“Shipmates forever” is the way crewmembers expressed their bond from USS Meredith, a happy ship sacrificed in an effort to resupply Marines during the darkest days of the Guadalcanal campaign, October 1942. She was sunk with a loss of more than half her crew and that of tug Vireo, whose three-day ordeal at sea has few parallels in US naval history.
The Short Life of a Valiant Ship
Meredith, Gleaves- (Livermore-)class DD 434, was laid down at Boston Navy Yard with Gwin (DD 433), 1 June 1939. The second US Navy ship named for Sgt. Jonathan Meredith, USMC, she was christened before her sister ship, 24 April 1940; at a ceremony sponsored by Miss Ethel Dixon Meredith. Also attending was Mrs. William Farragut Meredith, who had christened the first Meredith (DD 165) in 1918. She commissioned 1 March 1941, Lt. Comdr. William F. Mendenhall, Jr. in command.

Following shakedown in Cuban waters, Meredith returned to Boston 8 June 1941 and formed Destroyer Division 22 of Squadron 11 with Gwin, Grayson and Monssen. Departing Boston 6 July, she engaged in patrol duty, exercises, and flight operations along the southern coast until 20 September. From 28 September until 31 January 1942, the division was based at Halfjordur, Iceland, patrolling into the Denmark Straits. On 17 October 1941, Meredith rescued survivors of torpedoed British steamer SS Empire Wave.

She sailed from Boston for Norfolk 18 February 1942 screening Washington. There on 1 March, LCdr. Harry E. Hubbard, first in the Naval Academy’s Class of 1925, relieved Cdr. Mendenhall as commanding officer. There, too, the division was attached to Hornet‘s Task Force 18 with cruisers Vincennes and Nashville, six transports and oiler Cimarron departing 4 March for San Diego via the Panama Canal, arriving 21 March. Enroute, on 12 March, Meredith sustained an accidental torpedo firing 12 March, in which one man was killed.

Departing San Francisco 2 April, Hornet and her task force were joined by Enterprise 13 April, launched Gen. Doolittle’s Army B-25 bombers to strike Tokyo 18 April and returned to Pearl Harbor 25 April.

Between 13 May and 21 June, Meredith escorted Cimarron to Nouméa, patrolled of Bulari Passage, struck a reef at Pago Pago but with only minor damage and escorted seaplane tender Tangier from Pago Pago back to Pearl Harbor. In July, she was assigned to plane guard duty for Hornet for air operations training, during which she often exercised with ships of DesRon 2.

Meredith departed Pearl Harbor 15 August 1942 for Samoa, via Fiji with escort carrier Kitty Hawk, transport E.J. Hines, cruisers Minneapolis and Boise plus Laffey, repair ship Vestal and tug Seminole arriving Pago Pago 30 August. From there she escorted six transports to Espiritu Santo, then Guadalcanal 20 September, thereafter patrolling from the New Hebrides. On 30 September she screened Monssen (later Navajo with Monssen also screening) in towing torpedoed cargo ship Alhena from south of San Cristobal, to Espiritu Santo, arriving 7 October.

Departing Espiritu Santo 12 October for Guadalcanal escorting cargo ships Bellatrix and Alchiba towing barges plus Jamestown and Vireo, under orders to get through if at all possible. After Nicholas joined the formation, it turned back, then divided on the morning of 15 October, with Meredith escorting Vireo (now towing Bellatrix’s barge) setting course again for Guadalcanal in a do-or-die mission. Caught between a reported enemy cruiser force and carrier Zuikaku’s approaching task force, Meredith took aboard Vireo’s crew and was preparing for surface action when 38 aircraft attacked. Hit by multiple bombs and torpedoes, Meredith broke into three and sank in less than ten minutes. For 70 hours, survivors of the two ships alternated time on overloaded life rafts with time treading water, often under attack by sharks. Only on 18 October were they spotted by a PBY, which led Grayson (“angels in white hats with dungarees”), Gwin and fleet tug Seminole to their position, where they rescued 97. Four of these soon died, bringing the total lost to 237. Meredith earned one battle star for this action.

Vireo and Seminole

Above: tug Vireo in 1942.
Below: tug Seminole, ca. 1940.

A third USS Meredith, Allen M. Sumner-class DD 726, was launched at Bath Iron Works and commissioned 14 March 1944, was sunk off Normandy 9 June 1944. A fourth USS Meredith, Gearing-class DD 890, was built at Consolidated Shipbuilding, Orange, Texas and commissioned 31 December 1945.

Seven other US Navy ships—an unsurpassed number—were also named for Meredith officers and men: Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer Harry E. Hubbard, DD 748 and destroyer escorts Edgar G. Chase, Atherton, Cockerill, Naifeh, Odum and Durik.

Shipmates participated in a reunion at Dedham, Massachusetts in 1963, in a DesDiv 22 reunion at Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania in 1984, and with Vireo shipmates at Boston and in a Grayson reunion at New Orleans in 1989, at Orlando in 1990, in a memorial service at Washington in 1991 and at Andover, Massachusetts, including a service at Boston Navy Yard 15 October 1992.

In 1988, shipmate LCdr. Robert (“Robby”) Robinson wrote The Life, Death and Men of the Meredith (DD 434), which he followed in 1990 with Shipmates Forever, a compilation of records and first person accounts prepared from contacts with almost 50 survivors. The book includes a track chart, rough deck logs and chapters on survival and rescue. It ends with biographical sketches, texts of reunion speeches and the recurring toast “to our absent shipmates. Let the search continue until the last shipmate and family of lost shipmates is found and they join us in happy reunion.” Copies of it and The Invincible Russell (DD 414) as PDF files may be purchased through this web site.

Sources: Robinson, Shipmates Forever, Naval Historical Center Photographic Section and DANFS.