After acceptance trials off New England, Ford received Lt. Comdr. C. A. Pownall as commanding officer 16 July 1921. On 17 November, while operating along the eastern seaboard, her name was changed to John D. Ford. After training in the Caribbean, she departed Newport, R.I., 20 June 1922 for permanent duty with the Asiatic Fleet. Sailing via the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, and the Indian Ocean, she arrived Cavite, Manila Bay, 21 August to begin almost two decades of service in the Far East.
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, John D. Ford operated out of Manila, cruising Asiatic waters from southern China to northern Japan. During April and May 1924, she helped establish temporary air bases on the Japanese Kurile and Hokkaido Islands in support of the pioneer, global flight between 9 April and 28 September by the U.S. Air Service. On 6 June she deployed to Shanghai, China, to protect American lives and interests which were threatened by Chinese civil strife. After renewal of the Chinese Civil War in May 1926, she patrolled the Chinese coast to protect convoys from roving bands of bandits. On 24 March 1927 she supported the evacuation of American and foreign nationals, who were fleeing from mob violence at Nanking.
The ascendancy of the reformed Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Shek in 1928 quieted civil strife. However, Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated, requiring John D. Ford to remain in China. Following Japanese aggression in northern China during July 1937, she evacuated Americans from Peiping as Japanese ships prepared to blockade the Chinese coast. Steaming to Manila 21 November, she operated between the Philippines and southern China on fleet maneuvers. And after war broke out in Europe in September 1939, she increased training off the Philippines and commenced neutrality patrols in the Philippine and South China Seas.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941, John D. Ford readied for action at Cavite as a unit of DesDiv 59. Undamaged by the destructive Japanese air raid on Manila Bay 10 December, she sailed southward the same day to patrol the Sulu Sea and Makassar Strait with Task Force 6. She remained in Makassar Strait until 23 December, then she steamed from Balikpapan, Borneo, to Surabaya, Java, arriving the 24th.
As the Japanese pressed southward through the Philippines and into Indonesia, the Allies could hardly hope to contain the enemy's offensive in the East Indies. With too few ships and practically no air support they strove to harass the enemy, to delay his advance, and to prevent the invasion of Australia. Anxious to strike back at the Japanese, John D. Ford departed Surabaya 11 January 1942 for Kupang, Timor, where she arrived the 18th to join a destroyer striking force. Two days later the force sailed for Balikpapan to conduct a surprise torpedo attack on Japanese shipping. Arriving off Balikpapan during mid watch 24 January, the four destroyers launched a sweeping raid through the Japanese transports while Japanese destroyers steamed about Makassar Strait in search of reported American submarines. For over an hour the four-stackers fired torpedoes and shells at the astonished enemy. Before retiring from the first surface action in the Pacific war, they sank four enemy ships, one a victim of John D. Ford’s torpedoes. The victorious striking force arrived Surabaya 25 January.
The Japanese pincer offensive through the Dutch East Indies continued despite Allied harassment. On 3 February the enemy began air raids on Surabaya, and John D. Ford retired in convoy to Tjilatjap on the southern coast of Java. During mid-February the Japanese tightened their control of islands east and west of Java, and on 18 February they landed troops on Bali, adjacent to the eastern end of the Java. In response John D. Ford, Pope (DD-225), and other American and Dutch ships steamed to Badoeng Strait in two waves to engage an enemy destroyer-transport force during the night of 19-20 February. A unit of the first wave, John D. Ford conducted a running engagement with two Japanese destroyers without results; while the Japanese retired northwards after the second wave, their landings on Bali were successful. Moreover, they sank the Dutch destroyer Piet Hein while suffering extensive damage to only one ship.
Returning to Tjilatjap 21 February for fuel, John D. Ford and Pope immediately sailed to Christmas Island to pick up the last reserve of 17 to 18 torpedoes from Black Hawk (AD-9). Then they steamed to Surabaya, arriving the 24th to join the dwindling ABDA Striking Force. Hampered by shortages of fuel, ammunition, and torpedoes and reduced in strength by sinkings, battle damage, and repair needs, the Allies indeed faced a “critical situation.” Only four U.S. destroyers remained operational in the Striking Force.
Late on the 25th, John D. Ford sortied with the Striking Force from Surabaya in search of a large enemy amphibious force in the Java Sea. Returning to port the following day, the force was joined by five British ships; once more the Striking Force steamed to intercept the enemy. Following an unsuccessful strike by enemy planes the morning of the 27th, the Allied force steamed for Surabaya. While steaming through the mine field, the ships reversed course and deployed to meet the enemy off the northern coast of Java.
The Battle of Java Sea commenced at 1616 and continued for over 7 hours. The Allied ships, 5 cruisers and 9 destroyers, engaged the enemy force, 4 cruisers and 13 destroyers, in a furious running battle marked by intermittent gun and torpedo duels. John D. Ford emerged from the battle undamaged but in the valiant attempt to prevent the invasion of Java, five Allied ships were sunk.
Retiring to Surabaya, John D. Ford and three other destroyers of DesDiv 58 departed after dark 18 February for Australia. Steaming undetected through the narrows of Bali Strait during midwatch 1 March, the gallant old four-pipers encountered three enemy destroyers guarding the southern end of the strait. Out of torpedoes and low on ammunition, the destroyers outdistanced the Japanese patrol and steamed for Fremantle. Lt. Comdr. J. E. Cooper, who had skippered John D. Ford since before the outbreak of the war, brought her safely to Australia 4 March.
After 2 months of convoy escort duty along the Australian coast, John D. Ford departed Brisbane on 9 May for Pearl Harbor. Arriving 2 June, she sailed in convoy 3 days later for San Francisco and arrived 12 June. She cleared San Francisco for Pearl Harbor 23 June, and during the next 11 months escorted nine convoys between San Francisco and Pearl. Returning to the West Coast 20 May 1943, she departed San Francisco 24 May for convoy and ASW patrols in the Atlantic.
Assigned to the 10th Fleet, John D. Ford transited the Canal 4 June and joined a Trinidad-bound convoy the 6th. For the next six months she ranged the North and South Atlantic from New York and Charleston, S.C., to Casablanca, French Morocco, and Recife, Brazil, protecting supply convoys from German U-boats. After ASW training late in December, she joined Guadalcanal (CVE-60) out of Norfolk 5 January 1944 for hunter-killer activities operations in the Atlantic. The versatile destroyer supported the destruction of German submarine U-554, surprised and depth charged while refueling west of the Azores 16 January.
After returning to the East Coast 16 February, John D. Ford cleared Norfolk 14 March for a convoy run to the Mediterranean. While at Gibraltar 29 March, she was damaged in a collision with a British tanker. Following repairs, she returned to Norfolk, arriving 1 May. Departing Norfolk 24 May for convoy duty to the Canal Zone, John D. Ford continued convoy patrols for almost a year from eastern seaboard ports to Recife, Reykjavik, and Casablanca.
From 24 May 1945 to 27 June she acted as escort and plane guard for Boxer (CV-21) during the carrier's shakedown in the Caribbean, then she returned to Norfolk. She sailed 8 July for Boston Navy Yard where she arrived 9 July for conversion to miscellaneous auxiliary AG-119. After conversion, she returned to Norfolk 9 September and decommissioned 2 November. Subsequently, she was sold for scrap 5 October 1947 to Northern Metal Co., Philadelphia, Pa.
John D. Ford received four battle stars for World War II service.