World War II Museum Ships:
The Destroyers

by J. M. Pressley
First published: March 2, 2011

The destroyer was the versatile workhorse ship of the U.S. Navy during World War II. Today, seven are left as museum ships around the United States.

In the waning of the nineteenth century, the major naval powers of the world had a problem. The invention of the self-propelled torpedo meant that smaller forces could potentially sink much larger ships with fast-moving boats. In response, navies developed smaller warships designed to protect their capital fleets against such attacks and to launch torpedoes against enemy fleets. World War I was another step forward in destroyer evolution as the ship's role expanded to include anti-submarine warfare and escort duty.

By World War II, the destroyer had to contend with long-range sea patrols, deadlier submarines, and naval aircraft. They were larger than ever, and in keeping with their multidimensional role in the U.S. Navy, were armed with a variety of weapons including 5-inch guns, torpedoes, depth charges, and antiaircraft guns. Destroyers served on the front lines of naval combat during the war, performing a diverse range of duties: patrols, escorts, search-and-rescue missions, and even close-range shore bombardment.

More than 400 destroyers were built between 1932 and 1945, and approximately 634 served during World War II (including Lend-Lease and conversions of older models). Another 420 smaller destroyer escorts were also commissioned and served in the course of the war. Of those 1,054 ships, 86 were lost from 1941–45. Following the war, many of these ships continued service, either in the U.S. Navy or the fleets of other nations around the world.

Few examples now remain of this workhorse of the World War II fleet. At present, there are five destroyers and two destroyer escorts preserved in the United States as museum ships. They may not strike the imagination the same way as carriers or battleships, but the destroyers that are left are fitting memorials to the "tin can sailors" who served on them.

USS Cassin Young (DD-793)

Fletcher class destroyer, located at Boston Naval Yard in Boston, MA since June of 1978. The Cassin Young was commissioned in December of 1943 and earned four battle stars and the Navy Unit Commendation for her service in World War II. The destroyer continued in active service through 1960.

USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD-850)

Gearing class destroyer, located at Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA since July of 1973. The Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was commissioned in December of 1945 and served as a Naval Reserve training vessel through the end of the war. She would later serve a combat tour in Korea, earning two battle stars. The destroyer also took part in the blockade of Cuba in 1962 and participated as a recovery ship for the Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 space missions in 1965.

USS Kidd (DD-661)

Fletcher class destroyer, located at the USS Kidd & Veterans Memorial in Baton Rouge, LA since May of 1982. The Kidd was commissioned in April of 1943, earning eight battle stars for her service in World War II and another four in combat operations in Korea. The Kidd is the only destroyer among those left that did not undergo any postwar modernization.

USS Laffey (DD-724)

Sumner class destroyer, located at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, SC since 1981. The Laffey was commissioned in February of 1944 and earned five battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for her service in World War II. On April 16, 1945 off the coast of Okinawa, the Laffey was struck by five kamikaze planes and three bombs. The crew suffered 102 casualties but shot down 11 Japanese aircraft and somehow stayed afloat, earning her the nickname, "The Ship That Would Not Die." She went on to earn another two battle stars in Korea. Unfortunately, inspections in 2008 revealed that her hull was so badly corroded that it threatened to sink her. The ship underwent more than $9 million in repairs and is currently moored in North Charleston, SC at the former Navy base.

USS Slater (DE-766)

Cannon class destroyer escort, located at the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum in Albany, NY since October of 1997. The Slater was commissioned in December of 1943 and arrived in the Pacific at the time of the Japanese surrender. The Slater was transferred in 1951 to Greece, where she served in the Hellenic Navy for 40 years. She was towed back to the United States in 1993 after destroyer escort veterans donated a quarter million dollars for her return as a museum ship.

USS Stewart (DE-238)

Edsall class destroyer escort, located at Seawolf Park in Galveston, TX since June of 1974. The Stewart was commissioned in May of 1943 and served as a training vessel and convoy escort during the war. She was placed in reserve status from 1947-1972. Years of neglect, vandalism, and storm damage from Hurricane Ike have taken a toll on the ship, but repairs and restoration are ongoing.

USS The Sullivans (DD-537)

Fletcher class destroyer, located at Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park in Buffalo, NY since June of 1978. The Sullivans was commissioned in September of 1943, and earning nine battle stars for her service in World War II and two for service in Korea. She also took part in the Cuba blockade of 1962 and the rescue effort in the tragic loss of the submarine Thresher in 1963.


Naval Historical Center,, Historic Naval Ships Association