Hard work, sense of community just two reasons why Sailors are passionate about their tours on destroyers
By Naval History and Heritage Command staff
It’s been said that if aircraft carriers and big deck amphibious ships are like cities on the sea, the destroyers represent the small towns where everyone knows everyone and Sailors often do more than one or two jobs on the ship.
And when destroyermen talk about what they liked during their time on these Greyhounds of the Fleet, they will almost inevitably bring up the comradeship they shared.
“The destroyer is the hardest working asset in the fleet,” said Marc Tuell of Deltona, Fla., who served from 1993 to 2013. “Often called with a moment’s notice to deploy, the Sailors you serve with are the most steadfast and devoted of shipmates and friends. The bond that is built is stronger than any other bond in the Navy.”
Tuell, who served as a fireman recruit on USS Hewitt (DD 966) in Japan, learned the ship “inside and out.” But when he was assigned to VF-154 aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), he found a very different culture “full of individuals,” and a clear segregation between the ship’s company and the Air Wing.
His final duty station in 2010 was aboard the destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62). Tuell said the ship “consistently outperformed the other ships” despite what he describes as manning challenges.
“The crew of the Fightin’ Fitz’ always took assignments, on short notice, and always executed them with a pride and professionalism that was truly amazing to be a part of,” he said.
Tuell said he would never trade the “difficulties we face during my time as a destroyerman,” on the “hardest working ships in the fleet,” both at the beginning and end of his career in the Navy. “It made me who I am.”
Billy Miller, of Ingleside, Texas, was fond of the Fletcher/Gearing class of ships serving on USS Hamner (DD 718) from 1971-72.
“The crew was very tight and incredibly hard-working. No one had time to carry a slacker,” said the Navy veteran, whose email moniker is bilgewaterbill. “We might fight amongst ourselves, but Lord help you if you wore another ship’s patch and picked on one of ours!”
John Shanahan Jr., who served as a radarman (now operations specialist) on USS Taussig (DD 746) and USS Haynsworth (DD 700) in 1962-63, whose missions included astronaut recovery.
“The crews were small enough so that you got to know pretty well all on board and the missions were versatile and exciting,” Shanahan, who now lives in Ireland, said.
Destroyers during the Vietnam-era were deployed to South Vietnam to help keep enemy ships away and remove contraband weapons from shipping traffic, said former destroyerman Jose Hernandez, who served for more than five years on USS McGinty (DDE 365) from late 1959 to mid-1965. The ship, which had survived World War II kamikaze attacks, served as the flagship for Task Element 95.21 in Wonsan, Korea, and was the “pivotman” in what was called the Irish Triple Play: O’Malley to McGinty to O’Bannon. Lt. Francis J. O’Malley, a pilot from the carrier Essex, was rescued at sea by McGinty, which delivered him to the destroyer O’Bannon.
Scott Welsh, Petaluma, Calif., who served from 1982-85 on USS Benjamin Stoddert (DDG 22), an Adams-class guided missile destroyer, also said his time on destroyers were among the best in his life.
“Nothing against the frigates and gator big decks I served in, but Stoddert looked and performed like a warship. Built for Arleigh Burke’s Navy with design values that stressed speed and hitting power over habitability. Having been around for nearly 20 years, she had a strong culture of excellence, a high-performing crew and during my time, superb leadership at every level.
Life on a destroyer, he added was “where ‘pride and professionalism’ was not a slogan, but a way of life.”
To read more about the evolution of destroyers, visit the Association of the United States Navy’s website for 110 Years of Tin Cans: http://ausn.org/NewsPublications/NavyMagazine/MagazineArticles/tabid/2170/ID/34672/110-years-of-Tin-Cans.aspx