Following shakedown and training, Ward cleared the West Coaston 2 December 1918. As flagship of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 18, the ship took part in the annual winter maneuvers in the Guantánamo Bay area. In May 1919, Ward provided navigational aids and lifeguard station services as NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4 set out on their transatlantic flight. Ward served on station off Newfoundland and supported the first leg of the passage from Newfoundland to the Azores, while stationed 50 miles from sister ships, Boggs (Destroyer No. 136) and Palmer (Destroyer No. 161).
In July 1919, Ward was among the first “nest” of destroyers which passed through the Panama Canal locks as the Fleet took passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Following this canal transit, Ward proceeded north and called at Acapulco, Mexico. For the remainder of July and into August, she visited such California ports as San Diego, San Pedro, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Francisco, and Eureka, before heading north to Portland, Oreg. On 13 September 1919, Ward was among the ships of the Fleet reviewed by President Woodrow Wilson at Seattle, Wash.
The destroyer then returned south to San Diego to operate off the West Coastfor the remainder of 1919 and into 1920. On 17 July 1920, during the sweeping Navy-wide assignment of hull numbers, Ward was assigned the designation DD-139. With DesDiv 18 through the late spring of 1921, Ward subsequently joined many of her sisters in reserve when she was decommissioned on 21 July 1921 and placed in “Red Lead Row” at San Diego.
As the Axis challenge of Germany, Italy, and Japan threatened peace and the security of the democratic nations in the latter half of the 1930’s, the United States Navy began to rearm. While new ships joined the fleet, a number of older ones—Ward among them— were recommissioned. Some went to the Atlantic to take part in the de facto war with German U-boats as the year 1941 progressed. Others went to local district defense duties, and the latter role was Ward’s new assignment.
Ward was recommissioned on 15 January 1941 at the Naval Destroyer Base, San Diego, Lt. Comdr. Hunter Wood, Jr., in command. After provisioning and fueling, the warship set out into the Pacific, bound for Hawaii, and rolled and pitched heavily as soon as she hit the open sea on 28 February. She managed to struggle through and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 9 March and joined the 14th Naval District local defense forces and DesDiv 80. Consisting of four destroyers—two of Ward’s sisters and a World War I veteran, Allen (DD-66)—DesDiv 80’s job was to patrol the channel entrance off Pearl Harbor—a large job for such a small and antiquated force and an important one since the Pacific Fleet was to base at Pearl Harbor as a deterrent to the rising imperialistic ambitions of Japan in the Far East.
Throughout 1941, Ward conducted routine antisubmarine patrols in the Hawaiian area, as did Chew (DD-106), Schley (DD-103), and Allen, and the three Coast Guard cutters and a handful of coastal minecraft that made up the rest of Comdr. John B. Wooley’s Inshore Patrol command. As tensions with Japan increased following the oil embargo in July 1941 and again at the accession of the Tojo cabinet in October, Washington, late in November 1941, dispatched a “war warning” to the force commanders in the Hawaiian and Philippine Island areas to be on the alert for possible Japanese hostile action.
Accordingly, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, ordered his inshore patrol to depth-charge suspicious submarine contacts operating in the defensive sea areas. Given orders, in effect to “shoot to kill,” Ward and her consorts continued as before, with the exception that they were now to be on a wartime footing. Equipped with listening gear, Ward continued vigilant patrols in the inshore operating zones, cutting routine figure-eights back and forth within a two-mile radius of the channel-entrance buoys.
One of the old four-pipers had the duty each weekend. Soon it came to be Ward’s turn—but she went to sea this particular weekend with a new commanding officer. Lt. William W. Outerbridge took command from Lt. Comdr. Wood on B December; and, at 0628 on the 6th, Outerbridge took his first sea command out for a routine entrance patrol.
At 0408 on 7 December, the old destroyer went to general quarters to search for a suspected submarine detected by Condor (AMc-14), but came up with nothing. Meanwhile, Antares (AKS-14), flagship of Training Squadron 8, plodded back from Palmyra Island with a target raft in tow. She anchored off the harbor entrance to await a favorable tide and the opening of the boom-net defenses. Exchanging calls with Antares as she subsequently headed for the channel, at 0506, Ward continued her early morning vigil until lookouts on the destroyer’s bridge noticed a small feather wake astern of the auxiliary, between Antares and the raft.
Within moments, Ward was a ship alive—the general quarters alarm routed the men from their bunks and sent them on the double to their action stations. Outer-bridge, who had retired to a makeshift bunk rigged up in the charthouse, was on the bridge in seconds, pulling a life jacket on over a kimono and pajamas, and a World War I style “tin helmet” on his head.
Ward charged at the submarine like a terrier; and, for a moment, Outerbridge thought it looked like his ship was going to run down the little intruder. Number one four-inch mount trained around, and her gunners tried to draw a bead on the elusive target. The first shot of the Pacific war barked from Ward’s gun at 0645 and splashed harmlessly beyond the small conning tower. As Ward pounded past at 25 knots, number three gun atop the galley deckhouse amidships commenced fire—its round passed squarely through the submersible’s conning tower. As the Japanese midget wallowed lower in the water and started to sink, the destroyer swiftly dropped four depth charges—signaled by four blasts on the ship’s whistle. Black water gushed upwards in the ship’s boiling wake as the bombs went off—sealing the submarine’s doom.
Outerbridge radioed a terse action report to Commandant, 14th Naval District headquarters, and to distinguish this attack from the numerous sightings that had plagued local patrol forces, added that he had sighted and fired upon an unidentified submarine in the defensive sea area. Delays in seeking confirmation and a reluctance to heed the warning resulted in the message’s slow transmission through tortuously slow communication channels. Ward echo-ranged for further contacts—and soon latched on to another one, dropping depth charges but not coming up with concrete results.
Subsequently, as the day dawned upon the purple and verdant hillsides of Oahu, Ward headed for home—her date with destiny kept. She soon spotted a Japanese fishing sampan—one of many that were a familiar sight in the waters in the Hawaiian archipelago. A fisherman suddenly started waving a white flag—perhaps he had seen the determined depth-charge attacks and thought that the Americans would bomb anything that moved. Ward slowed and closed to investigate and took the small craft in tow to turn her over to the Coast Guard for disposition.
Nearing the harbor entrance around 0800, those on deck heard the sound of gunfire and explosions, as smoke began to boil into the skies over Pearl Harbor. Soon a strafing Japanese plane convinced the doubters that there indeed was a war on.
On that Sunday morning, Ward had the distinction of firing the first American gun in anger during the Pacific war. For the remainder of the year, the venerable destroyer continued her routine district patrols and—for a time—anything that moved beneath the waters was fair game. As Outerbridge recalled years later, Ward and her sisters must have killed a lot of fish. But as newer and more modern destroyers began joining the fleet, as well as built-for-the purpose sub-chasing craft, some of the old “flush-decked, four-pipers” began to be assigned to other duties: tending seaplanes, laying or sweeping mines, or—for a newer innovation in modern warfare—carrying fully equipped troops for assault landings as fast transports.
Accordingly, Ward sailed to Bremerton, Wash., for conversion to a high-speed transport at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. During the ensuing months, the old “four-piper” began to take on an altered appearance. Her forward funnels were removed, as the forward boiler and fire rooms were converted to accommodate troops. Antiaircraft guns—3-inch/50s and 20-millimeter Oerlikons—replaced the antiquated “iron-sighted” single-purpose 4-inch guns and the .50-caliber machine guns, and she acquired four sets of davits and four 36-foot landing craft to put her embarked troops ashore. Thus outfitted, Ward was designated APD-16 and got underway for the South Pacific on 6 February 1943.
Based at Espiritu Santo, Ward performed a variety of duties—antisubmarine patrols, escort duties, and transport service—while she worked up as a fast transport. Soon after completing a run to the Russell Islands, Ward neared Tulagi on the afternoon of 7 April 1943, as Japanese aircraft swept overhead in Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s last planned Operation “I”—the air strike designed to cripple American seapower in the Solomons in the wake of Japan’s evacuation from Guadalcanal.
At 1510, Ward went to general quarters and opened fire, charging out of the harbor, eager for action. In the confused melee of gunfire, the ship helped splash two Japanese planes. When the final score was tallied on the American side, the Navy had lost Aaron Ward (DD-483) and Kanawha (AO-9), while Adhara (AK-71) and Tappahannock (AO-43) had suffered damage.
The following day, Ward headed for Espiritu Santo— as escort for five merchantmen and in company with Taylor (DD-468), Farenholt (DD-491), and Sterett (DD-407)—and arrived there on 10 April. The fast transport then underwent a tender overhaul through the 17th. She then embarked men of the 4th Marine Battalion, 1st Marine Raider Regiment, for a practice landing at Powell Point, New Hebrides, and for night landing exercises. Upon the conclusion of these maneuvers, she reembarked troops and conducted antisubmarine screening.
Continuing her escort and transport operations into June, Ward helped to beat off a Japanese air attack in the Guadalcanal area on the 16th, her gunners claiming four attacking aircraft. Seven days later, on 23 June, Ward steamed in the screen of a convoy on escort duty. On that day, Japanese submarine RO-103, commanded by Lt. Rikinosuke Ichimura, slipped past the screen and torpedoed and sank two cargo ships—Aludra (AK-72) and Deimos (AK-78), which proved to be Ichimura’s only “kills” of the war.
Ward arrived at Milne Bay, New Guinea, on 17 December for duty with Task Force (TF) 76. She engaged in practice exercises off Cape Sudest, British New Guinea, with Companies “I” and “L” of the 3d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from 22 to 23 December. On the 24th, she embarked 140 officers and men of Companies “I” and “M” of the 3d Battalion, 7th Regiment, and set out for Cape Gloucester, New Britain, as part of TU 76.1.21 with the eight-ship formation in double column order.
The group approached the landing area on the 26th, in a single column and at a speed of five knots. At 0600, a cruiser bombardment heralded the Americans’ approach; and Ward disembarked her troops at 0653, launching her Higgins boats off beach “Yellow One” and then retiring to wait the return of her brood. Army heavy bombers droned over enemy positions at 0705, and Army medium bombers then commenced both bombing and strafing enemy defenses some 19 minutes later. Ward’s boats returned by 0845; and, an hour later, the ship got underway for Buna, British New Guinea. After what her war diary termed an “uneventful return trip,” Ward dropped anchor off Buna at 2259 on 26 December.
Two days later, at 1140, Ward embarked 200 officers and men of Company “B,” 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, bound for Cape Gloucester as a part of TU 76.1.21. Underway at 1427, the ship went to general quarters at 1933 as numerous planes were reported in the vicinity. However, none came near; and the ship stood down from quarters at 2018 that night.
The following day, 29 December, Ward and her sister fast transports approached the landing area at 15 knots and disembarked marines at 0655, standing put to await the return of her boats. During the landings, Army medium bombers pounded the airfield and other targets of opportunity while the destroyer transports stood out to sea to recover landing craft later. All Ward’s boats had returned by 0815, and all the other transports except Noa (APD-24) had recovered theirs by 0900. Soon thereafter, the warships returned to Buna.
Operating as part of Transport Division 22, Ward got underway at 0601 on 1 January 1944 for Cape Sudest. That afternoon, she joined up with the Western Assault Group bound for Saidor, New Guinea, and got underway for British New Guinea. At 0615 the following day, Ward approached the transport area, while escorting destroyers opened fire on beach targets and enemy defenses 30 minutes later. Disembarking Company “L,” 126th Army Infantry Regiment, 32d Division, Ward stood by off shore. Destroyer bombardment ceased at 0717; and, one minute later, the landing craft approaching the beach strafed the beach-front jungle with machine guns and automatic weapons fire. Those off shore in Ward were unable to see the actual landing due to the heavy pall of smoke and dust caused by the bombardment.
After returning from the Cape Sudest landings to Buna, Ward conducted local operations out of Espiritu Santo into February 1944. She then carried out practice landing exercises with embarked marines and New Zealand troops off Juno River, Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands, before getting underway late on 14 February to take part in the Nissan Island landings.
Screened by Fullam (DD-474), Halford (DD-480), in which Commander, Task Unit (CTU) 31.1.4 rode, Guest (DD-472), Hudson (DD-475), and Bennett (DD-473), Ward arrived in the vicinity of Nissan Island as several enemy aircraft were reported flying nearby. Approaching the transport area at 0512, she disembarked her landing craft at beach “Blue One” and soon noted Japanese aircraft attacking LCI and LST formations. During the melee, Ward counted six Japanese aircraft, but friendly fighters took care of the enemy formations—downing two, while “heavy and moderately accurate” gunfire from the surface ships below helped to drive away the others. Ashore, the troops encountered no opposition and soon took their objective. Ward, her job completed, headed for the Russell Islands to embark men of the 33d Navy Construction Battalion on the 20th for passage to Nissan Island.
Upon landing her embarked seabees on “Beach Red,” Ward patrolled offshore, screening a dozen LST’s as they got underway for Guadalcanal, before she headed for Espiritu Santo to dock in ARD-5 to repair sound gear damaged during the second phase of the ship’s Nissan Island operations.
The following month, the durable fast transport took part in the landings at Emirau Island, with “B” Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, embarked. She disembarked 208 troops and 22 tons of stores in four hours and subsequently joined the antisubmarine screen protecting the still-unloading transports and dock-landing ships. Refueling soon thereafter en route to Purvis Bay, Ward anchored at her destination on 23 February to undergo a needed upkeep period for the remainder of the month.
Conducting practice landings at Cape Cretin, with officers and men of the 163d Army Regimental Combat Team in early April, Ward embarked these troops for transportation to Aitape, New Guinea, and got underway at 1617 on 18 April with TG 77.1. Going to general quarters at 0430 on 22 April, the transport lay to at 0537 off the landing area and, after disembarking her troops, proceeded to a fire support station off Tumleo Island. For one-half hour, Ward conducted a shore bombardment with her 3-inch main battery before shifting gunfire to what initially appeared to be a beached Japanese landing craft, but which later investigation proved to be a small reef.
Subsequently screening off the transport area, Ward transferred a wounded man from a landing craft to Kilty (APD-15) for evacuation and medical treatment. After picking up her landing boats, Ward later escorted reinforcements to Aitape on the 22d. The following day saw a continuation of her troop-carrying and fire-support duties, as her boats embarked troops from Ormsby (APA-49) to transport them to the beach, while Ward’s 3-inch gunfire again aided the troops ashore.
Shifting to Cape Cretin on the 25th and to Buna on the 26th, Ward conducted antisubmarine screening duties with transports headed to Saidor, New Guinea, before returning to Aitape. She screened and patrolled near the unloading transports and, after refueling, escorted Henry T. Allen (AP-30) and Australian transports Kanimbla, Manoora, and Westralia to Humboldt Bay where they unloaded their embarked troops. Steaming back to Cape Sudest and Cape Cretin, Ward provisioned ship on 10 May and underwent a tender overhaul alongside Dobbin (AD-3) at Port Harvey, British New Guinea, on the 14th. Subsequently returning to Humboldt Bay in company with Herbert (APD-22), Ward anchored at Humboldt Bay on 24 May and embarked troops of the Army 186th Infantry Regiment for transport to Bosnik, Biak Island, in the Schoetens. The operation, commencing on the 27th, went off without a hitch; and all troops landed without opposition on the beaches. Forming up in open column order, Ward and her sister fast transports sailed for Hollandia and Humboldt Bay.
Ward conducted routine antisubmarine patrol operations off Humboldt Bay and in the New Guinea area into late June. She underwent a tender overhaul with Dobbin at Manus, in the Admiralties, from 24 June to 4 July, before proceeding to Cape Cretin where she exchanged her landing boats with those from sister ship Schley (APD-14). Sailing later for Milne Bay, the ship conducted local transport duties in the New Guinea area through July. Ward subsequently served as picket ship and navigational guide for a Humboldt Bay-to-Maffin Bay convoy, in local New Guinean waters, before conducting a practice landing east of Toem, New Guinea.
Embarking troops of Companies “E” and “F” of the 1st Army Infantry Regiment, 6th Division, as well as a combat photographic unit and three Australian war correspondents, Ward got underway on 27 July for Cape Sansapor. She arrived at the transport area off Warsai at 0626 on the 30th and immediately commenced disembarkation. The first wave of troops to land encountered no opposition, and the ships returned to Humboldt Bay.
During August, Ward conducted local transport operations and then sailed to Australia for an overhaul. En route, on the morning of 9 August, heavy seas ripped a 3-inch ready-use locker from the deck forward and tore a small hole in the main deck. After completing temporary repairs later that day, Ward arrived at Port Jackson, Sydney, on the 12th and remained there for 10 days. While steaming for Milne Bay, the ship and her companions—Herbert, Schley, Crosby, and Kilty—reduced speed to five knots due to an emergency appendectomy being performed in Schley but eventually resumed their normal speed and made Milne Bay at 0800 on 27 August.
Ward conducted transport and practice landing exercises early in September before getting underway on 10 September for Morotai, as part of TU 77.3.2. She landed six officers and 151 enlisted men from Company “A,” 124th Infantry Regiment, 31st Division, 6th Army, United States Army, and then recovered all of her landing craft and screened an LCI flotilla before commencing antisubmarine patrol.
The high-speed transport anchored off Cape Sansapor on the 16th and, three days later, got underway for Humboldt Bay as part of the screen for LCI Flotilla 8. At 1143 that day, she observed an Army Air Force Lockheed P-38 Lightning crash and sent a landing boat to rescue the pilot, 1st Lt. Edgar B. Scott. Ward arrived at Humboldt Bay at 0512 on the 22d and immediately commenced repairs alongside Dobbin to correct a defective reduction gear.
With that work completed by 1 October, Ward shifted to Cape Cretin where she loaded stores, ammunition, and seven officers and 140 enlisted men of the Companies “E” and “F” of the 6th Army Ranger Battalion for transportation to the Philippines. She got underway on the 12th with British minelayer-transport HMS Ariadne as fleet guide; proceeded via Humboldt Bay; and, as they approached Dinagat Island on the 17th, went to general quarters at 0558, when a Japanese aircraft dropped a white flare—which vividly outlined every ship in the formation in the ghostly white glare. Commencing evasive action, the fast transport headed for the troop disembarkation points while Lang (DD-399) and Bisbee (PF-46) commenced shore bombardment.
Once they had been launched, the boats encountered difficulties. High winds and seas and dangerous coral reefs all presented obstacles for their crews, as there was no lee behind which to lie and the winds blew directly towards the beach. After landing, all boats from Ward returned to Ariadne to embark troops, while Schley’s boats came alongside to be filled with Ranger Company “F” from Ward. Meanwhile, Ward was having difficulty remaining in the swept channel, as strong tidal currents, with high winds and seas, frequently almost caused the ship to drag anchor.
All but one of Ward’s boats then became stranded on the beach. One of these three was pulled off by boats from Schley; but the others remained there overnight. The fourth of Ward’s boat group, unable to get back to her own ship, was hoisted on board Schley before night retirement; and Schley’s boat—which had helped to refloat one of Ward’s boats, was taken on board Ward. Returning to the troop transport area the next morning, Ward continued unloading supplies for Army rangers. While engaged in this task, the ship sighted two Japanese “Vals” coming over the hills of Dinagat Island. The ship quickly went to general quarters and commenced firing. One plane made a strafing run on the transports but was driven off, while the second plane remained at 3,000 feet and, upon seeing his comrade’s failure, soon withdrew without making an attack.
While proceeding to Kossol Roads, in the Palaus, tragedy struck Ward when a lifeline gave way, and two men fell overboard. Turning to starboard, Ward heeled about to make the rescue, as men on deck threw life-jackets to the men in the water. Herbert, steaming in company, drew near, and one of her men dove over the side and rescued one of the Ward sailors. The other Ward bluejacket vanished. As Ward’s war diary noted ominously: “sharks were seen in the vicinity.” Giving up the search at 1645, Ward sailed on, listing the man as “presumed lost.”
While refueling at Kossol Roads, Ward was assigned to join Kilty in escorting three LST’s to the Philippines. Proceeding via Morotai, Ward, her sister ship, and their charges arrived in Leyte Gulf at 0045 on 12 November. The ship went to general quarters at 0454, detached the LST’s which proceeded to Dulag Bay anchorage, and observed antiaircraft fire over San Pedro Bay, as a Japanese air attack swept in upon the invading American fleet.
As yet disengaged, Ward watched as a Japanese plane was hit by antiaircraft fire from an LST and, trailing a column of smoke, plunged into the sea, nearly in the path of the recently detached and now beach-bound LST’s. The retaliatory strikes tapered off for a time; but Ward—in response to a report that 50 to 60 Japanese aircraft were winging their way towards the transport area—returned to general quarters from 0708 to 0750. After an “all clear” sounded, Ward stood down from general quarters but returned to that condition at 1335, as several Japanese aircraft returned to attack American shipping.
Intense antiaircraft fire downed two enemy planes almost instantly; two more crashed into repair ships—Egeria (ARL-8) and Achilles (ARL-41). That evening, Ward was ordered to escort a convoy to Hollandia, and she left the area.
Returning to San Pedro Bay in a five-column, 15-ship convoy on 28 November, Ward remained at anchor on the 29th and 30th of the month in Leyte Gulf preparing to take part in the scheduled landings at Mindoro. Although there were numerous air raid alerts signaled, Ward’s log records that she saw no enemy planes.
Continual air raid alerts during this period made life difficult for men of the Fleet engaged in the landing operations, with nearly round-the-clock watches. Ward embarked four officers and 104 enlisted men of the Army’s 77th Division on 6 December and sortied for Ormoc Bay, Leyte Island, at 1237 with TG 78.3. Since enemy aircraft had been reported in the area, Ward went to general quarters while en route to Ormoc Bay.
At 0153, the ship observed a large group of flares west of Himuquitan Island on the west coast of Leyte. At 0445, they sighted another flare, ahead of the convoy. Antiaircraft fire criss-crossed the sky as what appeared to be a Japanese floatplane passed down the starboard side of the group and emerged unscathed despite heavy fire. More flares which were dropped around the convoy just before sunrise pointed to the possibility of an attack, but no Japanese planes came over. At 0630, the escorting destroyers left the screen to commence shore bombardment; and, 12 minutes later, Ward began disembarking her troops for the beach into her LCP(R)s.
On screening patrol between Pomson Island and Leyte from 0825, Ward sighted a formation of nine twin-engined “Betties” coming in from the north over Leyte at an altitude between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. Commencing high-speed evasive maneuvers, the ship went into action with guns blazing but did not make any observable hits. Shortly before 1000, Mahan (DD-364) came under attack from another group of planes; and Ward’s lookouts noted that the unfortunate destroyer was emitting large quantities of grey and black smoke.
Ward now came under a concentrated attack by “Betties” and “Oscars,” and both Mohan and the fast transport fought for their lives against the onslaught. Army P-38’s and Curtiss P-40’s streaked over to intercept the attackers and engaged the Japanese over the unfortunate Mahan. The formation of nine “Betties,” again flying over the destroyer, soon broke, as three headed for Ward in a loose vee formation. Ward’s gunners opened fire with 3-inch and 20-millimeter batteries, sprinkling the sky with puffs of flak. The center plane was hit by the barrage, wavered, and crashed the ship at the waterline at 0956, entering the forward part of the boiler room and the after part of the lower troop space. One of the plane’s two engines continued on through the ship, exiting at the waterline on the starboard side. An instant later, a “Betty” passed low over Ward’s forecastle, strafing the ship en route, and crashed into the water 200 yards off the starboard bow, slapped into the sea by Ward’s gunfire.
The third attacker which had singled the transport out also joined her partners, splashing 600 yards off the starboard quarter. In the meantime, the bomber which had crashed the ship had blown up, starting uncontrollable fires in the troop spaces—fortunately unoccupied at the time—and in the fireroom. Boiler fires flared back and the forced draft blower, dislodged from its mounting, fell into the fireroom.
Ceasing fire at 0957, all hands started to fight the fires as the air attack abruptly ended. In the distance, Mahan, too, burned fiercely—the victim of a heavy and devastating attack. Men in the forward part of Ward could not contact those in the aft, since the fires amidships had severed all communications. Thick smoke boiled out of the mortal wound in the fast transport amidships.
Several minutes after the explosion, water pressure dropped to below 100 pounds, making it nearly impossible to train water on the fires to attempt to put them out. The ship soon lost way as the fire amidships burned fiercely. The thick smoke boiling from the damaged troop space and fireroom area made the suction hoses for the gasoline-driven handy billies as well as asbestos suit stowage—located amidships—inaccessible. In an effort to dissipate the smoke, the awning over the well-deck was cut away. This reduced the density of the smoke but did not make the area amidships any more accessible. Two boats were lowered in an attempt to fight the fires through the holes in the hull made by the entrance and exit of the “Betty” on its death run. The handy billies carried in the LCP(R)’s unfortunately proved inadequate to deal with the raging gasoline-fed fires.
At 1015, O’Brien (DD-725), Saunter (AM-295), Scout (AM-296), and Crosby stood towards Ward. Scout and Crosby lowered boats to pick up survivors. In the meantime, with main communications systems out of commission, a report was made via battery-powered radio to the other ships. Ward’s commanding officer, Lt. R. E. Parwell, USNR, announced the intention of abandoning if the fires could not be brought under control. O’Brien—commanded by Lt. Comdr. Outerbridge, the same man who had commanded Ward during her historic encounter with the Japanese midget submarine three years to the day before—moved close aboard to port and commenced fire fighting operations 1018.
By this time, however, fires raged in the troop spaces—igniting both fuel tanks and the diesel oil storage; the fireroom filled with black smoke, and it proved impossible to regain steam pressure to get underway. Flames rose and extended along the main deck in the vicinity of the 20-millimeter ready use ammunition lockers. The danger posed by the explosion of fuel tanks, ready-use ammunition and magazines, at 1024 caused Farwell to order “abandon ship”—less than one-half hour after the Japanese plane had crashed into the ship. Almost miraculously, only one man had been injured, and all hands left the ship to board other vessels.
Saunders joined O’Brien in trying to put out the blaze, but the fire defied all attempts to extinguish it. Commander, TG 78.3, ordered O’Brien to sink the blazing fast transport with gunfire. Accordingly, the ships stood away, and O’Brien commenced firing. From the bridge of O’Brien, Lt. Comdr. Outerbridge watched as that destroyer’s guns sank Ward, his first sea command. Years later, he recalled that there was little emotion involved in the task: “it just was something that had to be done.” Ward sank at 1130 on 7 December 1944, in Ormoc Bay between Poro Island and Apali Point. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 20 January 1945.
Ward earned one battle star for World War II services as a destroyer and eight as a fast transport.
Sources: Clark, Curt, The Famed Green Dragons; Naval History & Heritage Command including Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.