STRONG the 2nd, or the DD 758 came about because the surviving men of the 467 couldn't stand the thought of losing their ship forever. Within a few days of the sinking of the 467 they had drawn up a petition requesting a second STRONG be commissioned, in the hopes of being able to serve under Gus Wellings again and with their remaining crew. Their efforts paid off, and the keel was laid down at Bethlehem Steel in San Francisco (not the original Bath Iron Works in Maine) on July 25th of 1943. A reunion of the original crew was not to be however, as the DD 758 sailed out of dry-dock as an Allen M. Sumner class-destroyer instead of a Fletcher-class on March 8, 1945. The war effort was winding down as Commander C.M. Howe took charge with none of the original crew aboard, they having been scattered among other ships such as the ST. LOUIS CL-49 and USS STEPHEN POTTER DD-538 over the nearly two year period since the sinking.
After her shakedown cruise near San Diego she ended up at Pearl Harbor, then serving in the Pacific in late May and early June of 1945. Once Japan surrendered, STRONG served until being mothballed in May of 1947. Two years later in May 1949 she came back into service, which continued through the Korean War and Viet Nam era. She was finally decommissioned and struck from the US Navy list on October 31st, 1973. The government of Brazil purchased the ship and renamed her the RIO GRANDE DE NORTE (D-37). Brazil decommissioned the ship in December 1995 and sold the ship for scrap. The men who served on her endeavored to get her back home to the US, but failed. En route to the European country that intended to break her down for scrap in 1997, she foundered and sank off the coast of South Africa near Durbin – a more fitting end for an iron lady who had served two countries in war and at peace.
For more on the history of the DD 758, check out the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval History and Heritage Command: http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/s19/STRONG-ii.htm The Destroyer History web site has a photo and more information as well: http://destroyerhistory.org/sumner-gearingclass/0_allnum/
Since the history has been covered completely by others, as usual I am more interested in the human perspective. To this end, I talked recently with a couple of men who served on the 758 during her early years. When you come onto a ship like this, a ship built to honor one lost, do the new men realize the importance of the history? Is there any awareness of the tragedy that occurred previously or was this just some ship you got assigned to? Those were the types of questions I had, and this is what these men had to say.
Ron Cohen served in relative peace time for the US just prior to the being drawn into the Viet Nam War. On the ship from 1955-1958, he served as a radioman during his tenure on board. “I was a radioman striker”, and I asked what a striker was. “It means you get to try out for it, but when you get aboard the ship you become a radioman.” As for seeing action while on the 758, he told me, “We were aboard when Israel and Egypt were fighting, the Sinai War. I wasn’t picked to go onto the landing parties, we had it set up for certain people from different departments to go. I got lucky and didn’t have to go ashore.” When I asked him if he had been aware of the history of the 758 and the ship that came before he said, “We didn’t know anything about it at the time. When I found out there had been a second Strong, I tried to find out as much as I could about the first one, of course it was very difficult. We didn’t have the internet like we do now. I didn’t really get into checking on the 467 until my first reunion which was down in Virginia Beach.” After this reunion, he became more active. “I got to be real good friends with Jim Merriman”, he tells me and about the STRONG Association, “It’s a close organization.” Of those I know, I couldn’t agree more.
“I knew nothing (about the 467) fresh out of boot camp,” says Bruce “Scotty” Morrison. Scotty was on the 758 from 1967-1969. “I took her to Viet Nam. My rank was sonar technician.” He manned a 5 inch mount as a fuse setter/sight setter. In the heat of battle it was possible for the guns to get a round off every 4 seconds. “When it got hot and heavy in North Viet Nam, we really had to shoot!” Scotty finally learned about the association in 1995, and very soon joined up. It was then that he learned of the 467, met some of her men and became involved in helping to preserve the history along with the brotherhood of men from all the years of the 758 that he met.
Whether they learned of the history of the first STRONG right away or decades later, these men of the 758 and their dedication are the reason I’m able to make this project work. I want to make sure they know that I know, and that I thank them from the bottom of my heart.