USS SOMERS HISTORY
USS SOMERS DD-947 was built by the Bath Iron Works Corporation, Bath, Maine. The Forrest Sherman class destroyer was originally launched on Memorial Day, 30 May 1958, and was commissioned on 3 April 1959 at Boston Naval Shipyard.
Click here to read the press release announcing the commissioning.
Click here to view the original crew that commissioned the USS Somers 1959.
On 1 June 1959, the destroyer sailed from Boston, Mass., to Newport, R.I., before departing the United States five days later for her maiden voyage which took her via Argentina, Newfoundland to the ports of northern Europe. On her itinerary were Copenhagen Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Portsmouth, England, and Kiel, Germany, where she represented the Navy during the "Kiel Week" festivities. Somers took leave of Europe at Portsmouth, England, and after stopping briefly at Bermuda and training for five days out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba transited the Panama Canal on 19 July. She arrived at her home port, San Diego, Calif., on 27 July and conducted shakedown training along the California coast for the next six weeks. She underwent final acceptance trials on 17 September; then, completed just over a month of overhaul from 1 October until 8 November.
SOMERS operated with the U.S. First and Seventh Fleets in the Pacific, including four deployments to the Western Pacific. On her first WESTPAC in 1960, Somers arrived in Bangkok Thailand to take part with a multinational force from SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organization) in Exercise SEA LION. The two week exercise involved some 30,000 personnel, ships ranging from aircraft carriers to minesweepers, and several hundred land and carrier based aircraft.
While in Thailand, sailors from Somers "captured" a brass kangaroo named "Harvey" from the Australian frigate Queensborough. Harvey was returned to the Aussies as soon as the deed was recorded for posterity. As a symbol of friendship betwen the two ships, the crew of the Somers was presented with an exact duplicate ofHarvey, dubbed "Harvey Mark II." For many years, Harvey Mark II graced the Somers ' bridge. (If anyone knows whatever happened to Harvey Mark II, I'd love to add the story to this page.)
Click here to see a picture of Harvey Mark II being presented to the Somers
Click here to see a poem the Queensborough presented along with Harvey
After the exercise ended in Singapore, the Somers steamed up the Saigon River to make a port Call at Saigon. While in Saigon, some crew members took a 125 mile trip to the very primitive village of Blao to distribute Care packages to a tribe of natives. Old clothes obtained from a clothing drive held on board the ship were given to the Ban San Laprosarium which had recently been raided by communist guerrillas, who had taken most of the patients' possessions. No other visits to the South East Asian region would be quite the same.
During this time, the crew also sadly lost a crewmember. Alvin Guss, on 14 May 1961, near Sydney Australia, while transiting between Adelaide to Brisbane Australia. He did not show up for his watch, there was a thorough search of the ship, the ship backtracked to where it had been at the last time he had been seen, but he was never found. Sadly, he was reported as being "lost at sea."
On Friday, 18 August 1961 the USS Somers arrived on the scene of a ship that had run aground and was in danger of breaking up. The MV Basco, a Philippine passenger-cargo ship, had run aground about 100 yards off of one of the Philippine Islands. (Occidental, Mindoro)
The Somers dispatched a motor whaleboat with a rescue crew that was capsized by a huge swell. After getting the rescue crew back to the Somers, a second and successful rescue was accomplished. With the Basco passengers now safely ashore, the Somers returned to Subic Bay.
The Somers was awarded the 1960 AND 1961 Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Award, as the outstanding destroyer in the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Somers was also selected by "Our Navy" magazine as "Our Navy's Ship of the Year" for 1961. This selection represented very significant recognition, since the final selection was made only after an elimination process from among all the ships in commission in the U.S. Navy during 1961.
In March of 1965, SOMERS participated in the landings at Chu Lai. On 21 May 1965 SOMERS fired her first shots in anger in support of the South Vietnamese Army units at Pham Thiet and was credited with stopping a Vet Cong attack on a government district headquarters. For this action, SOMERS earned Des Ron 7's battle efficiency "E" and a Vietnamese Unit Commendation. She also received a writeup in Time Magazine. The "South Vietnam" section of the Asia Edition of TIME magazine for June 4, 1965 opens with this paragraph:
"A new element of firepower joined the growing weight of U. S. arms in Viet Nam. Into the shoaling waters of South Viet Nam's east coast swept the slim destroyers of the U. S. Seventh Fleet, searching out Viet Cong concentrations with their hard-hitting 5-in. guns. In half a dozen operations, naval artillery socked more than 370 rounds onto targets as deep as four miles inland. The big rifles proved effective: sharpshooting by the U.S.S. SOMERS broke the back of a Communist assault on a district headquarters in Binh Thuan province, killing twelve and wounding 20..."
This was the second gunfire support mission by a U.S. Navy ship in the Vietnam conflict. Unfortunately, this shelling led to the death of a crew member. Seaman Jimmy Stinnett of Charlottesville VA was killed when a 5 inch shell prematurely exploded inside the gun, blowing apart the muzzle.
Very shortly afterward, the Somers also unfortunately lost her C.O. In the words of Lt. Richard Lindenauer, who was aboard the Somers at the time,
"The CO of the SOMERS, CDR Jackson E. Vereen, was incapacitated by a serious brain tumor during operations at sea in June 1965. (This only about a month after the gun barrel explosion on Mount 51 which killed Seaman Jimmy Stinnett, who I believe was the sound-powered phone talker for the Gun Boss on the AA Station just above the bridge.)
The Captain turned over command to the Executive Officer, LCDR Tyrone G. Martin, and the ship put in to Yokosuka, Japan. The skipper was transferred to the Naval Hospital there, his wife was flown out from San Diego, and he died in the hospital shortly thereafter. A successor, CDR Herbert Reichert, was flown out and assumed command.
In early July, the ship returned to the Vietnam area of operations, her scheduled return to San Diego having been delayed for a month or two."
On 30 July 1965, Somers got underway from Yokosuka, Japan, to return to the United States. She arrived in San Diego on 12 August and, after a month of leave and upkeep, she resumed normal operations along the west coast. She continued to be so engaged until 11 April 1966 when she entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard to begin conversion to a Decatur-class guided missile destroyer. She was recommissioned as DDG-34 on 10 February 1968, as the fourth Forrest Sherman class destroyer to be converted to a DDG-31 class destroyer. The conversion involved removing approximately ninety percent of the ship's superstructure to accommodate the new weapons systems, the Tartar missile aft and the Anti Submarine Rocket (ASROC) amidships. In order to obtain the maximum effectiveness from the new weapons systems, the most modern electronic equipment was added to the ship. In addition, her engineering equipment was completely overhauled. SOMERS was also equipped with a dual purpose rapid fire 5 /54 caliber gun mount that may be used against both air and surface targets.
Her conversion was completed on 16 May 1968, and she departed Hunters Point the next day for her new home port, Long Beach, Calif. For the rest of 1968 and most of 1969, the guided-missile destroyer ranged the west coast from Mexico to the state of Washington, conducting trials and exercises.
The newly commissioned DDG-34 made her first WESTPAC from 18 November 1969, to 8 May, 1970. This cruise saw port visits to Pearl Harbor, Midway Island, Guam, Subic, Okinawa, Sasebo Japan, (Where the crew spent Christmas,) Hong Kong, Manila, and Bangkok. The crew also carried out lifeguard duties for Naval Aviators returning from missions over Vietnam, and also carried out Naval Gunfire Support off the coast of Vietnam. SOMERS also participated in Exercise Sea Rover, which was a multinational training exercise. SOMERS and other US ships joined ships from New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, and Great Britain.
In April 1969, the ship got a new nickname, as new captain Hugo Webster coined the name... "Super Somers." In the words of crewmember Dwayne Kleck,
"I remember the old timers kind of gasp when he said it during the change of command. Then later there was some snickers and laughing about it but it stuck. Remember someone did the Superman logo, who knows who gets credit for that, and it sort of snowballed."
In 1972, the Somers was again off the coast of Vietnam for more gun support. In the words of Patrick Bartkus,
" The first time, we just hauled-a** off the gun line. They discovered that since we didn't fire back, we didn't qualify for the Combat Action Medal. So the second time we had incoming, the gun division officer happened to have the watch in the gun director. He said he saw some "puffs of smoke" on the shore, took manual control of the 5" 54 mount and fired back. We got the Combat Action Medal."
Some of the shore gunfire was so close, shrapnel actually hit the ship. However, due to an oversight by the Navy, the Somers was never recorded as being awarded the Combat Action Medal. In February 1999, thanks to a decklog provided by crewmember Mike Tull, and follow up with the Navy by crewmember Vince Salamoni, the USS Somers was (Posthumously, so to speak, ) awarded the Combat Action Medal.
On 15 October 1973, SOMERS arrived at her new homeport, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, enroute to her eighth Western Pacific deployment. In 1975, Somers was off the coast of South East Asia in support of Operation Eagle Pull where Americans were evacuated from Cambodia.
SOMERS deployed in November 1978 for her tenth Western Pacific deployment. Upon her return from deployment, she entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard to undergo a scheduled overhaul (ROH). SOMERS remained in the shipyard for fifty-one weeks and returned to sea on 4 August 1980.
The months following her return to sea were devoted to Engineering, Operations and Weapons System shakedown, tests and ultimate certifications which demonstrated her worthiness to return to Fleet Service. This time was marred by the death of two crewmembers while on liberty. While on a swimming outing, OSSN Eugene Fanich and OSSN David Mick were lost at sea and presumed drowned.
In early 1981, , SOMERS joined Battle Group Charlie and participated in READIEX 5-81 in preparation for the Battle Group s deployment. SOMERS was also a participant in the July 1981 FLEETEX 1-81, the largest U.S. Navy exercise in history.
On 3 November 1981, she deployed with Battle Group Delta headed by USS CONSTELLATION (CV-64). During her eleventh and final deployment, SOMERS operated primarily in the Indian Ocean and made port calls in Guam, the Philippines, Diego Garcia, Australia, Maldive Islands and Singapore. After successfully participating in READIEX 2-82 in May 1982, she returned home arriving in Pearl Harbor on 16 May 1982.
During her service, USS SOMERS earned two Marjorie Sterrett Battleship awards, a meritorious Unit Commendation, three Battle Efficiency E awards and presently wears departmental excellence awards.for Supply, Gunnery, Missiles, ASW, CIC, Communications, Electronic Warfare and Damage Control.
SPECIAL NOTE: Although the Somers was decommissioned on November 19, 1982, her service to the Navy did not end there. While most ships are eventually sold and broken up for scrap, SOMERS served the Navy until the very end.
SOMERS was relocated to the Inactive Ship Facility at Pearl Harbor until approximately 1988. "Click here to see the Somers "Mothballed" at Pearl Harbor." From there, she was sold to the U.S. Maritime Administration.
She was in use at Port Hueneme California for many years as an experimental ship. I was able to go aboard the Somers when she was at Port Hueneme. You can read about that here. You can find pictures of the Somers at Port Hueneme here.
On May 20, 1998, The Somers was towed from Port Hueneme for the last time. She was sunk on July 21st, 1998 as part of the RIMPAC multinational naval exercise. Her final resting place is off the coast of Kauai, at 022*21'North,160*58'West. She rests at a depth of 2800 fathoms. (Approximately 16,800 feet.)
In the words of RIMPAC spokesman LCDR Christopher Henderson, "The Somers went down honourably, training a new generation of sailors and confirming the technical proficiency of the Navy's weapons, which is always better than being turned into razor blades and Toyotas."
DDG-34 was the sixth ship to bear the name SOMERS. The first ship of the fleet to bear the name was the U.S. Schooner SOMERS, which fought under Commodore Ferry on Lake Erie and Lake Huron, and took part in the capture of the British Squadron on 10 September 1813.
In November 1&12, while enroute from Africa to the Caribbean, the officers noticed a steady worsening of morale. Midshipman Philip Spenser, the son of the Secretary of War, and two enlisted men were arrested for inciting mutiny. Following an investigation, the three men were found guilty and hanged at sea on 1 December. SOMERS served primarily in the West Indies and was off the coast of Vera Cruz in the spring of 1846 at the opening of the Mexican War.
The second SOMERS was a brig of 259 tons, had ten guns, a length of 100 feet and a beam of 25 feet. Alongside DDG-34, she would easily fit between the bridge and the bow.
U.S. Torpedo Boat 22, built in Germany in 1895, was the third ship of the SOMERS name, after her purchase during the War of 1898. Her service until 1919 was principally with the Maryland and Illinois Naval Militias and on coastal patrol during World War I.
The fourth ship was the 1200 ton destroyer SOMERS (DD-301). She engaged in peace time operations with the Pacific Fleet from 1920 until she was scrapped under the London Disarmament Treaty in 1930. In 1923, while enroute with her squadron from Puget Sound to San Diego, the ships encountered heavy fog off the coast of California, and seven ships ran aground. SOMERS averted disaster by executing an emergency turn and rescued survivors the following day when the fog lifted.
The fifth SOMERS was the 1850 ton (DD-381), commissioned 1 December 1937. Though active for only 8 years she acquired an enviable record. In 1938 she transported a consignment of gold from the Bank of England to New York. On 6 November 1941, she and the cruiser OMAHA captured the German Freighter ODENWALD which was carrying 3800 tons of scarce rubber. SOMERS also accounted for two more Nazi blockade runners. The ANNELIESE ESSBERGER and the WESTERLAND. SOMERS next participated in the Normandy and Southern France invasions providing Naval Gunfire Support as well as performing duties in the anti-submarine screen.
At 0430, 15 August 1944, only four hours before D-Day along the French Riviera, SOMERS encountered and sank the German Corvettes COMASCIO and ESCABORT. Following this action, she moved inshore to give gunfire support to the invasion. For two days she showered enemy strong points off the coast near Toulon with 5 inch shells and then out-dueled enemy shore batteries east of Marsailles. Although SOMERS sustained many shrapnel hits during this action, she emerged the victor. The dashing operation was worthy of the tradition established by LT Somers in the Mediterranean 140 years before.
Return to the quarterdeck