Naval Historian Speaks at Ships Bell Ceremony
Story Number: navhist030717-01
17 July 2003
From Naval Historical Center Public Affairs
Here is the text of the speech given by Robert J. Cressman, Ships History Branch, Naval Historical Center, on July 10, 2003 during the memorialization of the USS Worden’s (DD-352) bell at Carderock Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center, West Bethesda, MD:
Are there cycles in history? Almost a quarter of a century ago, I completed the history of United States Ship WORDEN (DD-352), a FARRAGUT-class destroyer, to be included in Volume VIII of the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. It would be one of the last that I would write in what was to be my first “tour” in the Ships’ History Branch of the Naval Historical Center. At that time, I was a contract historian, having begun as an intern in the Bicentennial Summer of 1976.
Last July, I returned to Ships’ History to become its head. Today, a little over one year later, I stand here at the ceremony to dedicate the bell of that fine ship whose history I had written 24 years ago.
WORDEN was the third ship to be named for Rear Admiral John Lorimer Worden, a modest and unassuming man justly famed as the commanding officer of the revolutionary MONITOR in her historic Civil War battle with the Confederate ironclad CSS VIRGINIA. WORDEN was one of eight sisters, all of which participated, with distinction, in the greatest global conflict ever fought by the U.S. Navy. Ironically, the three ships of that class that would be lost during World War II, including the ship we honor here today, would be lost not to enemy action, but to the elements; to awesome forces of nature, traditional adversaries of sailors since time immemorial.
Authorized in 1916 during the “war to end all wars,” WORDEN was designed over a decade after the end of that conflict. Ironically, her designers looked at the first WORDEN, a “torpedo boat destroyer,” as an example of the “best sea boat” whose qualities they sought to emulate in the new class. They sought to incorporate a “rugged, handy, stable [and] easy rolling” hull, with “rugged, reliable, flexible [and] accessible” machinery that could give the ship a maximum speed of 35 knots. Her main battery was to be five dual-purpose 5-inch guns, keeping current with “the latest and best foreign practice,” to enable them to deal with contemporary destroyer-size adversaries, as well as the growing menace posed by more sophisticated aircraft. Envisioning her fighting a surface opponent, her designers gave her a battery of torpedoes as well. A quartet of machine guns rounded out the battery.
WORDEN was commissioned in January 1935. Her shakedown cruise took her to Guatemala and Costa Rica, and after she joined the Fleet, her peacetime operations took her from Alaska to Peru, from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. Assigned to the Hawaiian Detachment after the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, pre-figuring the forward-deployed stance of the current U.S. Navy, WORDEN operated from Pearl Harbor during 1940 and 1941.
WORDEN lay in a nest of her sisterships alongside the tender DOBBIN on 7 December 1941, in upkeep status, as Japanese planes descended upon the Pacific Fleet at its Pearl Harbor base like a “thunderclap from a clear sky.” WORDEN went to general quarters immediately. Soon thereafter, as the fleet’s response gained teeth, Quartermaster 3d Class Raymond H. Brubaker, manning a .50-caliber machine gun, drew a bead on a low-flying Japanese torpedo plane. His gunnery, added to the hail of bullets from nearby ships, splashed it.
Over the next year, WORDEN ranged the Pacific. She screened carrier task forces and escorted important fleet auxiliaries. Her battle stars recognized her service at Pearl Harbor, at Midway, at the initial landings at Guadalcanal, and in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
WORDEN’s last mission involved supporting the landing of U.S. Army troops at Amchitka, in the Aleutian Islands, an area of the world known for fearsome weather conditions. After the landings had unfolded successfully, a strong current set WORDEN down onto a rocky pinnacle. Taking on water after the collision with the unyielding rocks, WORDEN began breaking up. Her sistership DEWEY, which had, ironically, been moored alongside her on the “day that would live in infamy,” tried to tow her free but the towline’s parting doomed that attempt to failure. Fourteen of WORDEN’s sailors perished that day in the icy seas.
When she went down, however, the bell that had been originally affixed beneath her searchlight platform above her navigation bridge, was not on board.
As the U.S. Navy looked at the conflict occurring in Europe, and began to prepare for hostilities, it carried out alterations to its warships. It recognized the need for improved weapons and equipment, but such improvements came with a cost: with a ship, balance is important, so much so that topside weight had to be calculated carefully – even something like a bell that weighed 115 pounds could not be retained if it upset the delicate calculated balance.
So, most likely, workmen at Puget Sound or Mare Island removed the bell and put it in storage. The WORDEN went off to war and never again would ship and bell sail together. WORDEN sank in January 1943; some six years later, sometime in 1949, the Naval Supply Depot in Seattle, Washington, transferred her bell to the Curator for the Department of the Navy, who assigned it a number and placed it in storage at the Naval Gun Factory, in Washington, DC.
As part of a program to promote naval history, the bell was loaned in 1955 to the Naval Reserve Center, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the city that lay closest to Admiral Worden’s birthplace in Westchester County. As sometimes happen with artifacts such as this one, the documentary trail sometimes grows dim; the bell once more made its way back to Washington, D.C. and resumed its humble place as an artifact in storage for display some future day.
That day came in the 1960s, when the bell was placed on display in the fourth ship to carry the name WORDEN, a guided missile frigate. While the date at which the bell went on display in the new ship is not known, it is entirely within the realm of the possible that the bell we see here went to war once again, in Southeast Asia, as the WORDEN, reclassified as a cruiser in 1971, added further luster to the name during the Vietnam War, earning nine battle stars. Eventually, WORDEN was decommissioned in 1993 and the bell once more returned to the status of an artifact in storage in 1995. WORDEN served her country in her demise, however, serving as a target during exercises off Hawaii three years ago.
One of her captains once described that WORDEN as “the product of years of technological development and skilled labor,” but “only a ship’s hull until manned by a trained and dedicated crew. WORDEN is the assembly of nearly four hundred men who operate the complex systems installed to make WORDEN an effective unit in our country’s desire to preserve the peace.” The same could have been said of her predecessor ship which once included this bell among her equipment, with a ship’s complement almost half the size of the ship that served off Vietnam and in other areas of the globe where the reach of U.S. naval power extended.
We honor those officers and men who made WORDEN (DD-352) the ship she was, and particularly those fourteen men who perished in the ship’s battle with the elements on that sad day 60 years ago. We salute them today, and those who sailed with them.