Oscar Palmer Austin was born in Nacogdoches, Texas, on 15 January 1949, and grew up in Phoenix, Ariz. He graduated from Phoenix High School in 1967, and enlisted in the Marine Corps in April the following year. Upon completing his basic training, Austin was promoted to private first class in October 1968. He shipped out to South Vietnam where he served as an assistant machine gunner with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
During the early morning of 23 February 1969, North Vietnamese soldiers attacked Austin’s observation post near Da Nang with hand grenades, satchel charges, and small arms fire. The enemy fire struck down one of the marines, and observing that he fell unconscious in a dangerously exposed position, Austin unhesitatingly left the relative security of his fighting hole, and, with complete disregard for his own safety, raced across the fire-swept ground to assist the marine to a covered position. As Austin neared the man, an enemy grenade landed nearby and reacting instinctively, he leapt between the wounded marine and the lethal weapon, absorbing the effects of its detonation. As he ignored his painful wounds and turned to examine the wounded man, he saw a North Vietnamese soldier aiming a weapon at his unconscious companion. Austin resolutely threw himself between the marine and the enemy, and in so doing, fell mortally wounded. Austin posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his “indomitable courage, inspiring initiative and selfless devotion to duty.”
The first U.S. Navy ship named Oscar Austin.
(DDG-79: displacement 9,496; length 510'; beam 66'; draft 31'; speed 30+ knots; complement 369; 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, 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft 2 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawks; class Arleigh Burke)
Oscar Austin (DDG-79) was laid down on 9 October 1997 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works; launched on 7 November 1998, sponsored by Mrs. Dianne F. Reason, wife of Adm. J. Paul Reason, Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet; and commissioned on 19 August 2000 at Norfolk, Va., Cmdr. Paul C. Smith in command.
Dark blue and gold are the traditional colors associated with the Navy; red is emblematic of valor and sacrifice and white stands for integrity and purity of purpose. The reversed star refers to the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to Austin for his self-sacrifice and extraordinary heroism when he threw himself between an enemy grenade and an injured marine and fell mortally wounded. The white of the globe and medium blue of the star are the colors of the ribbon of the Medal of Honor; the reversed star is the silhouette of its pendant. The white globe and anchor, suggesting the United States Marine Corps seal, represent the Navy’s global mission. The flames allude to the fire-swept terrain and the enemy fire where Austin gave his life to assist his wounded comrades.
The tridents, symbols of sea prowess, represent DDG-79’s modern warfare capabilities: the Aegis Weapons and Vertical Launch Systems. Each tine on the trident depicts separate warfare areas: air, surface, and sub-surface. The two are crossed to denote multiple capabilities. The rice stalks suggest Vietnam where Austin served; the eagle, the United States’ National emblem, symbolizes the freedom and principles for which Austin gave his life.
The crossed naval sword and marine Mameluke represent cooperation and strength. The Mameluke commemorates Austin’s service with the Marine Corps.
Oscar Austin is the first of the Flight IIA Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers, the design of which includes a variety of enhanced ships and combat systems, as well as two hangars that enable her to embark a pair of Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawks. Oscar Austin deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom I and on 21 and 22 March 2003, joining 29 other U.S. and British ships and submarines that fired BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) against Iraqi military targets.
Oscar Austin deployed with the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) Carrier Strike Group to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and Arabian Gulf (1 September 2005-6 March 2006). She spent much of her deployment patrolling the waters around the Horn of Africa for pirates, who had increased their attacks against ships in the area, making it difficult for UN relief workers to distribute food to the impoverished people in Somalia. In addition, many merchant ships discontinued using the Automatic Identification System due to their fear of being discovered and boarded by pirates. Oscar Austin twice took part in Operation Foresail, a coalition exercise that enabled her to gather intelligence on the pirates’ methods, including some of their most frequently visited ports and save havens. While the ship did not always discover the pirates’ lairs, a connection between their illicit activities and some of the warlords who controlled the Somali clans clearly emerged. Her sailors boarded pirated vessels after the seaborne brigands released the vessels in order to gain intelligence information, and approached others to either warn them of their peril or to learn about pirate attacks. The ship operated into the New Year with a “pulse group” that also consisted at times of amphibious assault ship Nassau (LHA-4), dock landing ship Carter Hall (LSD-50), and guided missile destroyer Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81). Oscar Austin crossed the equator four times during the deployment, but operational considerations delayed King Neptune’s arrival until 7 January 2006, when he initiated 221 polywogs into his realm.
On 24 January 2006, Oscar Austin received a distress call from motor vessel Al Manara, which reported that two armed pirates had boarded and commandeered the vessel. Oscar Austin steamed to the area and dispatched three Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure teams that boarded the vessel, one of her embarked SH-60B Seahawks from Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) 44 Detachment 7 covering the boarders. The Americans quickly discovered that Al Manara’s main engines had failed and could not restart, rendering her unseaworthy. Her master intended to head toward the closest land in order to make repairs, but the boarders discovered that two of the guards hired by the company shipping the cargo were pirates, who had thus infiltrated on board Al Manara and prevented her from diverting. Oscar Austin rendered assistance and the vessel reached Kenya for repairs.
Oscar Austin made for Civitavechia, Italy, on 14 February 2006, when one of her Seahawks sighted Zaira SR 2437, a distressed fishing vessel, about 140 nautical miles off the coast of Sicily. The boat had consumed her fuel and drifted in heavy seas with 30+ knot winds, and her five crewmen suffered from the frigid temperatures. The fishermen’s radio broke down and they waved flags at the helicopter and fired a white flare to alert the Seahawk’s crew to their plight. The Seahawk lowered a rescue swimmer, who swam to their boat and determined that their engine would start with enough fuel. Oscar Austin therefore lowered a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) that carried fuel to the vessel, the sailors rigging a fuel line to the two boats while battling the high swells. Zaira SR 2437 resumed her voyage, and the RHIB and Seahawk returned to the destroyer.
While en route to Middle Eastern waters with the Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) Carrier Strike Group on 17 November 2007, Oscar Austin tested the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities of a Boeing Insitu ScanEagle long-endurance fully autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle. ScanEagles had previously completed at-sea testing principally on board amphibious and high speed ships.
Detailed history under construction.
Mark L. Evans
9 February 2015