USS Leonard F. Mason (DD-852)
The Unofficial (but more complete) History, 1945 to 1970
Last edited 30 June 2015.
(Leaky Leonard, Racin' Mason, have six guns will travel)
The following history was compiled from many sources of information, some official and some not. Small portions may be allegorical and await verification. When using multiple sources for historical information, dates or details may differ between the sources. Where this happens, I have indicated all variations I have come across.
Thanks to Willis Gravning for providing the events from the cruise of 1974 to the ship's decommissioning. Thank you to Lee Dunn, RD2, for the report on the fishing boat incident and the sandbar incident off Formosa in 1961. Thanks to Gordon Powell, starboard lookout, and Howard Weaver EM2 for additional details about the sandbar incident. Information about the Tonkin Gulf patrol in August 1964 provided by DesRon 3 Medical Officer Brent Harrison. Portions of the 70-72 history were taken from William Teubner Byrum's posting in military.com. Thanks to Dick Leonhardt of the USS Fred T. Berry (DD-858) for providing a deck log entry regarding Mason's movements in Yokosuka in June 1966. Many thanks to ETR2 Jerry Hodson for providing photos and 8 mm movies from the 1972-1973 Westpac cruise, including scenes of the damaged rudders seen while the ship was in dry dock for repairs. Finally, a very big thank you to SM3 Rod Chapman (USS Mason 72-74) for providing details on the cruise of 72-73 and a copy of the cruise book.
USS Leonard F. Mason was named in honor of a Marine Private First Class who gallantly gave his life while in action on the island of Guam during World War II. PFC Mason was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his bravery during this action.
1945 to 1970
The Mason's keel was laid down on 6 August 1945 [2 May 1945] by the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Bethlehem Steel Company, Quincy, Massachusetts, and launched 4 January 1946. The launch was sponsored by Mrs. Hillery [Hillary] Mason, mother of PFC Mason. Mason was commissioned 28 June [7 June] 1946, at Boston Naval Shipyard. Commander S. D. B. Merrill was in command. Mason had her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean while enroute to join the Pacific fleet. The ship joined DesDiv 32 on 22 January 1947.
From early 1947 to 1950, Mason completed two cruises in the Western Pacific, deploying to China Station, as well as performed stateside operations out of San Diego, California. From 26 June to 3 July 1948, Mason steamed from San Francisco, California to Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii as part of Task Force 38 for a midshipmen cruise. Other ships in the Task Force were USS Princeton (CV-37), USS Boxer (CV-21), USS Rupertus (DD-851), and USS Arnold J. Isbell (DD-869). The Task Force later transitted to San Diego, California between 13 July and 23 July. On 23 April 1949, during exercises off Oahu, Hawaii, the USS Fechteler (DD-870) and the Mason were damaged in a collision. Two persons were injured. The collision caused a six-foot hole in Mason's bow, flooding the forward peak tank.
Mason was regunned in 1950, reportedly at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard (Hunter's Point), and/or at Mare Island Shipyard. From 31 July to 6 October, Mason was in overhaul at Mare Island Shipyard. A Navy photo taken 26 September 1950 showed Mason in the harbor off Mare Island. Navy photos taken on 28 September showed the Mason outboard the USS Stickell (DD-888) at Mare Island. During this time at the Shipyards, Mason's original AA battery of 40 mm and 20 mm guns was removed and replaced with rapid-fire 3"/50 mounts, with Mk 56 and Mk 63 GFCS. The Mk 56 director was mounted centerline, aft of #2 stack. This director was the primary means of fire control for the entire 3"/50 battery. The Mk 63 systems (port and starboard) were mounted just aft of the bridge. These systems were secondary methods for control of the 3"/50 guns. The original depth charge launchers were removed, leaving only the stern tracks. Hedgehog launchers were installed abaft of Mount 52, just forward of the forward fueling station on the 01 level. The ship retained all three 5"/38 twin gun mounts. These guns were controlled by the Mk 37 GFCS, although the Mk 56 GFCS could control them as well.
During 1950, Mason was attached to DES DIV 32; the USS Rupertus (DD-851) being the flag ship for that division.
Mason steamed for the Western Pacific once again during the early stages of the Korean War - 13 November 1950 - and joined in antisubmarine warfare exercises. On 22, 24, 28, and 30 March 1951, Mason conducted tests listed in Annex ABLE ComCarDiv 15 OpOrder 3-51 in the vicinity of 35-10N, 139-23E with the USS Tortuga (LSD-26). During April 1951, Mason was off the coast of Korea, screening the carriers during air strikes.
On 16 May 1951, while operating with Task Force 95 [85, 58], Mason participated in the siege of Wonsan. Ships in company included the USS Rupertus (DD-851) and the USS Thompson (DMS-38). Near Songjin, Mason fired continuous shore bombardment which inflicted heavy damage to enemy bridges, railroads, tunnels, troop concentrations, and gun emplacements. Bombardment was intense; performed in cycles of two, three and five minutes. Reportedly while anchored in Wonsan, an attempt was made by North Koreans to board the ship using the anchor chain, but was unsuccessful. The ship received the Korean Service Medal with three [seven] battle stars, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the United Nations Service Medal for her services in the area. The Mason was in company with USS New Jersey (BB-62) on 21 May 1951, when a shore battery fired upon the New Jersey, causing one casualty on the battleship. In June 1951, Mason joined the British Carrier Force performing blockade duties.
On 7 July 1951, a malfunction occurred during catapult launch of an F4U-4 Corsair, tail number 81539, of Squadron VF-791 on the USS Boxer (CV-21). The aircraft was subsequently ditched. The pilot, LT Ernest R. Ligon, was rescued by the Mason.
Departing Wonsan on 23 July, Mason steamed for San Diego, California, arriving on 8 August 1951.
After overhaul, the ship sailed on 23 February 1952 in company with the USS Rupertus (DD-851) and the USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875) for the Orient. On arrival in Wonsan Harbor, she joined the USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887), returning fire from coastal batteries and operating along the eastern coast of Korea. On 2 May 1952, Mason received superficial damage after being hit by a shore battery at Wonsan, Korea. There were no casualities. Mason was relieved by the USS Stickell (DD-888) and continued with hunker-killer exercises in the Straits of Taiwan, followed by additional time on the bomb line.
Departing Yokosuka, Japan on 13 September 1952, she arrived in Long Beach, California, on 27 September and remained there until 16 May 1953, when she again steamed for the Far East in company with fellow ships of DesDiv 32, including the USS Rupertus (DD-851), USS Stemble (DD-644), and USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875), and ships of DesDiv 301, including the USS Gatling (DD-671). The ships arrived at US Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 21 May. Later, arriving in Korean waters on 9 June, Mason joined TaskGroup 70.1 for escort and bombardment action with the mighty battleship New Jersey off Wonsan and in the Yellow Sea. After the close of Korean hostilities, she departed Yokosuka on 20 November for Long Beach, arrived on 8 December, and readied herself for peacetime duty. Between 1954 and 1960, Mason made three more Western Pacific cruises, providing an element of security in the turbulent Far East. During the Suez crisis of November 1956, she sailed with Fast Carrier Task Force 11 on guard against any spread of trouble to the Far East.
In early 1957, the ship had two Mk 38 ASW torpedo launchers installed, port and starboard, just forward of the amidships passageway, close to the deckhouse, on the main deck.
[Reportedly, during 1958, Mason was attached to Destroyer Division 32 in Yokosuka, Japan and operated with the USS George K. MacKenzie (DD-836), the USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875), and the USS Rupertus (DD-851). ed.]
During the WestPac Cruise of 1958, Mason visited Pago Pago, American Samoa, Brisbane, Australia, Manus Island, Subic Bay, Philippines, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and Japan. During the equator crossing, the ceremony was held to initiate pollywogs into shellbacks.
From May 1960 to May 1962, Mason was homeported in Yokosuka, Japan and attached to Destroyer Squadron 3, Destroyer Division 32. The division included the USS George K. MacKenzie (DD-836) and the USS Rupertus (DD-851), with the Rupertus being division flagship for ComDesDiv 32. During this time, Mason operated in antisubmarine, amphibious, and patrol environments and other peacekeeping missions with various U.S. and foreign units.
In 1961, the ship served with carriers during the crisis in Laos. During 1961, the Mason encountered a small Japanese fishing boat that had overturned in a storm that was in process. The family that was aboard the boat was sitting on the bottom of the overturned vessel. The Mason's crew transferred the boat owner's wife and children on board, but the owner would not leave his boat. The owner came aboard after an agreement was made to tow his boat into port. The Mason was able to tow the boat for awhile, but then the storm got worse and the tow lines got fouled up the ship's propellers. Mason crewmember Don Bartoli jumped in the ocean with a knife while the ship was bobbing around and being tossed all over in the high seas. It took him quite a while to finally get the heavy lines cut, but he got the job done. Crewmember Bartoli received a medal and commendation for saving the ship.
On 18 April 1961, Mason visited Hong Kong along with several other ships of the Seventh Fleet. In late 1961, Mason was off the southwestern coast of Formosa, steaming north to Japan. The surface search radar was not operating and the ship was traveling to Yokosuka, Japan to have it repaired. The radarmen were navigating by airsearch radar using the peaks of mountains on Formosa. The quartermasters were navigating by lights on the coast of Formosa. At about 3 am, an area of 'black water' was spotted that had not been encountered before. Since no action was taken, the ship ran aground. The mast headlights were turned on and a white beach lay before the ship. The captain ordered full reverse and after a few minutes the ship backed off the sandbar. [Another report states the ship awaited high tide and tugs to get free of the sandbar.] The sonar dome was damaged [sheared off], but the ship was able to limp along on its own power to Sasebo, Japan, to drydock for repairs. Afterward, the Mason proceeded to Yokosuka for repair of the surface search radar and maintenance.
From 1 July to 5 July 1962, Mason participated in ASW and various other exercises in company with the USS Hancock (CVA-19), USS Orleck (DD-886), and USS Higbee (DDR-806). These operations were conducted off the Ryukyus Islands in the North Philippine Sea. Photos taken at Okinawa during this period shows a nest that included USS Currituck (AV-7), USS Rupertus (DD-851), USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875), USS George K. Mackenzie (DD-836) and the Mason, in that order. One of Mason's gun mounts was serviced or replaced at this time.
From February 1963 to January 1964, Mason underwent FRAM I conversion at Boston Naval Shipyard, receiving increased radar and communications facilities, refurbished living spaces, and modern antisubmarine warfare equipment, including the ASROC system and DASH. The transit from Yokosuka (home port) to the Boston Naval Shipyard and return had the Mason transit the Panama Canal.
Mason returned to Yokosuka by way of the western coast of the U.S. for Western Pacific operations on 21 July 1964. Mason was attached to DesDiv 32, along with the USS Orleck (DD-886), USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16), and USS Higbee (DDR-806). CDR Ralph Ellsworth Graham was commanding officer at that time. Of Scottish descent, Capt. Graham played the bagpipes (Scotland the Brave) after UNREPs. He also flew the HIIYA flag (Hang It In Your Ass). As a part of Carrier Task Group 77.6, Mason participated in Vietnam area operations in the South China Sea, conducting gunfire support missions off the coast. Mason was the next USN ship in the Tonkin Gulf area following the "Incident" concerning the USS Maddox (DD-731) and the USS Turner Joy (DD-951). [Approximately 24 hours later, 5 August 1964? ed.] For her efforts, Mason earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. In late 1964, Mason was ordered to take pictures of the facility at Hainan Island. During this mission, the Mason came within 6 feet of an uncharted reef. Other missions between 1964 and 1966 included patrols in the Taiwan Straits and serving in the Gemini Recovery Force.
From 3 June to 7 June 1965, the ship was part of the GEMINI IV recovery force. Then, from 21 August to 29 August 1965, the ship was part of the GEMINI V recovery force. Between 23 and 27 September 1965, Mason was part of a task force that attempted the DAGGER THRUST raids along the coast of South Vietnam. These raids were not successful, though.
28 January 1966 found Mason steaming Northward into the Bong Son area of South Vietnam to participate in Operation Masher. On 1 March 1966, Mason was in company with six other ships of the Seventh Fleet; including the USS Topeka (CLG-8), USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5), USS Sproston (DD-577), USS Orleck (DD-886), USS Waddell (DDG-24), and USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16). On this day, the group of warships fired approximately 1,000 rounds in support missions for forces ashore in Vietnam.
On 17 March 1966, Gemini VIII had to initiate an emergency landing southeast of Okinawa (25 degrees, 13.8 minutes North, 136 degrees, 0 minutes East). Mason was operating with the USS George K. MacKenzie (DD-836) over one hundred eighty miles to the North of the splash down site when the ship was dispatched to rescue the crew and recover the capsule. The ship initiated a full power run, with all four boilers placed online in record time. The crew of Gemini VIII, Major David R. Scott, USAF, and Neil A. Armstrong, an ex Naval Officer, were lifted aboard the Mason. (photo: 17 March 1966) The Gemini VIII capsule was then hoisted on board. Mason then headed for Kadena Air Base, Naha, Okinawa, where her distinguished passengers and cargo were offloaded the next day. The ship then proceeded to Yokosuka, Japan, arriving 20 March 1966. [See "Project Gemini, A Bold Step Forward" DVD set for motion picture footage of the Mason during the rescue of the Gemini VIII crew and capsule. Ed.]
On April 10/20, 1966, Mason was in Hong Kong. Mason then returned to gunfire support duty off Vietnam until June.
From a photo dated 11 June 1966, Mason was alongside the USS Markab (AR-23) with the USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875) outboard in Yokosuka, Japan. With an overhaul projected, Mason's home port was changed to Long Beach, California. From an entry in the deck log of the USS Fred T. Berry (DD-858), Mason stood out of the harbor at 1335 on 13 June 1966. The ship departed Yokosuka on 17 June, arriving at the west coast of the United States on 2 July. Operating as a unit of the First Fleet, she saw a variety of diverse operations off the California coast, including a trip to Acapulco in November.
On 5  January 1967, Mason entered San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard at Vallejo [Mare Island]. After a five-month overhaul, Mason returned to Long Beach in May and resumed local operations, including six weeks of refresher training in San Diego. Mason deployed again to the Western Pacific on 19 September 1967, participating in naval gunfire support and plane guard operations on Yankee Station in the South China Sea. On 1 December 1967, Mason, in company with USS Orleck (DD-886) arrived in Hong Kong from Subic Bay, Philippines and remained there at least until 6 December. On 23 January 1968, operating in the Tonkin Gulf at the time, Mason was ordered to respond at best speed to the incident concerning the USS Pueblo (AGER-2). Mason returned to Long Beach on 12 March 1968. From 1 April to 11 April 1968, Mason was at Pier 15, U. S. Naval Station Long Beach.
Her stay at Long Beach was short; three months of upkeep and training. She left once again for the Far East at the end of July 1968, returning to Yokosuka on 19 August as her home port. During the following months, Mason operated with the 7th Fleet from Japan to the South China Sea, participating in gunfire support and plane guard duties. On 26 September 1968, while on Yankee Station, Mason was re-armed by the USS Great Sitkin (AE-17). Mason operated as a part of Operation Sea Dragon throughout October and returned to Yokosuka for the Christmas holidays via Hong Kong and Kaohsiung, Taiwan. On 7 December 1968, Mason launched and controlled a "Snoopy" drone for the USS New Jersey (BB-62), operating in the Tonkin Gulf, to check out control and video monitoring equipment. The next day, Mason accompanied the New Jersey to Subic Bay, arriving 10 December 1968.
January of 1969 saw Mason operating as a Search And Rescue (SAR) unit in the Gulf Of Tonkin, returning to Yokosuka at the end of the month to prepare for duties as Apollo 9 standby recovery station in the Pacific. From 3 March to 13 March 1969, Mason was part of the Apollo 9 recovery force. Afterward, she was detached and headed across the equator for gunfire support duties in Vietnam. During May and June 1969, the ship received an overhaul in Yokosuka and prepared for upcoming inspections and a change of command. Mason operated on Vung Ganh Rai Bay and channels during August 1969. [source: "Navy and Coast Guard Ships Associated with Service in Vietnam and Exposure to Herbicide Agent", 6 January 2011] The remainder of the year was spent dividing time between plane guard duty, gunfire support, and upkeep.
The first half of 1970 provided Mason with much sea time. She operated in the Sea of Japan as a picket, as plane guardon Yankee Station, and as training ship in the Okinawa area. The ship was homeported at the US Naval Station, Yokosuka, Japan and was a unit of Destroyer Squadron 9 in the Western Pacific Fleet (WestPac). The ship and crew's principal operating tasks were:
During the 1969/1970 period, Mason received the SAMID package as part of the Fleet-In-Depth Overhaul, which included the AN/SLQ-19(B) and CHAFFROC launchers.
On 29 July 1970, Mason departed Yokosuka in company with the USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875), USS Sterrett (DLG-11), USS Orleck (DD-886), USS Rupertus (DD-851), and the USS George K. Mackenzie (DD-836), headed for San Diego, California. The ships celebrated two Mondays when they crossed the International Date Line on 3 August. The Task Group did not stop at Midway for refueling. Instead, the oiler USS Mattaponi (AO-41) was dispatched to meet the ships enroute near Midway Islands for at sea refueling. The Squadron made a three-day port of call in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, lasting from 6 August 1970 to 9 August 1970. On 15 August, the six destroyers entered San Diego harbor, led by the USS Sterrett (DLG-11). The Mason moored outboard of the USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875). The Mason, along with the other destroyers, entered San Diego harbor flying the "Homeward Bound" pennant. This port entry was the last time the pennant was flown from so many ships on entry. San Diego, California was now the Mason's new home port - and remained so for the remainder of the Mason's deployment as a United States Ship. In December, Mason prepared for her overhaul at Long Beach Naval Shipyard.