The USS Bearss (DD-654) was laid down on 14 July 1942 at Chickasaw, Alabama, by the Gulf Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 25 July 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Louise Bearss, widow of Brigadier General Bearss; and commissioned at Mobile, Ala., on 12 April 1944, Comdr. John A. Webster in command.
After fitting out at Mobile and at New Orleans, Bearss sailed for Bermuda on 30 April, arriving there on 5 May. The destroyer conducted shakedown exercises—including gunnery, antiaircraft, and antisubmarine warfare (ASW) drills—through the end of the month. She sailed for Charleston, S.C., on 2 June and entered the navy yard on the 4th for two weeks of post-shakedown availability. Following those repairs, the destroyer steamed to Norfolk, Va., where she joined Task Unit (TU) 29.6.3 in preparation to sailing for the Pacific.
On 21 June, Bearss got underway for the Panama Canal in company with Baxter (APA-94). The destroyer transited the canal on 26 and 27 June and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 11 July. There, she joined other units of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 57 for three weeks of gunnery and antiaircraft training. On 4 August, Bearss and the four other destroyers in DesRon 57 departed Pearl Harbor for Adak, Alaska, where they joined the North Pacific Force on the 9th.
Bearss spent the next three months in and around the Aleutian Islands. The peculiar weather of the north Pacific, especially the persistent heavy fog of the summer and early fall, limited operations to short training exercises out of Adak. Paradoxically, because weather fronts in the North Pacific travel much faster in the winter and spring, short periods of clear weather allowed Bearss to conduct more extensive combat operations starting in October. Late that month, the destroyer moved to Attu, Alaska, in preparation for a sweep against Japanese forces in the Kuril Islands. Following a favorable weather report on 17 November, Bearss, in company with Richmond (CL-9), Concord (CL-10), and eight other destroyers in Task Force (TF) 92, sailed for the Kurils on the 18th.
Arriving off Matsuwa To the night of 21 November, the warships caught the Japanese defenders by surprise. During a 20-minute bombardment in a driving rainstorm, the task force hit hangars and other shore installations, starting several fires. Only a few Japanese shore batteries responded, and none of those did so effectively. During the task force's retirement toward Attu, however, the weather worsened and several ships were damaged. One destroyer, John Hood (DD-665), even had a 5-inch gun mount "caved in" by heavy seas before the task force made it back to Attu on the 25th.
After a few weeks to repair storm damage, the warships reformed in Massacre Bay, Attu, for another sweep into the Kurils. The task force sailed on 3 January 1945 and approached Paramushiro two days later under snow squalls and heavy cloud cover. At 2020 that evening, the task force commenced firing, hitting shore batteries, buildings, and the airfield at Suribachi Wan. Bearss concentrated her fire on Maru Hana airfield and adjacent antiaircraft batteries. After returning to Attu on the 9th, the task force immediately began preparations for a third strike into the Kurils.
Bad weather and alert Japanese defenses forced the cancellation of an attack on Matsuwa on 11 February; but, a week later, TF 92 succeeded in approaching Kurabu Zaki airfield on Paramushiro without being discovered. Bearss provided a seaward antisubmarine (ASW) screen during the ensuing bombardment and did not fire. Following this attack, the task force sailed to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for upkeep and repairs. These lasted until early March, when the force returned to Attu.
From there, TF 92 attacked Matsuwa in a shore bombardment conducted during the night of 15 March. Bearss, suffering from a malfunctioning gyro compass, again provided the ASW screen and did not fire at the target. Unlike the three previous missions, this bombardment set off two large explosions, one in a fuel depot and a second in an ammunition dump, leaving a smoke cloud over 1,000 feet high.
After returning to Attu, the warships of TF 92 began preparing for intensified strikes against Japanese forces in the North Pacific. These operations were intended to draw off Japanese reinforcements from the Okinawa operation which had begun in early April. During this planning and training period, the destroyer was transferred to DesDiv 114. On 16 May, Bearss, in company with four other destroyers, began a short anti-shipping sweep of the Sea of Okhotsk. Although they sighted no enemy ships, the warships bombarded the Suribachi Wan area of Paramushiro on 20 May before returning to Attu.
In a more ambitious operation, Bearss, along with two cruisers and five destroyers, sailed from Massacre Bay on 7 June for an anti-shipping sweep in the Kurils. Although they came across no enemy ships, the task force did bombard Matsuwa on the night of 10 June before sailing home to Attu. After a short period of replenishment, the task force again sailed for the Kurils on 21 June.
Tasked to conduct another anti-shipping sweep, the warships entered the Sea of Okhotsk via Mushiru Strait late on the 23d. Although the search there proved fruitless, upon leaving that sea via Shasukotan Strait on 25 June, the task force spotted flashing lights on the horizon at 0540 that morning. After radar confirmed the presence of five small Japanese ships, Bearss and Jarvis (DD-799) opened the action at 0600. Over the next hour, the task force fired illumination and high-explosive shells at the fleeing small craft, sinking two cargo ships and another small unidentified craft. In addition, Bearss herself sank a submarine chaser.
The warships returned to the Kuril chain in mid-July, intending to catch any Japanese ships fleeing from the 3d Fleet's strikes against Honshu and Hokkaido. As part of this mission, Bearss made a close-range sweep of Shasukotan island in the Sea of Okhotsk. Several days spent searching turned up no enemy ships, so the task force steered for Suribachi Wan, arriving off the target late on 21 July. There, the warships bombarded the barracks, and buildings not damaged in previous strikes. The final sweep of the war occurred in early August and culminated in the bombardment of Matsuwa on the 11th.
Following the Japanese capitulation on 15 August, the task force began preparations at Adak to help support the occupation of Hokkaido. After departing the Aleutians on 31 August, Bearss detached from the task force on 7 September to rendezvous with the Japanese frigate Kozu at the east end of Tsugaru Strait. There, she received a party of Japanese representatives, headed by Rear Admiral Densuko Kanome, and transported them to Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's flagship for a surrender ceremony. Bearss then helped TF 92 occupy Ominato Naval Anchorage.
Later assigned to the 5th Fleet, Bearss spent the next ten weeks patrolling the waters off northern Honshu and Hokkaido in support of the American occupation forces in Japan. Ordered home in mid-November, the destroyer sailed for Pearl Harbor on 18 November. After a brief stop in Hawaii, Bearss steamed on to the east coast via San Diego and the Panama Canal, arriving in Charleston, S.C., on 22 December. She was placed out of commission, in reserve, on 31 January 1947, and was berthed with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet's Charleston Group.
When the outbreak of the Korean War created a need for more active ships in the Fleet, Bearss was recommissioned at the Charleston Naval Shipyard on 12 September 1951. After fitting out, the destroyer put to sea on 19 November for three months of shakedown training with the Fleet Training Group at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On 1 March 1952, she sailed north, visiting New York City and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and conducting type training in the Virginia capes area, through the end of summer. On 9 September, she returned to the Charleston Naval Shipyard for a general yard overhaul, remaining there through the end of the year.
Assigned to DesRon 32 in Norfolk, Va., she got underway on 20 January 1953 for six weeks of refresher training out of Guantanamo Bay. Returning to Norfolk on 7 March, Bearss spent the next six months preparing for her first deployment to the Mediterranean Sea with the 6th Fleet. On 16 September, she departed Norfolk bound for Britain, arriving at Plymouth on the 30th. From there, the destroyer sailed south and, after a brief stop at Algiers, cruised in the Mediterranean. Over the next six weeks, she visited Athens, Greece; Izmir, Turkey; Suda Bay, Crete; and Naples, Italy. During her return voyage home, Bearss stopped at Lisbon, Portugal, and Ponta Delgada in the Azores, before arriving in Norfolk on 1 December. She spent the next three months operating out of Norfolk engaged in training evolutions—antisubmarine warfare exercises, independent ship exercises, and refresher training.
Following a four-week availability in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard during March 1954, Bearss was assigned to DesDiv 321 and began preparations for a western Pacific deployment. The destroyer, in company with Wright (CVL-49), Ross (DD-563) and Rowe (DD-564), departed Norfolk on 20 April, ultimately bound for Japan. The group transited the Panama Canal on the 25th and, after stops at San Diego and Pearl Harbor, arrived at Yokosuka, Japan, for duty with 7th Fleet on 22 May.
When Bearss arrived in the Far East, tensions between the United States and communist China were higher than normal. Viet Minh forces in Indochina had seized Dien Bien Phu from the French on 7 May and, despite peace negotiations at Geneva, forced the French to retreat to the Red River Delta. Meanwhile, communist Chinese activity increased in coastal areas near Taiwan, especially across from the Tachen Islands, and on Hainan Island near Indochina. The destroyer operated off Korea and in the Philippines, as part of a gradual buildup of naval forces in the area, through the month of June.
Bearss then joined TG 70.2, built around Philippine Sea (CV-47), for exercises in the South China Sea. On 22 July, Chinese fighters attacked and shot down a British Air Cathay passenger airplane some 20 miles southeast of Hainan Island. Ordered to search for survivors, TG 70.2 immediately steamed to the area and soon picked up nine people from the water. On the 26th, three Douglas AD "Skyraider" search planes from Philippine Sea were attacked by two Lavochkin LA-7 fighters out of Hainan. In the ensuing dogfight, both LA-7s were splashed in short order. The destroyer then operated off Vietnam during the final Indochina peace negotiations at Geneva. After the ceasefire went into effect on 27 July, Bearss steamed to Subic Bay for a port visit.
On 8 August, she put to sea for Japan, arriving at Yokosuka on the 11th. The destroyer spent the rest of the month preparing to sail home via the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Bearss got underway on 31 August along with the rest of DesDiv 321 and Fechteler (DD-870), and the warships sailed west, stopping at Hong Kong and Singapore before passing through the Strait of Malacca on 12 September. After visits to Columbo and Aden, the destroyers then transited the Suez Canal on the 27th, visited Naples, Golfe de Juan, Lisbon, and finally Ponta Delgada by 20 October. Bearss ended her 27-week circumnavigation of the globe when she arrived at Norfolk on 28 October.
Following a month of leave and upkeep, the destroyer conducted local operations out of Norfolk until 9 February 1955 when she entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard for overhaul. Emerging on 9 May, the warship conducted refresher training out of Guantanamo Bay through the end of the month. Temporarily assigned to the Commander, Anti-Submarine Forces, Bearss participated in two convoy exercises and other training evolutions out of Norfolk between July and September. Then, from 12 September to 5 November, she prepared for a four-month Mediterranean deployment.
Underway on the 5th, Bearss passed through the Strait of Gibraltar on 15 November and made her first port call a week later in Naples. Over the next several months, the destroyer participated in several ASW exercises with the Italian Navy. During this tour, she visited Augusta Bay, Sicily; Suda Bay, Crete; Rhodes and Piraeus, Greece; Beirut, Lebanon; Cannes, France; and Palma, Majorca. The warship returned to Norfolk on 26 February 1956 and spent the next several months operating locally and preparing for a summer midshipman cruise.
Departing Annapolis on 1 June, Bearss carried her charges to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Chatham, England, before steaming to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the traditional gunnery exercises took place on 25 July. Returning home to Norfolk on 1 August, she busied herself with local operations—although she was put on standby duty during the Suez Crisis in November and December—for the remainder of the year.
On 15 January 1957, the destroyer sailed to Mayport, Fla., for planeguard training with aircraft carriers and pilots operating out of Pensacola. Returning to Norfolk on 20 March, she went into the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a regular overhaul, remaining there until 20 July. Following five weeks of refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, the destroyer prepared for her third deployment to the Mediterranean.
Underway on 21 October, Bearss arrived at Gibraltar on 1 November 1957. Although more a year had passed since the Suez Crisis—during which British, French, and Israeli forces had first seized the canal, following Egypt's decision to nationalize the waterway, and then had been forced to withdraw—its effects were to diminish Britain's role in the Middle East and heighten the Soviet Union's influence in the region. In order to counter-balance the Soviet presence in Egypt, the 6th Fleet increased its operations in the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Bearss, along with other destroyers from DesRon 32, visited Izmir, Turkey, from 7 to 18 November before sailing southeast to the Suez Canal. The warships transited the canal on the 21st for port visits at Massawa, Eritrea; the British colony of Aden; and Djibouti, French Somaliland.
Returning through the canal on 12 December, Bearss spent the next four weeks on patrol duty in the eastern Mediterranean, visiting Piraeus and Rhodes, Greece, before the end of the year. She then sailed to Genoa, Italy, in preparation for NATO exercises in the western Mediterranean. Following two operations at sea with 6th Fleet, the destroyer headed home, arriving at Norfolk, via Gibraltar, on 5 March 1958.
After a six-week leave and upkeep period, Bearss participated in two NATO convoy exercises that summer, Operations "SLAMEX" and "CONVEX," both held in the central Atlantic. In between these exercises, the destroyer also began preparations for an extended cold weather operation. Departing Norfolk on 7 August, the warship escorted Norton Sound (AVM-1) well down into the South Atlantic. There, in early September, she helped the guided-missile ship launch rockets in support of Project "ARGUS"—testing the effects of weather on high-altitude missiles—until putting in to Rio de Janeiro on 15 September. The crew received five days of liberty there, and spent most of it "improving Brazilian-American relations." The destroyer sailed for home on the 20th, arriving in Norfolk on 30 September.
In October, Bearss was reassigned from DesRon 32 to Reserve Destroyer Squadron (ResDesRon) 4 as a naval reserve training ship. Among other changes, her active-duty crew was reduced by half to make room for reservists doing their annual two-week active duty training. Her first cruise, to Guantanamo Bay and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, took place in early November. The reservists concentrated on gunnery drills, ship handling, and equipment familiarization. She carried out a second cruise in early December, this time to Port of Spain, Trinidad.
For the first nine months of 1959, Bearss operated out of Norfolk and conducted five more reserve training cruises to the West Indies, primarily to the vicinity of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Then, in September, the destroyer steamed to Baltimore, Md., where she entered the Bethlehem Steel Co. shipyard for a four-week regular overhaul.
In January 1960, the reduced crew took Bearss to Guantanamo Bay for eight weeks of refresher training. When she returned to Norfolk in early March, she resumed her regular duty of two-week reserve training cruises. In July, Bearss also received a selected reserve crew, who came on board one weekend a month for training. In case of general mobilization, they would have returned to active duty to augment the regular skeleton crew of the warship. In addition to reserve cruises to points up and down the east coast, the destroyer also participated in NATO exercise "SLAMEX 1-60" in November during which Bearss, other American escorts and some Canadian warships practiced protecting a convoy against submarine attack.
In December 1960, the destroyer returned to her regular pattern of reserve cruises, spending the next 10 months plying the waters along the Atlantic seaboard. Aside from port visits at Fort Lauderdale and New York, the most interesting event of the period was an exercise that occurred in mid-June. Working with Cutlass (SS-478), Bearss acted as a range guard ship while that submarine fired four torpedoes into the old "Liberty" ship Melville W. Fuller during a weapons firing exercise. When the torpedoes failed to sink the target, Bearss closed and sank her after firing over 65 5-inch rounds. The warship conducted two more reserve training cruises that summer before starting another regular yard overhaul in early September.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the Soviet Union increased tensions in Germany when they began the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. In addition to temporarily placing American military forces on higher alert, President John F. Kennedy took steps to increase the strength of the active fleet. On 3 September, he announced his intention to mobilize the naval reserve training ships. This meant recalling the reserve components of their crews to active duty and integrating the warships into the active fleet. In response, Bearss was transferred from ResDesRon 34 to DesRon 28, and the reserve crew reported for active duty on 23 October 1961. The crew spent the remainder of the year conducting refresher training at Guantanamo Bay.
In January 1962, Bearss participated in a special naval patrol off Venezuela during President Kennedy's visit to that country. The following month, she took a patrol station off Bermuda as part of the recovery force during the first Mercury flight by Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, USMC. After completing this assignment on 20 February, the destroyer operated off the east coast, conducting ASW and other exercises in preparation for a possible deployment to Europe.
In July, however, tensions with the Soviet Union had eased to the point where the Berlin call-up could be reversed. On 1 August, the selected reserve crew was released from active duty, and the destroyer was reassigned to ResDesRon 34. Over the next three months, Bearss conducted two reserve training cruises, one to Boston and the other to the Bahamas, and received a tender availability alongside Vulcan (AR-5) in September.
At the same time, however, the Atlantic Fleet began shifting its center of gravity to West Indian and nearby Atlantic waters in response to the buildup of Soviet-supplied surface-to-air (SAM) missiles and other defensive weapons in Cuba. On 22 October, following the photo reconnaissance discovery of a launch site under construction in Cuba—intended for nuclear-armed offensive missiles—President Kennedy announced a "strict quarantine" of the island.
Tasked with a support role, Bearss got underway from Norfolk on 4 November carrying men and equipment for the ships on the quarantine line. On the 6th, she highline transferred 106 men and 200 tons of cargo to Newport News (CA-148), Neosho (AO-143), and Wasp (CVS-18). The next day, she followed this up by transferring 28 men to Stickell (DD-888) and Steinaker (DE-452). On her final mission during the crisis, she carried 207 passengers from San Juan to Guantanamo Bay before returning to Norfolk. The crisis finally ended on 20 November when the Soviets finished dismantling their missile bases and withdrew their offensive forces from Cuba.
Bearss resumed her regular two-week reserve training cruises in December. These continued through the first six months of 1963, with port visits to San Juan, St. Thomas, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and New York city. On 15 June, she broke this routine by embarking on a four-week training cruise to Spain. During this exercise, the destroyer visited Barcelona—where her crew participated in Project "Handclasp"—and Palma de Majorca before returning to Norfolk on 14 July.
After conducting two more training cruises that summer, one to Newfoundland and the other to New York, the warship's crew began inactivation preparations in September. Bearss was decommissioned on 1 October 1963 and, for the next decade, lay in the Norfolk Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 December 1974, and she was sold for scrapping to the Union Minerals & Alloys Corp., New York, in April 1976.