Built with Buchanan at Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Kearny, New Jersey, the second Aaron Ward was commissioned 4 March 1942 and, after shakedown in the western Atlantic, departed New York for the Pacific in May. During the next month, she served as an escort for escort aircraft carrier Long Island and several old battleships when they put to sea from the U.S. west coast at the time of the Battle of Midway.
In July, Aaron Ward steamed to the South Pacific where she joined Destroyer Squadron 12. Initially assigned as an escort to both logistics shipping and warships during the Guadalcanal campaign, she was present when carrier Wasp was torpedoed and sunk on 15 September 1942 and when heavy cruiser Chester was damaged by a Japanese torpedo on 20 October.
Off Guadalcanal on 17 October, the “Double A” fought off a Japanese air attack and then, with Lardner, effectively shelled enemy positions ashore. She participated in another bombardment with Benham, Fletcher and Lardner on 30 October as part of a task force centered on light cruiser Atlanta. She escorted a convoy of transports to Guadalcanal on 11–12 November and protected them against hostile air attacks while they were off the island.
On the night of 12–13 November, in the initial surface phase of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, she was part of a group of cruisers and destroyers (DesRon 12’s Laffey and Monssen, unattached Barton plus 1,500-tonners Cushing and Sterett and 2,100-tonners O’Bannon and Fletcher) that intercepted and drove off a superior Japanese bombardment force including two battleships.
Flagship that night of Capt. Tobin, ComDesRon 12—leading rear destroyers Barton, Monssen and Fletcher—Aaron Ward was hit by nine shells varying between 5 and 14 inches, but fortunately all were well above the water line. Crippled—with twelve dead, three dying and 57 wounded—but not in danger of sinking, she was towed into Tulagi Harbor the following morning by tug Bobolink while Japanese battleship Hiei fired on but missed her.
Arriving Pearl Harbor 20 December for repairs, Aaron Ward rejoined the fleet 6 February 1943, concurrent with the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal.
At Tulagi on the morning of 7 April, she received warning of a massive incoming Japanese air raid. Escaping into the relatively open waters of Ironbottom Sound, she was attacked by several Japanese dive bombers, suffering one hit and several near misses that left her machinery spaces flooded. Aaron Ward sank near shore while under tow back to Tulagi.
In 1994, divers discovered Aaron Ward’s wreck in 240 feet of water. Extensively explored since then, she is upright with her bow and stern distorted by impact with the sea floor and with damage still showing from her last fight, but otherwise in remarkably good condition.