (SS-265) from Guam on her tenth and last war patrol, on 14 July 1945. The submarine supported a series of U.S. air strikes against Japanese military targets in the Hamamatsu area of Japan on 24 July. Japanese planes counterattacked and at 1552 shot down a Vought F4U-4 Corsair flown by Lt. Thomas A. Sinclair, USNR, of Bombing Fighting Squadron (VBF) 94, leading a flight from aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-16). Wounded in both legs, Sinclair ditched, while his squadron mates wiggled their wings to alert the watchstanders on board Peto to his plight, which made for the area and rescued Sinclair.
Meanwhile, the enemy shot down Ensign Hugh F. Donnelly Jr. of VBF-94. The submarine increased to full speed and closed the shore, but Grumman F6F Hellcats assigned to cover her failed to reach the area in time, and Cmdr. Robert H. Caldwell Jr., Peto’s commanding officer, reported that they expected to “draw gun fire” and consequently “crossed our fingers.” A Japanese passenger train stopped on a trestle and the people watched the ensuing race as Peto sped to within four miles of the beach and a depth of barely 35 fathoms of water. Japanese shore batteries suddenly opened fire and three rounds in rapid succession hurtled over the boat. The submarine attempted to stop but still had way on, and in addition, only two men could remain on deck because of the hazardous conditions, one of whom was Laboon. He undauntedly jumped into the water with a line attached, grabbing Donnelly and dragging the exhausted pilot on board. Laboon’s heroic action saved Donnelly and enabled Peto to retire quickly from her dangerous position. Laboon subsequently received the Silver Star.
Following the war, Laboon resigned his commission and entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) on 31 October 1946. On 17 July 1956, he was ordained a priest at Woodstock, Md. Laboon returned to the Navy as a chaplain two years later, serving in tours as far afield as Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, and Vietnam. He received the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” while assigned to the 3rd Marine Division during the Vietnam War in April 1969. He became a chaplain for the Polaris submarine program, before retiring as the Fleet Chaplain, Atlantic Fleet, on 31 October 1980. Laboon returned to Annapolis as the house manager of the Jesuit retreat facility at Manresa-on-Severn, and finally served as the pastor of St. Alphonsus Reformed Church in Woodstock. Father Laboon died at Woodstock on 1 August 1988. His courage, compassion, and understanding touched the lives of many servicemembers and their families. The Chaplain’s Center at the Naval Academy is named in his honor. The first U.S. Navy ship named Laboon.
(DDG-58: displacement 8,960; length 505'; beam 66'; draft 31'; speed 30+ knots; complement 356; armament 1 5-inch, 2 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-156 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 8 RGM-84 Harpoons (2 Mk 141 launchers), 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft operate (but not embark) 1 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawk; class Arleigh Burke)
Laboon (DDG-58) was laid down on 23 March 1992 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works; launched on 20 February 1993; sponsored by Sister de Lellis Laboon, R.S.M., Sister Joan Laboon, R.S.M., and Sister Rosemary Laboon, R.S.M., all (family) sisters of the late Chaplain Laboon; and commissioned on 18 March 1995 at Norfolk, Va., Cmdr. Douglas D. McDonald in command.
Saddam Hussein deployed 40,000 Iraqi Republican Guardsmen and regulars against Irbil, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan town 48 miles east of Mosul, on 31 August 1996. On 3 September the coalition launched retaliatory Operation Desert Strike by attacking Iraqi fixed surface-to-air missile sites and air defense command and control facilities in southern Iraq. Guided missile cruiser Shiloh (CG-67) and Laboon fired 14 of 27 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched in the first wave. Four Grumman F-14D Tomcats of Fighter Squadron (VF) 11, embarked on board aircraft carrier Carl Vinson (CVN-70), escorted two USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortresses that staged through Guam and launched 13 AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missiles. The following day guided missile destroyers Laboon and Russell (DDG-59), destroyer Hewitt (DD-966), and attack submarine Jefferson City (SSN-759) fired 17 more TLAMs. A Lockheed P-3C Orion of Patrol Squadron (VP) 1 operated in the area forward deployed through Naval Air Facility Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory. In addition, Enterprise (CVN-65) received notification of deployment to the North Arabian Sea a month ahead of schedule.
In 2004-2006, Laboon took part in the Crew Swap program with two other Atlantic Fleet guided missile destroyers, Gonzalez (DDG-66) and Stout (DDG-55). Swaps enabled the crewmembers of forward-deployed ships to switch ships rather than impacting their families by moving them to new home ports, and enhanced the ships’ operational readiness by extending their deployments.
Sailboat Long Wei experienced engine problems and ran low on fuel, about 125 miles off the coast of Georgia, on 16 July 2005. She drifted overnight, and at 1430 the following afternoon requested assistance via bridge-to-bridge radio. Laboon operated with the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) Carrier Strike Group during a joint task force exercise and sailed to the scene, lowering a four member damage control assistance team, Lt. j.g. David Hollon officer in charge, in a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB). Hollon and his sailors boarded Long Wei and worked for six hours, making multiple trips back to the destroyer for fuel and parts, before determining that faulty fuel pumps and a clogged fuel system had caused the problem. They could not repair the boat while at sea without additional parts, however, and Coast Guard coastal patrol boat Tarpon (WPB-87310) towed Long Wei to within 40 miles of shore, where a commercial service boat took her under tow.
More than 100 men, apparently led by Islamic militants, attacked the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 and 12 September 2012. The attackers killed four Americans: Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, two former Sea, Air, Land (SEAL)s working as embassy security guards. The militants wounded ten other people. Laboon and guided missile destroyer McFaul (DDG-74) received orders to make for the Libyan coast, and they patrolled the area during the succeeding days until the tensions eased.
The Syrian regime killed at least 45 people and sickened hundreds of others in a chemical weapons attack on Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018.
“This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime,” President Donald J. Trump said during an announcement from the White House on 13 April. “The evil and despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead.”
“As the world knows, the Syrian people have suffered terribly under the prolonged brutality of the Assad [Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad] regime,” Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis said at a Pentagon news conference on 13 April. “On April 7, the regime decided to again defy the norms of civilized people showing callous disregard for international law by using chemical weapons to murder women, children and other innocents. We and our allies find these atrocities inexcusable.”
On the night of 13 April, U.S., British, and French servicemembers attacked the Syrian chemical arsenal. Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White and Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, USMC, the Joint Staff director, briefed the press from the Pentagon the following day, saying that the operation appeared to be successful and that the allies did not suffer any casualties.
White said the attack on the people in Douma “demanded a response,” and the coalition consequently targeted the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons infrastructure. “We launched these strikes to limit Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future,” she said. “We successfully hit every target,” White summarized.
Coalition forces struck three distinct military chemical weapons targets. “The three facilities are -- or more appropriately, were -- the fundamental components of the regime’s chemical weapons warfare infrastructure,” McKenzie observed.
The first target comprised a scientific research center near Barzah in the greater Damascus area. The military facility operated as a center for research, development, production, and testing of chemical and biological agents, the general revealed. The other targets lay in two locations near the city of Homs. The Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility lay west of Homs. “We assess this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment,” McKenzie said. “The third target…contained both a chemical weapons storage facility and an important command post.”
“I would use three words to describe the operation: Precise, overwhelming and effective,” the general said.
The allies fired 105 missiles at the enemy. Monterey (CG-61) and Laboon launched a combined 37 TLAMs while steaming in the Red Sea. Higgins (DDG-76) hurled another 23 Tomahawks while sailing in the Arabian Gulf, and John Warner (SSN-785) launched six UGM-109 TLAMs from the Eastern Mediterranean. Donald Cook (DDG-75) operated in the region but did not fire weapons, according to Pentagon officials. The French Navy meanwhile released footage of their frigate Languedoc (D.653) firing three Missile De Croisière Naval (MdCNs), naval variant land attack cruise missiles.
Allied aircraft also took part in the battle, including two USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancers and their fighter escorts, along with a marine Grumman EA-6B Prowler and tankers. The Prowler helped jam enemy air defense communications and radar, while the Lancers launched 19 extended range AGM-168B Joint Air-To-Surface Standoff Munitions (JASSM-ERs). British Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado GR4s, and French Dassault Rafales and Mirage 2000s, also flew in the fighting.
Planners timed the attacks to occur during the Syrian pre-dawn hours and for all of the weapons to hit at about 0400. Gen. McKenzie noted that the missiles struck their targets within one minute of the designated strike time. The allies fired 76 missiles, numbering 57 TLAMs and 19 JASSMs, into Barzah, and photographs taken after the strikes show that the attack reduced the three buildings there to rubble. Twenty-two weapons, including nine TLAMs, eight British Storm Shadow low-observable air-launched cruise missiles, and the three French MdCNs, slammed into the Him Shinsar chemical weapons storage facility. French jets launched seven Système de Croisière Autonome à Longue Portèe – Emploi Général (SCALP EG — general purpose long range standoff cruise missiles) against the Him Shinsar command facility.
“None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses,” McKenzie said. “We have no indication that Russian air defenses were employed.” The Syrians launched surface-to-air missiles on a ballistic trajectory that missed the attackers. “Most of the launches occurred after our strike was over,” the general said. “When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it has to come down somewhere.”
Obviously, the Assad regime did not get the message last year,” Mattis said. The strikes now send a very clear message to Syrian leaders “that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held accountable,” the secretary reflected. “It is a time for all civilized nations to urgently unite to end the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations backed Geneva peace process,” Mattis said.
Detailed history pending.
Mark L. Evans
17 April 2018