McFarland, a 1,190-ton Clemson-class destroyer, was built at Camden, New Jersey. Commissioned in September 1920, she soon departed for European waters, where she served between England and the Black Sea until September 1923, with time out for a brief return to the US in mid-1922. For the rest of the 1920s and all of the 1930s, she was active in the Atlantic except for a trip to Hawaii during the 1925 Fleet Problem and a short time in reserve at Philadelphia in the early 1930s.
In August 1940, McFarland was reclassified as a seaplane tender with the new hull number AVD-14. Following conversion for this role and recommissioning in October 1940, she went to the Pacific. When Japan brought the United States into World War II with the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, McFarland was at sea off Maui. During the next six months, she continued operations in the vicinity of Hawaii and other US-held central Pacific islands, performing patrol and transportation missions.
McFarland went to the South Pacific in June 1942 and, after the southern Solomons invasion in early August, was active in support of the campaign to defend the new US air base at Guadalcanal, initially as a seaplane tender but mainly in carrying supplies and personnel to and from the combat area.
On 16 October 1942, while off Guadalcanal unloading cargo and embarking combat casualties, she was attacked by Japanese dive bombers. One bomb hit a gasoline barge tied up alongside and others hit or near-missed McFarland. The Navy recognized her crew’s performance in saving their ship under very difficult conditions with a Presidential Unit Citation—the first one awarded to a ship.
Over the next two months, McFarland received temporary repairs at Tulagi and Espiritu Santo. She arrived at Pearl Harbor to a heroes’ welcome December 1942 and then continued on to San Francisco, where she was completely repaired by April 1943. For the rest of the Pacific war, she was based at San Diego, California, supporting aircraft carriers during training missions. The ship's destroyer designation, with her DD-237 hull number, was restored in December 1943, and a proposed conversion in 1944 to a fast transport (APD-26) was not carried out.
At the end of September 1945, following the conclusion of hostilities, McFarland left the Pacific for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She decommissioned there in November 1945 and was sold for scrapping in October 1946.