William Daniel Wagner -- born on 16 May 1924 at Cincinnati, Ohio -- enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 7 February 1942 and attended the U.S. Navy Armed Guard School at Little Creek, Va. Attached to SS Steel Navigator's armed guard crew, Seaman 2nd Class Wagner was killed in action when his ship was torpedoed on 19 October 1942.
In the days before the sinking, his ship had been separated from its convoy, ON 137, and battered by a hurricane. The heavy seas and high winds forced a dangerous shift in ballast, which in turn caused a precarious 40-degree list to port. The Navy gun crew volunteered to go below and soon was hard at work performing the exhausting task of shifting sand and water ballast for the next 30 hours without relief, until the ship had momentarily passed out of danger.
However, the German submarine U-610 had spotted the straggler and closed at periscope depth. Upon sighting the submarine some 4,000 yards off her starboard beam, Steel Navigator went to general quarters, and her Navy armed guard manned their guns. Forced down by the gunfire drawn from the merchantmen, U-610 temporarily abandoned her plans for attack. Later, however, at 1445, the U-boat closed the ship and sank her with torpedoes. Seaman 2nd Class Wagner was among the casualties from Steel Navigator's crew.
(DER-539: displacement 1,350; length 306'0"; beam 36'8"; draft 9'5"; speed 24 knots; complement 210; armament 2 5-inch, 6 20 millimeter, 1 depth charge track, 1 depth charge projector (hedgehog); class John C. Butler)
Wagner (DE-539) was laid down on 8 November 1943 at Boston, Mass., by the Boston Navy Yard; launched on 27 December 1944; and sponsored by Mrs. Alfred Thomas. Due to adjustments of wartime priorities and postwar cutbacks, however, construction of Wagner was suspended on 17 February 1947, while the ship was 61.5 percent complete.
Towed to the Naval Industrial Reserve Shipyard, Boston, the ship lay "mothballed" for the next seven years, until 1 July 1954. Chosen for completion as a radar picket escort ship (DERT), Wagner was towed to the Boston Naval Shipyard (formerly the Boston Navy Yard), where construction was resumed. Re-designated as DER-539, Wagner was commissioned on 22 November 1955, Lt. Cmdr. Edward A. Riley in command.
She departed Boston on 4 January 1956 for the Caribbean and conducted shakedown out of Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Returning north, Wagner joined Escort Squadron 18 and operated out of Newport, R.I. The ship conducted radar picket duty on the seaborne extension of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, the Eastern Contiguous Radar Coverage System and the Atlantic Barrier, into late 1959. Primarily operating in the North Atlantic, Wagner interrupted these lonely vigils in the Atlantic Barrier patrol system with visits to east coast ports and an occasional deployment to the warmer climes of the Caribbean for refresher training.
As more sophisticated systems diminished the need for these seaborne patrols, Wagner was placed "in commission, in reserve," on 31 March 1960 and arrived at Sabine Pass, Texas, on 1 April to commence lay-up preparations. Decommissioned in June 1960, Wagner lay in the Atlantic Fleet Reserve until stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 November 1974. She was subsequently sold on 1 September 1977.