From the National Archives courtesy David McComb
who has set up a web page about the USS Van Valkenburgh HERE as part of the Destroyer History Trust.
DD-656: The Fighting Ship
U.S.S. Van Valkenburgh
(DD-656: dp. 2,060; l. 376'6"; b. 39'8"; dr. 13'0"
(mean); s. 37 k.; cpl. 319; a. 5 5", 6 40mm., 7
20mm., 10 21" tt., 2 dct., 6 dcp.; cl. Fletcher)
Van Valkenburgh (DD-656) was laid down on 15 November
1942 at Chickasaw, Ala., by the Gulf Shipbuilding Corp.; launched
on 19 December 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Marguerite Van
Valkenburgh, widow of Capt. Van Valkenburgh, and commissioned
at the Alabama State Docks, Mobile, on 2 August 1944, Comdr.
Alexander B. Coxe, Jr., in command. The ensign hoisted upon
commissioning that afternoon was the same that had flown above
Arizona's fantail at Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December
Van Valkenburgh conducted trials and structural firing tests
after her initial fitting-out period and, while returning from her
gunnery tests on 7 August, received a request for help from the
Army tug LT-18. The destroyer altered course and soon came across the
disabled tug, with three barges laden with explosives in tow. Van
Valkenburgh patrolled on various courses around LT-18, standing
by to render assistance if necessary, until help arrived early on the
8th. Returning to Mobile, the destroyer continued the fitting-out
process before getting underway for Bermuda on 20 August.
Van Valkenburgh conducted her shakedown training out of
Great Sound, Bermuda, into late September and, on the 26th,
headed for Charleston, S.C., and post shakedown availability.
Shifting to Hampton Roads soon thereafter, the destroyer
conducted training evolutions before rendezvousing with
Wilkes Barre (CL-103) on 22 October.
Van Valkenburgh escorted that new light cruiser to the Canal
Zone and transited the Panama Canal on 27 October. At Balboa,
Mannert L. Abele (DD-733) joined the two warships, and the
three continued on together, bound for San Diego, Calif. Between
10 and 16 November, they escorted a convoy of troop transports
to the Hawaiian Islands, conducting training operations off Lanai,
Maui, before arriving at Pearl Harbor on the 17th.
Van Valkenburgh subsequently operated out of Pearl Harbor,
engaging in an intensive slate of training activities. She made
practice torpedo runs, antiaircraft firings, and shore
bombardments - exercises occurring in such an endless parade
that it moved a Van Valkenburgh sailor to write that "the real
thing could be no more of a strain."
Van Valkenburgh trained in Hawaiian waters through the
end of December 1944 and, after a tender availability alongside
Yosemite (AD-19), headed for the western Pacific and her first
combat operation, departing Pearl Harbor on 27 January 1945.
After touching at Eniwetok en route, the destroyer reached
Saipan in the Marianas, where dress rehearsals were held for the
landings slated to take place on Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands.
After two days of exercises at Saipan, the fleet sortied for Iwo
The morning of 19 February dawned gray and wet as the
force reached their objective. Van Valkenburgh soon
commenced her patrols as part of the three-deep screen around
the unloading transports and took her turn at firing gunfire
support for the marines ashore. For a week off Iwo, the
destroyer alternately screened, escorted, and bombarded.
As transports and freighters unloaded their holds and
disembarked their mottle-garbed marines, Van Valkenburgh
received orders to escort a group of empty ships back to the
Marianas. After shepherding a group to Saipan, Van
Valkenburgh returned to Iwo Jima at noon on 3 March. Five
days later, she made another trip to Saipan, returning on 18
March to resume screening duties as escort for an amphibious
After joining that unit, Van Valkenburgh participated in
landing rehearsals and exercises on neighboring Tinian and
learned that the destination for that group was Okinawa, in the
Ryukyu chain, only 350 miles from the enemy's homeland. On 27
March, as part of TG 51.2, Van Valkenburgh sailed for her
second combat operation.
Van Valkenburgh's group was ordered to feint a landing on
the southwest coast of the island to draw off the Japanese
defenders, while the main force approached from the westward.
On the morning of 1 April, while the "Demonstration Group"
gathered off the southern beaches, the 6th Army and several
marine units splashed ashore on the western side of the island.
"While opposition on land was slow in gathering," wrote Van
Valkenburgh's ship's historian, "air opposition was immediate."
As the destroyer made her sweep close inshore, a suicider
crashed LST-884, a ship loaded with ammunition and an
embarked detachment of marines. Fortunately, the plane carried
no bomb but holed the ship near the waterline forward, starting
fires in the double bottom.
Van Valkenburgh stood by LST-884 for eight hours, sending
the stricken ship a fire and rescue party and fire-fighting
equipment under the command of Lt. Comdr. W. Brown
(attached to the staff of Capt. W. D. Chandler, screen
commander embarked in Van Valkenburgh) to aid in fighting
the blazes. Due in large part to the work of Brown's party, the
were extinguished; and, in spite of an initially dangerous
starboard list, LST-884 reached Kerama Retto under tow.
Three officers and 15 enlisted men from the
destroyer received decorations, the highest being Silver
Stars to Lt. Comdr. Brown and Lt. J. D. McCormich USNR.
On 4 April, Van Valkenburgh retired almost 100 miles to the
east of Okinawa with the feint group whose maneuvers had
accomplished their purpose. That group remained as a floating
reserve, occasionally detaching transports to disembark their
needed troops and marines on Okinawa, until they sailed back to
the Marianas, reaching Saipan on 15 April.
Four days later, Van Valkenburgh returned to Okinawa, and
spent the initial part of that tour in the inner screen, patrolling the
transport area just off the beach. "The first night . . .," the
destroyer's commanding officer recounted, ". . . we had eighteen
raids and not one of them turned out to be friendly."
As Van Valkenburgh subsequently entered the anchorage at
Kerama Retto, a group of small, rocky islands 15 miles off the
southwestern coast of Okinawa, her men saw the after-effects
of other ships' encounters with the "Special Attack Corps," or,
the kamikaze. After seeing the devastation wrought by the
suicide planes, Van Valkenburgh headed out to report and
relieve J. William Ditter (DM-31) on radar picket station (RP)
14, as support ship to Wickes (DD-578).
Seventy-two miles to the northwest of Okinawa, RP-14, was,
in the words of Van Valkenburgh's commanding officer, "more
nearly in the direction of Japan than anywhere else." The
proximity to Japanese air bases soon became evident. Within six
hours of her assuming station, the local combat air patrol (CAP),
controlled by Wickes, had shot down 21 planes. Van
Valkenburgh herself accounted for another and assisted in
destroying a second.
Van Valkenburgh also went to the aid of a second kamikaze
victim, LCS-15, which was hit by a flaming suicides and sank
immediately. The destroyer picked up the ship's survivors; and
her doctor, assisted by his pharmacist's mates, worked into the
wee hours of the morning on the wounded, some of them badly
Over half of the following 63 days which the destroyer spent
in Okinawan waters were spent on one of the 15 stations
surrounding the island itself. The radar picket ships not only
provided an early warning of the approach of enemy aircraft or
surface units but also drew fire. The Japanese concentrated their
kamikazes on the picket line of destroyers and smaller units like
LCI's and LCS's.
During those weeks, no one rested. Few, if any, of the crew
even bothered to undress when attempting sleep. Most slept fully-
clothed, awaiting the general quarters alarm. Van Valkenburgh
experienced at least two general quarters alarms per night; often
four or five times between 2100 and dawn. As soon as it was
light, Corsairs of the Marine air wing based ashore reported for
duty on each station, joining with carrier based aircraft to form the
On 28 April, within a week of her rescue of the survivors of
LCS-15, Van Valkenburgh made her third "Good Samaritan"
trip. Twiggs (DD-591) and Daly (DD-519), on RP-1, drew the
ire of a determined group of suiciders. Daly suffered heavy
casualties when a kamikaze, plummeting downward, exploded
just before it was about to crash the bridge on the port side.
Among those killed by the shrapnel and flying debris was the
Van Valkenburgh went alongside Daly and transferred her
doctor, Lt. M. E. Smale, to her stricken sistership, along with
Pharmacist's Mate 3d Class Charles B. Reed, to attend the
wounded. Since neither Daly nor the other kamikazied ship
required any further assistance, Van Valkenburgh returned to
her station and later embarked Doctor Smale and Pharmacist's
Mate Reed at Kerama Retto.
Between her tours on the radar picket stations, Van
Valkenburgh received upkeep back at Kerama Retto and
conducted one shore bombardment mission. It was a one-night
assignment at Buckner Bay, where she
blasted pockets of Japanese resistance on the southern tip of
Okinawa. The next day, however, she steamed back to the
The busiest time for Van Valkenburgh came on the evening
of 17 May, when, in company with Douglas H. Fox (DD-779)
and a group of four LCI's, she was on patrol on RP-9. The CAP
had just returned to base, and the group wondered when they
could secure from the evening alert when suddenly the word
came: "Several planes approaching from the west - very low
on the deck."
Over the next 30 minutes, a "melee" took place. "Apparently,"
Van Valkenburgh's commanding officer recalled, "we were
marked for 'liquidation' that night as RP-10 had been on the night
of the sinking of the Little." With "everybody for himself," Van
Valkenburgh twisted and turned, maneuvering while firing with
every gun that could be brought to bear. At one point, five blips
appeared on the radar screen within a four-mile radius.
Two Japanese planes splashed - victims of Van
Valkenburgh's direct fire - one only 50 yards off the fantail.
Douglas H. Fox splashed two more, and the pair of destroyers
teamed up for a fifth kill. Unfortunately for Douglas H. Fox,
one kamikaze found its mark, crashing that destroyer's forward
Van Valkenburgh closed her stricken sister and rendered
what aid she could. While thus engaged, she diverted her
attention long enough to lay down a barrage to discourage a
seventh Japanese plane "who appeared to be calculating his
chances in on the attractive target of the two slow-moving
destroyers." At a range of 12 miles, the plane suddenly
disappeared from the radar screen, and Van Valkenburgh
claimed that her antiaircraft fire had scored again.
After assisting Douglas H. Fox, Van Valkenburgh patrolled
the area to search for possible missing men. The night prowl
proved fruitless, but the ship was later relieved to hear that only
one man of the stricken destroyer's complement remained
Subsequently, Van Valkenburgh was deployed to RP-16, in
company with Robert H. Smith (DM-23), and spent a relatively
quiet patrol until her radar picked up the approach of Shubrick
(DD-639), en route to relieve Robert H. Smith. While Shubrick
was still some 10 miles away and as Van Valkenburgh was
about to secure from general quarters, the latter's radar picked
up two low-flying bogies, 10 miles to the north and closing.
Van Valkenburgh and Robert H. Smith cleared for action,
but the pair of planes turned and headed for the newcomer,
Shubrick. Van Valkenburgh passed a warning to her sistership,
but too late. At 0010 on 29 May, one of the two enemy aircraft
crashed Shubrick astern. Van Valkenburgh's lookouts saw the
splash of fire in the pre-dawn darkness and heard the "crump" of
Communicating her intentions to Robert H. Smith, Van
Valkenburgh veered off and headed for her damaged sister. She
arrived to find that the kamikaze had blown a 30-foot hole in the
starboard side, and one of the stricken destroyer's own depth
charges had exploded, causing further damage. With the situation
looking grim, Van Valkenburgh came alongside at 0113, taking
on board survivors - some of whom had been badly wounded.
"Gear of all types was carried, dumped, and hurled across
from the sinking destroyer," as she transferred classified material
and all unnecessary personnel. Again Van Valkenburgh's
Doctor Smale transformed the wardroom into a dressing station
to minister to the casualties. "Once more our decks and
passageways bore the stretchers of the dead and dying," wrote
Van Valkenburgh's commanding officer. In the wardroom,
"plasma flowed in life-giving torrents."
With flooding controlled and fires extinguished, Shubrick
remained doggedly afloat. ATR-9 soon arrived on the scene and
towed the crippled destroyer to Kerama
Retto. Van Valkenburgh had performed "Good Samaritan"
duty for the fourth time.
The attacks, however, did not cease. On the evening of 5 June,
while on RP-11 in company with Cassin Young (DD-793) and
Smalley (DD-565), Van Valkenburgh came under a
concentrated torpedo attack. About dusk on that day, four or five
planes closed, low from the west and heavy with bombs and
torpedoes. Van Valkenburgh's 40-millimeter Bofors batteries
hurled out shell after shell, peppering the skies with flak. One
bomber launched its torpedo - the "fish" passing 100 yards ahead
of the ship - but did not emerge from the attack. The destroyer's
40-millimeter barrage slapped it into the sea. The second torpedo
dropped, which was aimed in Van Valkenburgh's direction,
Following that last incident, Van Valkenburgh's sailors noted
a definite slackening in the Japanese attacks. The massive B-29
raids on the home islands, together with the attrition caused by
steady pounding by American carrier-based air power, had
slowed the Japanese down considerably.
Late on 24 June, Van Valkenburgh finally left the forward
areas, bound for the Philippines. For the ensuing fortnight, the
ship rested at San Pedro Bay, Leyte, enjoying a breather from
the hectic pace of operations that had lasted for over two
Early in July, she put to sea as part of a surface force
comprised of the new large cruisers Alaska (CB-1) and Guam
(CB-2), four light cruisers, and seven destroyers. Assigned to
operate along the China coast between Formosa and Shanghai,
the force searched for any signs of Japanese surface ship
activity in that area but found no opposition of any kind. Ready
for anything when they put to sea, Van Valkenburgh's sailors
found the situation almost anticlimactic. As one member of the
crew wrote: "Our tension relaxed considerably and our sweep
took on the aspect of tactical maneuvers in Chesapeake Bay."
Neither ships nor planes inquired or resisted the task force's
progress, as the ships set a course back to Okinawa after a five-
day patrol, 200 miles off Shanghai. The task force commander
offered consoling thoughts: "If the lack of action is a
disappointment at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that
the East China Sea was under our control."
Subsequently returning to Buckner Bay, Van Valkenburgh
lay at anchor there when, at 2100 on 10 August 1945, "all Hell
broke loose." Something akin to a 4th of July celebration
occurred, as some 150 warships threw everything they had -
searchlights; tracers; red, white, and green flares, and star shell -
into a 15 minute celebration that commemorated the word that
the Japanese were entertaining thoughts of surrender. The
demonstration subsided as quickly as it had formed, and darkness
again descended upon Buckner Bay. Two days later, however,
the torpedoing of Pennsylvania (BB-38) brought home the fact
that war was still very much "on." It was not until after 15
August that the signal "cease present operations" could be
hoisted, indicating that the war was over at last.
On 7 September, Van Valkenburgh stood out of Buckner
Bay in company with Anthony (DD-515), Wadsworth (DD-
516), Beale (DD-471), and Ammen (DD-527), as screen for the
carriers Suwannee (CVE-80), Chenango (CVE-28), Cape
Gloucester (CVE-109), and Birmingham (CL-62), bound for
Japan and occupation duty in the erstwhile enemy's waters. For
the week that followed, the group operated off the coast of
Kyushu, southwest of Nagasaki, Japan, while aircraft from the
carriers patrolled the island and coast and assisted in locating
mines in the clearance operations paving the way for entry into
the harbor at Nagasaki.
On 15 September, as Van Valkenburgh steamed into
Nagasaki harbor, every available vantage point topside was
occupied by men silently taking in the incredible devastation
wrought by the atomic bomb dropped on the city over a month
before. During her week there, Van Valkenburgh stood by as
of war were taken on board the hospital ship Haven (AH-12)
which lay moored at the port's principal dock.
For the next six weeks, Van Valkenburgh remained in
Japanese waters, carrying out two courier trips to Wakayama,
Honshu, Japan, on the Inland Sea.
Finally, her tour of duty in the Far East completed, Van
Valkenburgh sailed for the United States on 17 November,
departing Sasebo on that day, bound for the west coast.
Reaching San Diego on 6 December - via Midway and Pearl
Harbor - the destroyer soon pushed on for the east coast,
transiting the Panama Canal on 18 and 19 December. Making
port at Charleston, S.C. two days before Christmas of 1945, Van
Valkenburgh was decommissioned and placed in reserve on 12
On 31 August 1950, some two months after North Korean
troops swarmed into South Korea, the Navy ordered Van
Valkenburgh's activation in light of the recently erupting Far
Eastern crisis. Accordingly, Van Valkenburgh was
recommissioned at Charleston on 8 March 1951, Comdr. C. A.
Marinke in command. She trained off the Virginia capes and up
the coast to Nova Scotian waters, as well as into the Caribbean,
from Guantanamo Bay to Culebra, Puerto Rico.
Van Valkenburgh subsequently departed Norfolk on 2 May;
transited the Panama Canal between 20 and 22 May; and
reached Yokosuka, Japan, on 17 June, via San Diego, Pearl
Harbor, and Midway
Leaving Yokosuka in her wake on 22 June, Van Valkenburgh
spent the next 36 days at sea with Task Force 77, screening the
fast carriers as they launched air strikes against communist
forces ashore. Putting into Sasebo at the end of July, the
destroyer spent a brief period in-port before she got underway on
1 August for the "bomb line."
Van Valkenburgh relieved Brown (DD-546) as Task
Element (TE) 95.28 shortly after noon on 3 August. Operating
under the control of Commander, Task Group (TG) 95.2
Commander, East Coast Blockading and Patrol Group, the
destroyer commenced a period of operations in support of the I
Corps, Republic of Korea (ROK) Army. No sooner had she
actually commenced those activities, than she received a call for
indirect fire. She expended 20 rounds of 5-inch shells against
enemy positions before conducting night inshore patrol from
Kojo, south to the "bomb line."
Over the ensuing days, Van Valkenburgh expended over
2,400 rounds of ammunition against a variety of targets - ranging
from houses to bunkers, artillery positions to sampans, trenches
to tents and supply dumps, frequently using air spotters. She
conducted her patrol operations in company with ROK YMS-
514. On one occasion - 9 August 1952 - Van Valkenburgh
dueled with a communist shore battery. Taking 10 rounds of 76-
millimeter projectiles from Suwan Dan, the destroyer returned
immediate counterbattery and slow destructive fire, using airspot,
expending 51 rounds of 5-inch projectiles.
After being relieved by Tingey (DD-539), Van Valkenburgh
operated in the Far East into the autumn. She visited the
Japanese ports of Yokosuka, Hakodate and Ominato and
touched at Keelung, Formosa, before she patrolled the Formosa
Strait. She then visited Kaohsinug, Formosa, and Hong Kong, but
returned to the Formosa Strait for a second stint of patrol duty.
Then, after a week's upkeep at Subic Bay, from 10 to 17
October, Van Valkenburgh headed for the United States. She
completed a circumnavigation of the globe sailing via Singapore,
Federated Malay States, Colombo, Ceylon and Ras Tanura
Aden, the Suez Canal transiting that waterway on 14
November, Naples and Genoa, Italy; Cannes, France; and
Gilbraltar; reaching Norfolk, Va., on 12 December.
After remaining at Norfolk through the Christmas and New
Year's holidays, Van Valkenburgh operated in the Vieques,
Puerto Rico, area in March 1953. She then returned to Norfolk,
where she was placed in reserve, but still in commission, in
August 1953. Taken
to Philadelphia later that same month, Van Valkenburgh
remained in reserve at that port until she was decommissioned on
26 February 1954.
Transferred on loan to the Government of Turkey on 28
February 1967, Van Valkenburgh became Izmir (D-340) and
operated with the Turkish Navy into the early 1970's. Struck
from the Navy list on 1 February 1973, the destroyer was
returned to the United States on 15 February but was
simultaneously sold to Turkey. She remained with the Turkish
Navy into 1980.
Van Valkenburgh won the Navy Unit Commendation for her
service off Okinawa, was awarded three battle stars for her
World War II duty and received one for Korean War operations.