Over the next six weeks, Benjamin Stoddert fitted out at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, preparing for a series of weapon, sensor, and communication system tests. The guided-missile destroyer departed Bremerton for the first time on 7 November and, after brief stops at San Francisco and San Diego, arrived at Pearl Harbor to commence acceptance trials.
Since she was primarily designed to provide long-range antiaircraft cover for task forces at sea, Benjamin Stoddert conducted a two-month evaluation of her TARTAR antiaircraft missile system, concluding with a test firing off Kauai, Hawaii, in early February 1965. Other tests — including gunnery, torpedo, and engineering exercises — helped the crew tie her antisubmarine, antiair, and communications gear into a single integrated system. In May, the warship entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for a two-month maintenance period. In July, Benjamin Stoddert’s crew took her through shakedown training, carrying out a variety of operational evolutions — from the complex tracking of aircraft and submarines, to underway refueling, down through the simple but important tasks of anchoring ship — under the watchful eyes of the Fleet Training Group, Pearl Harbor. Upon completing these exams, the warship officially joined the Pacific Fleet in August 1965.
Assigned to Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 112, Benjamin Stoddert conducted local operations in Hawaiian waters through October, when she began preparations for her first tour of duty with 7th Fleet in the western Pacific. Underway with Hancock (CV-19) in late November, she made a brief stop at Subic Bay in the Philippines before proceeding to the South China Sea for combat operations off Vietnam.
Upon arrival at "Yankee Station" on 16 December, Benjamin Stoddert joined Task Force (TF) 77 in support of Operation Rolling Thunder. This naval air campaign, begun the previous March, was intended to interdict North Vietnam's logistical pipeline through Laos and across the demilitarized zone (DMZ), cutting the flow of munitions and supplies to the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. The surface Navy's companion campaign — Operation Sea Dragon — supported this effort by targeting communist supply craft, shelling coastal batteries and radar sites, and bombarding coastal infiltration routes. Over the next six weeks, the guided-missile destroyer screened Hancock — providing antisubmarine and antiair protection for the carrier and carrying out planeguard services during flight operations. She also performed radar control duties to assist strike and combat air patrol (CAP) aircraft returning to the carrier. On 4 and 5 January 1966, in a change of pace from earlier tasks, the guided-missile destroyer also fired her 5-inch guns against Viet Cong targets ashore.
Released from TF 77 on 22 January 1966, Benjamin Stoddert proceeded north, arriving at Yokosuka, Japan, on the 28th. The warship spent a week of alongside Isle Royale (AD-29) to repair a broken steam blower before departing Japan on 6 February to return to the South China Sea. Six days later, the guided-missile destroyer resumed duty in TF 77 screening Hancock and remained so employed until setting out for the Philippines on 5 March. Benjamin Stoddert arrived at Subic Bay on the 7th for a five-day upkeep period alongside Ajax (AR-6). She then sailed to Hong Kong on 12 March for six days of rest and recreation. The warship returned to the South China Sea and rejoined TF 77 late that month. During the next two weeks, the guided-missile destroyer conducted radar picket duty in the Gulf of Tonkin before being relieved by Topeka (CLG-8). Steaming to Subic Bay on the 12th, she then began preparing for a visit to Australia and New Zealand.
Departing Subic Bay on 17 April, Benjamin Stoddert crossed the equator north of the Admiralty Islands and moored at Sydney, Australia, on 29 April. During the next three weeks her crew took part in the annual "Coral Sea Celebration" — in honor of the May 1942 Allied naval victory — and visited Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne in Australia as well as Wellington, New Zealand. Underway for Hawaii on 22 May, the guided-missile destroyer arrived at Pearl Harbor, via Suva in the Fiji Islands, on 30 May.
Except for a brief trip to Honolulu, Benjamin Stoddert remained in port until 16 July when she put to sea to participate in the Gemini 10 capsule recovery operation. Then, from 25 July to 5 August, the warship conducted several antisubmarine exercises in Hawaiian waters. She returned to mid-ocean operations on 16 August to participate in the recovery of an unmanned Apollo capsule. After a fuel stop at Kwajalein in the Marshalls on the 27th, the guided-missile destroyer returned to Pearl Harbor on 2 September. In addition to a limited availability alongside Prairie (AD-15), the warship divided the remainder of the year between various service inspections and local operations out of Pearl Harbor.
These local operations — which included shore bombardment, carrier screening, and ASW exercises — continued into early 1967 as the crew prepared for another 7th Fleet deployment. During this time, her engineers and technicians busied themselves maintaining and improving the warship's complex electronic and fire-control systems, a task abetted by a two-week availability alongside Frontier (AD-25) in mid-February.
After a final hull cleaning at Pearl Harbor in late March, Benjamin Stoddert got underway for the Far East on 6 April. The guided-missile destroyer crossed the central Pacific; and, after a short liberty at Yokosuka, Japan, the crew took the warship south to Subic Bay, arriving there on 23 April. Underway the following day, Benjamin Stoddert met Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) in the Gulf of Tonkin on the 27th. Later that same day, she joined Saint Paul (CA-73) and Ault (DD-698) for a "Sea Dragon" patrol; and the task unit prowled the North Vietnamese coast at the 19th parallel, searching for enemy waterborne logistics craft. Early on 5 May, the warships found two such craft, sinking one with gunfire and damaging the other. That afternoon, the trio carried out a preplanned bombardment mission off North Vietnam. This pattern — small-craft searches in the morning followed by shore bombardment missions later in the day — became the daily routine of Benjamin Stoddert’s later "Sea Dragon" patrols.
Following a diversion to Subic Bay on 7 May to fix a broken forced-draft blower, the guided-missile destroyer rejoined Bon Homme Richard on 16 May for 10 days of planeguard duty. Steaming on her second "Sea Dragon" patrol on 26 May, Benjamin Stoddert came under enemy fire for the first time later that day. A North Vietnamese coastal battery unexpectedly opened fire, forcing her to shift fire onto the battery, to commence weaving, and to clear the area. During this patrol, Benjamin Stoddert also rescued the pilot who parachuted from a stricken Air Force F4C "Phantom" that crashed at sea on 30 May (the WSO was rescued by another ship) and provided gunfire protection during the helicopter rescue of an Air Force F-105 "Thunderchief" pilot on 4 June. Returning to Bon Homme Richard the next day, the guided-missile destroyer alternated planeguard duties with "Sea Dragon" patrols through 12 July. At one point on 26 June, enemy counterbattery fire fell close enough to spray the ship with shell fragments, but the resulting damage was light and was quickly repaired. Next came a week of PIRAZ duty followed by four days of gunline operations, after which Benjamin Stoddert headed to Hong Kong for a week of rest and recreation. After an upkeep period at Subic Bay, the guided-missile destroyer returned to "Yankee Station" on 9 August. Once again, she alternated between carrier planeguard services and gunline duties through the end of the month. A boiler tube failure on 4 September, however, forced the warship to proceed to Yokosuka for temporary repairs.
Departing Japan on 21 August, she arrived at Pearl Harbor on 29 August, and spent the remainder of the year undergoing boiler repairs, conducting post-deployment maintenance, and preparing for various service inspections. This routine was broken only by a few days of underway combat training with Jenkins (DD-447) and Pickerel (SS-524) in mid-December. On 20 December, the guided-missile destroyer fired two Tartar missiles at the hulk of the former Fessenden (DE-142) about 50 miles (80 km) south of Oahu. The old escort was damaged by one missile shot and was later sunk by combined gun and torpedo fire. It was during these exercises that the crew learned that Benjamin Stoddert had earned a meritorious unit commendation for the previous summer's combat operations in Southeast Asia.
The guided-missile destroyer continued local operations out of Hawaii until 5 March 1968 when she moved into the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard to begin a maintenance overhaul. Upon completion of these repairs on 29 August, the warship conducted four weeks of weapons system and sensor calibration tests. Departing Pearl Harbor on 1 October, Benjamin Stoddert steamed to San Diego, mooring there on the 7th. The next day, the warship began two weeks of training operations in the waters off southern California. Following a missile-firing exercise on the 24th, she put in to Redwood City, California, for a port visit on 25 October. After departing there on the 29th, the warship returned home to Pearl Harbor on 2 November and spent the remainder of the year in port.
As part of her final post-overhaul refresher training, Benjamin Stoddert stood out of Pearl Harbor on 13 January 1969 for local operations with Enterprise (CVAN-65) and Rogers (DD-876). Early the next day, while she operated about nine miles (14 km) away, Benjamin Stoddert’s crew saw a plume of black smoke rise from the carrier. The guided-missile destroyer closed the smoking carrier — which had suffered a severe flight deck fire — to assist firefighting efforts and search for survivors. By late afternoon, she had recovered one body from the sea and set course for Pearl Harbor.
On 20 January, the guided-missile destroyer began tactical exercises in preparation for "STRIKEX 1-69," a fleet exercise to be held the following month. Underway from Pearl Harbor on 10 February, Benjamin Stoddert conducted two weeks of screening, antiair warfare, gunnery, and antisubmarine exercises off San Diego. After these successful maneuvers, she loaded 10 Standard and 24 Tartar missiles at the ammunition depot at Concord, Calif., and returned to Hawaii. There, she moored alongside Isle Royal (AD-29) in Pearl Harbor for three weeks of boiler tube repairs in preparation for another western Pacific deployment.
On 14 April, Benjamin Stoddert loaded a final pallet of 5-inch ammunition before steaming northwest toward Yokosuka. One day after a brief fuel stop at Midway Island, however, the warship suffered yet another boiler tube failure. This did not prevent regular operations; however, and the guided-missile destroyer arrived in Japan on the 24th. The next day, after North Korean fighters shot down a Navy EC-121 reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan, Benjamin Stoddert put to sea for emergency operations in the Yellow Sea. During the tense days that followed, the warship's duties included antiair early warning, carrier screening, and electronic intelligence gathering to pinpoint radar and other installations in the Shantung province of eastern China.
When the crisis abated in mid-May, Benjamin Stoddert turned south, visiting Singapore and spending a day on "Yankee Station," before mooring at Subic Bay on 1 June. Fitted out with specialized reconnaissance equipment, the warship steamed to the Sea of Japan and relieved Dale (DLG-19) as Pacific Area Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO) picket ship on 4 June. The guided-missile destroyer, aside from a few upkeep periods at Sasebo, collected intelligence off the Korean peninsula for the next eight weeks. She moored at Yokosuka on 8 August, unloaded the PARPRO equipment, and then set off south for combat operations on the 10th. After a week of liberty in Hong Kong, Benjamin Stoddert reported to the gunline off South Vietnam on 22 August. There, she carried out fire missions in the Chu Lai area during the day and provided harassment and interdiction fire from Danang harbor during the night. During four weeks of operations, air and ground spotters directed her guns at enemy supply points, troop concentrations, rocket sites, and infiltration routes; and, by mid-September, she had fired over 5,000 5-inch rounds at these and other targets. To guard against enemy underwater swimmer attacks while at anchor in Danang harbor, Benjamin Stoddert’s crew assisted her marine sentries by frequently dropping concussion grenades in the water.
Departing Danang on the 18th, the warship steamed to Yokosuka for a second PARPRO cruise in the Sea of Japan. These duties included the difficult task of marshaling, routing, and refueling aircraft during large-scale intelligence gathering missions near North Korea. Relieved by Halsey (DLG-23) in mid-October, Benjamin Stoddert unloaded her PARPRO equipment and sailed for Pearl Harbor on 19 October. During the transit, however, a typhoon moved across her track, forcing the warship to reverse course; and she did not arrive in Pearl Harbor until 1 November.
Read more about this topic: USS Benjamin Stoddert (DDG-22)
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