U.S.S. BEARSS (DD 654 HAS FIRST ANNIVERSARY
12 April 1945
One of the many proud vessels of the United States Fleet is the U. S. S.
BEARSS – (Pronounced B-A-R-C-E). She belongs to that class of
destroyers which has borne the brunt of the fighting in the Pacific and for
which the Japanese have a very healthy respect. The BEARSS was
authorized by an Act of Congress dated December 23, 1941 – shortly after
the infamous Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor. She bears a plaque upon
which is inscribed “This fighting ship sponsored and made possible by War
Bond purchases of the people of Rapides Parrish, Louisiana.”
The BEARSS was launched on July 25, 1943, a year after the keel was laid.
Sponsor for the vessel was Mrs. Louise Bearss of Orlando, Florida, widow of
the late Brigadier General Hiram I. Bearss, U.S. Marine Corps, for whom the
vessel was named. Brigadier General Bearss, a native of Indiana, served in
Samar, the Philippine Islands, Panama, and Cuba and participated in the
occupation of Vera Cruz during the Mexican War of 1914.
About the time of the launching of the BEARSS, the long arm of the Bureau
of Personnel was reaching out in all theaters of war and the home front for
men to man this vessel. In some cases enemy action was the deciding factor.
Survivors of the BUCK, PERKINS, LEARY, and BEATTY, both officers
and men, helped to form the personnel of our crew. However, eighty percent
of the crew had never been to sea before.
In the early part of 1944 the crew began to assemble in Norfolk, Va., for
preliminary training. Here most of the work of placing men in their proper
billets was done, while at the ship itself a nucleus crew was preparing
the ship for its new crew. Finally the big day arrived and the crew departed
from the “fair” city of Norfolk, and after a two day trip via “special train”
we arrived in Chickasaw, Alabama, birthplace of the Mighty “B.”
April 12, 1944, was commissioning day. At 2:43 P.M., Captain L. S. Border,
USN, after a short but fitting ceremony, announced that the BEARSS was in
commission. Commander J. A. Webster, USN then assumed command, and
our journey as part of the greatest naval fleet in the history of the world had
A few weeks after commissioning the BEARSS started her trip to Bermuda,
B.W.I., for a shakedown period of training. The trip through the Gulf of
Mexico was uneventful, but the water was very “choppy,” as many will
remember. The rail proved the common meeting place for many of us, and
among things lost at this time was a set of false teeth – much to the
merriment of everyone but the owner.
The sight of land, Bermuda, was the most welcome sight in days. The cobalt
blue and emerald green of the water surrounding this island has not been
surpassed for its beauty. Although the prime purpose of this cruise
was for training, the crew had some opportunities to visit and partake of the
beauty and splendor of the “Gem of the Atlantic.” The shopping tours made
available many articles that were scarce in the States such as film, perfume,
shoes – and bananas. The extensive use of bicycles and carriages were a
treat after the bustle and noise of our cities. (But, wouldn't we like to hear a
little of that noise right now!)
The training was rigorous at times and upon completion and inspection we
began our journey back to the States for a final check over, a short leave for
all hands, and recreation, even before reporting for duty with the fleet.
June 20th marked our last view of our homeland when we set our course for
the Panama Canal. In company with the U.S.S. SHELTON we conveyed the
U.S.S. BAXTER, a troopship in route to the Pacific area. The SHELTON
has recently become a casualty of war, having been sunk by enemy action
off Halamehera during the Philippine campaign. Other ships we have
become acquainted with have also been deleted from the Navy Register,
such as the U.S.S. COOPER, who was torpedoed during the Philippine
The trip through the Panama Canal was a treat enjoyed by all hands. One of
the interesting things we noted were the marks left on the sides of the locks
where some of our big sisters had just managed to “squeeze through.” Our
last sight of the mainland was on June 27th, when in company with the
BAXTER we headed for Pearl Harbor.
Steaming into Pearl Harbor brought back memories of pictures of December
7th we had seen in our theaters and papers. Here it was a reality to us.
Slowly steaming to our berth we could see some of the nonsalvageable
wreckage rusting away. We passed the U.S.S. ARIZONA, now a framework
lying where she was sunk that fateful day, yet above the water her flag was
still proudly waving --- symbolic of the time we were down, but not out. To
many of us, Hawaii did not have the charm and beauty of Bermuda due to
its “growing up” as a large and vital war center. However, many of us were
able to enjoy the hospitality and restfulness of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and
swimming at the famed Waikiki Beach.
A few more weeks of training with the U.S.S. CPLUMBIA, BUCHANAN,
and INTREPID, proved that we were ready for battle with the enemy –
whenever and wherever they were to be found. One of the highlights
to be remembered at Pearly Harbor was a new heavy cruiser flying the flag
of the President of the United States.
Some of us had the privilege of seeing our Commander-in-Chief.
August 1944 brought forth our order to complete of squadron on its first
mission. After many exercises we were ready to do our part, and on
November 21st, in company with other ships, we bombarded Matsuwa To,
in the Kurle Islands.
For this raid we cruised off the shore for some time waiting for lowering
skies. Several hours after dark the fleet began its bombardment run,
paralleling the shore at a distance of about seven miles. The crew was
tense until the word was passed, “Commence Firing.” All hell seemed to
break loose as the guns barked and salvo after salvo of shells arched their
way and burst on the Island. Many fires were started and rose hundreds of
feet in the air. As we swung away from our target we could see Matsuwa's
mile high Mont Fujo silhouetted by flames that were being fanned by a fifty
knot gale. Our job well done, the next was to battle the elements in
wending our way back to our base. Mountainous waves impeded our
progress and tossed us about like a leaf in a breeze. None of us will forget
that trip back.
Matsuma lies about 450 miles north of the Japanese homeland and is 950
miles from Tokyo. At that time, (Nov. 1944) this raid was the closes any
U. S. surface vessel had come to the Japanese homeland.
This raid has been followed by other successful raid on the Kurile chain of
islands, among them was the bombardment of Suribachi on the island of
Paramushiru in January 1945. In February 1945, we made an antisocial
call on Kurabi Zabi on Paramushiru, and in March 1945, we returned to our
old “friends” on Matsuwa To to show them we still had some shells and still
knew what to do with them.
The most pleasing and satisfying factor of our raids was the fact that there
have been no casualties to our ship or men from enemy action. We recall a
portion of a letter that Mrs. Bearss sent to our Captian upon commissioning
of our ship, “I have no qualms concerning the USS BEARSS. I should like
you and your crew to know that a great majority has blessed that ship and
shall continue to pray for her every day – so long as prayers are said.”
Life aboard a destroyer (affectionately known as a “Tin Can”) is considered
rugged duty. Aboard the BEARSS, life has been good so far as war-time
conditions have permitted. We have our daily paper, “The BEARSS Facts,”
which has kept us abreast of the news both at home and abroad. We have
been fortunate in being able to have Divine Services which is unusual for
vessels of this type inasmuch as the complement does not allow for a
chaplain. Turkey with all the “fixins” were enjoyed on Thanksgiving,
Christmas, and New Years.
Many men from the original crew have returned to the States to form new
crews for new vessels being put into commission. All of us have learned
many things in the past year – experience and knowledge that will
help us defeat the enemy in the year to come. We all trust that when our
second Anniversary is here, victory will be ours and a lasting peace will
have taken the place of a troubled and war-weary world.
* * * * * * * * * *
/S/ Martin J. Hornek S 1/C