A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, the destroyer USS Preston (DD-795), in company with the guided-missile destroyer Berkeley (DDG-15) and destroyers Maddox (DD-751) and Fechteler (DD-870), sailed from Long Beach on 5 July 1968, bound for her fourth and final tour off the coast of Vietnam. Named for the precocious and ambitious Samuel W. Preston, a Canadian-born naval officer killed at Fort Fisher in the Civil War, the 24-year-old Preston was the sixth U.S. Navy ship to carry the name. Laid down on 13 June 1943 at San Pedro, California, by the Bethlehem Steel Co., Shipbuilding Division, and launched on 12 December 1943, the Fletcher-class destroyer was commissioned on 20 March 1944.
The Preston's first combat life spanned the final 18 months of World War II in the Pacific, with her initiation coming at Guam in July 1944 where she screened transport areas off the assault beaches. With little respite, the Preston joined Task Force 38 at the end of August and participated in strikes against the Palaus in early September. Later that month she covered the landings on Peleliu and Anguar. In rapid succession she guarded the force's carriers as they hit Formosan air bases in early October and then turned southeast toward Luzon in support of the Leyte landing later that month. She was with the Princeton (CVL-23) and Task Group 38.3 when the carrier was lost to the furious Japanese aerial attack at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The Preston next helped mop up after the Cape Engano and San Bernardino Strait battles. Throughout the next three months she ranged from Luzon to Formosa to the South China Sea blasting Japanese shipping and shore installations. This was followed by support for attacks on Iwo Jima, the Japanese Home Islands, and Okinawa until March when she was assigned to Task Force 54. The remainder of her World War II combat career included action at the Ryukyus, Kerama Retto, Hagushi, Motobu Peninsula, le Shima, and Kutaka Shima. She was, once again, off Okinawa when the Japanese surrendered.
The Navy didn't wait long to deactivate the destroyer. The process began just three weeks after the war's end, and she was decommissioned on 24 April 1946. Five years later she was quickly recommissioned soon after the start of the Korean War, and continued in service after the conflict.
In July 1968, on her final cruise into combat, she stopped in Pearl Harbor for repairs to a generator and reached Midway on the 16th to refuel. Soon after sailing, she began encountering heavy seas generated by tropical storm Mary that continued until her arrival at Guam on 23 July. After a six-hour fuel and mail layover, the destroyer set course for the Philippines, encountering both now-typhoon Mary and tropical storm Nadine near the Bashi Channel.
The ship's skipper, Commander David G. Ramsey, mentioned the typhoon in a message to his family:
It seems a wonderful Typhoon by the name of Mary just couldn't wait to make our acquaintance. It was with her totally in mind that we pulled into Midway Island on the 16th of July. Our Midway stay lasted but four hours during which we refueled, made preparations for heavy weather, and enjoyed the antics of the famous Gooney birds. Leaving Midway we eventually met typhoon Mary, WHAT A LADY!!!!!, You can't imagine how much we enjoyed her company all the way to Guam and then on to Subic.
After two days at Subic, she relieved the Steinaker (DD-863) off the coast of South Vietnam.
The Preston next steamed to Tuy Hoa to provide harassment and interdiction (H&I) fire. She conducted a mission off Nha Trang the following day and evening. Saltwater contamination of her forward plant, however, limited the destroyer to steaming on one boiler and one engine, and forced her to proceed to Subic Bay where the boiler, maintenance, and repair divisions "displayed outstanding ability as they worked together for a common goal," according to Commander Ramsey.
Following repairs, the Preston, with her crew tired but ready for sea, headed for Yankee Station on 15 August. She reported to commander, Task Group 77.4 the next day, to serve as rescue destroyer for the antisubmarine warfare support carrier Intrepid (CVS-11), joining the Taylor (DD-468) and Maddox. The group's ships' combined service age amounted to an even century.
The four returned to Yankee Station on 5 September after maintenance at Sasebo, evading typhoon Bess en route. Detached three days later to conduct antiaircraft and antisubmarine warfare exercises with the Edson (DD-946), Ingersoll (DD-652), and Steinaker, the Preston experienced radar and sonar casualties that forced her to resume duties as rescue destroyer.
Detached from TG 77.4 on 16 September, the Preston relieved the Steinaker to carry out Sea Dragon missions. Conducted against the North Vietnamese coastline, these assignments complemented the air interdiction campaign, sinking communist supply craft, shelling coastal batteries and radar sites, and bombarding infiltration routes. The ships operated in pairs; in this instance the Preston was riding shotgun on the guided-missile destroyer Joseph Strauss (DDG-16). In all, she fired 167 rounds of 5-inch/38 ammunition, and her spotter reported good coverage of all coastal defense sites.
Commander Ramsey wrote his family:
During our brief stay we fired each day and night. The ship was in a constant state of readiness at all times. This requires a tremendous effort on the part of all hands, particularly those personnel involved in the loading, aiming, and firing of the guns. The guns were manned by men from every division aboard ship, 24 hours a day, while the ship was on the line.
In October, she assumed plane-guard duties for the attack carrier America (CVA-66). Compared to the big ship, a Preston Sailor noted, the destroyer resembled "a toothpick floating in the bathtub alongside a bar of Ivory soap." An exchange program enabled some of the Preston's officers to observe flight-deck operations. When he returned, one of the destroyermen remarked that going from the Preston to a carrier the America's size "was like getting off a roller coaster and stepping onto the sidewalk." Carrier officers, on the other hand, found that their experience proved just the opposite.
During maintenance late in October, the destroyer needed more work on her propulsion plant. She also experienced a major casualty to her MK1A fire control computer on the eve of sailing back to the II Corps area. Various inputs such as range, bearing, and height of target went into the computer, with, in the captain's words, the computations providing the data needed to ensure "proper positioning of the ship's guns prior to taking targets under fire. It is, to say the least, a necessary must when on the gunline." The Preston's weapons department turned-to, working long hours in port and at sea en route to Vietnam, to get it up and running.
On 12 November 1968, the destroyer began her second deployment to the gun line after relieving the Waller (DD-466). Her mission was naval gunfire support (NGFS) off Phan Thiet, to aid U.S. Army troops involved in Operation McClain. Her crew resumed the nearly 24-hour days that the task required. Despite more engineering casualties that limited her to steaming on one boiler and one main engine, the destroyer fired two support missions and one H&I. She fired 19 additional NGFS missions and 13 H&I shoots during that second session, battering the local Viet Cong infrastructure.
Late in this stint, which ended on 1 December, her engineers toiled around-the-clock to repair a boiler casualty, and the Preston sought, and received, permission to remain on the gun line. After evading yet another typhoon, Mamie, she fired what proved to be her final missions. Later, off Vung Tau, she learned that one of her rounds had fallen among friendly troops. An extensive investigation of the 26 November incident disclosed the round to have been a ricochet.
The Preston left the western Pacific for her homeport and arrived five days before Christmas. Commander Ramsey reported later that during her deployment, the ship had fired 2,334 5-inch and 28 3-inch rounds. Meanwhile, the crew had consumed 30,000 pounds of beef and "crunched" more than 2,000 pounds of apples for snacks.
Ships, however, do not last forever, and the Navy determined that the Preston had reached the limit of her service. The destroyer had received six battle stars for her World War II service, one for the Korean War, and six for Vietnam, in addition to a Navy Unit Commendation. Decommissioned at the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, on 15 November 1969, the Preston was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register and turned over to the government of Turkey, which operated her as the Icel until 1981 when she was stricken and broken up for scrap.
Commander Ramsey had written midway through what proved to be the Preston's last Vietnam deployment: "She is old but quite capable of maintaining a firm position in the Naval Operations of today." That she performed so capably is a tribute to the dedicated souls who manned and maintained the destroyer over her nearly quarter-century under the Stars and Stripes.