On 23 February 1942 the keel of the destroyer USS Converse (DD 509) was laid in the yards of the Bath Iron Works Corporation, Bath, Maine.

Named for Rear Admiral George A. Converse, USN, this mighty little 2,050-ton warship was destined for the award of the Presidential Unit Citation as a unit of the famed “Little Beaver Squadron,” Destroyer Squadron 23 under the command of Captain A.A. (“Thirty-One Knot”) Burke during the Solomon Islands operations; besides earning eleven battle stars on her Asiatic-Pacific Area Service Medal, with no casualties due to enemy action and only minor damage to herself during her World War II career.

DD 509 was launched on 30 August 1942 with Miss Audrey V. Jackson, granddaughter of Rear Admiral Converse, christening her USS Converse as the official sponsor. After her shakedown at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Converse sailed to Pearl Harbor, arriving on 4 March 1943. There, further training and fitting out were accomplished and on 8 May 1943 the ship sailed for Nouméa, New Caledonia.

Our first important assignment came during June and July 1943 when Converse was a screening unit of the force covering the New Georgia supply echelons. During this operation the ship was at sea for 31 days and at its end each of the crew thought himself an old salt. She had not yet encountered the enemy but had rescued three downed pilots, and tucked the first “well done” in the record.

Our next assignment was escorting larger vessels between Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides Islands, and Guadalcanal in the Solomons. It was while screening three of these to the Guadalcanal anchorage that we brought down our first enemy plane.

On 16 September 1943 Converse anchored in Port Purvis, Florida Island, Solomon Islands, assigned to Task Force 39, a fast striking force of light cruisers and destroyers under Rear Admiral A. S. Merrill. The escort duty continued, but at this time it was up the “Slot” and the destination was Vella Lavella. While patrolling off Vella Gulf, an afternoon air attack resulted in the second of DD 509’s tally of Jap planes.

On 31 October 1943, with DesRon 23 now under Capt. Arleigh A. Burke, Task Force 39 steamed out of Purvis Bay to support the amphibious landings at the last Jap stronghold in the Solomons—Bougainville Island. On the night of 31 October–1 November, Converse bombarded Buka and Bonis airfields at the northern tip of Bougainville, returning south at dawn for the first daylight bombardment conducted in the South Pacific, at Shortland Island. During each of these bombardments heavy counter battery fire was encountered and all ships experienced straddles and near misses, as well as constant harassing attacks from enemy aircraft.

In this first penetration of these waters by American forces the “battle for fuel” was carried out early in the morning of 1 November, with a high speed run to Hathorn Sound, Kula Gulf, and fast work for all hands.

In the early morning hours of 2 November 1943, Task Force 39 met and routed a Japanese force consisting of an estimated four enemy cruisers and eight destroyers, which was seeking to destroy the newly established United States force at Empress Augusta Bay. The enemy was encountered at 0230 in three groups. Destroyer Division 45— Charles Ausburne, Claxton, Dyson and Stanly—delivered a torpedo attack on the enemy’s left wing, while Destroyer Division 46— Spence, Thatcher, Converse and Foote—took the center consisting of probably two enemy heavy cruisers and two destroyers. After the initial torpedo attacks, which resulted in at least seven sure hits, our cruisers hammered the enemy from long range while the destroyers worked on the Japs’ flanks About 0400, those of the enemy still able to do so fled to the northwest with the destroyers in hot pursuit.

At 0540 the chase was recalled, and our understanding at the time was that Jap losses included at least one cruiser and four destroyers sunk with two cruisers and two destroyers damaged. Retirement to the south was begun, while the decks were cleared and ready ammunition replaced for the inevitable air attack from Rabaul. At 0805 the party was on, with 67 counted Jap planes attacking the formation. By 0812, 17 of them had been splashed before the enemy turned back.

These four distinct actions occurred within the space of 36 hours, a period in which a fifth battle had been fought and won—the battle of logistics and fatigue. However, there was no time for a let-up, as these destroyers were the only ones in the area and coverage for the resupply echelons was urgently needed.

Between 5 and 25 November Converse was in port only a few hours. Her third plane was brought down during a night aerial torpedo attack on 13 November. On the night of 16–17 November, Converse and Stanly attacked and scored several probable shell hits on a surfaced enemy submarine. For this action a “C” assessment was given [explain for the modern reader]. Converse also repulsed night torpedo plane attacks on three occasions and, with Destroyer Squadron 23, took part in the second bombardment of Buka.

Converse collected a big dividend on the night of 24–25 November when she, flagship of DesDiv 46 on this occasion with Spence, plus Charles Ausburne, Claxton and Dyson of DesRon 45, engaged a force of five enemy destroyers. In this Battle of Cape St. George, DesRon 23 sank three enemy ships and damaged a fourth while pursuing it and the fifth back toward Rabaul. In return, we in Converse were knocked off our feet by a Japanese torpedo which left a dent amidships portside but fortunately failed to explode. This was the action in which the squadron commander gained his nickname “31-Knot Burke” and for which the squadron earned a reputation to complement its new nickname, “Little Beavers.”

But there was no rest for the weary—with anti-submarine patrolling and nightly harassing by “snooper” planes. On the night of 3 December 1943, while with the 9th Resupply Echelon and three other “Beavers,” we fought off a night attack of 25 to 30 bombers and torpedo planes, with Converse bagging two of the ten planes shot down. In this action, the fourth and most fierce of six attacking waves resulted in a near miss to port and the electrical casualty arising therefrom caused a loss of power forward and put the ever-important radars out of use. The full weight of this casualty was not felt, however, since it was remedied in a few seconds.

By this time, air attacks were routine and were hardly worth logging. The destroyers continued coverage of these echelons until a memorable day, 14 December 1943, when Converse received orders to sail to Sydney, Australia—rest and relaxation at last! Then, after eight days in the Australian port, Converse returned to Nouméa, New Caledonia to make ready to renew combat.

In the meantime the work of the Little Beaver Squadron had not gone unnoticed, and congratulations were received from many commands and a commendatory article appeared in Time Magazine. The communication of which Converse was most proud came from Captain Burke: “No squadron in any navy has won more battle honors in less time than the fighting, chasing 23rd. There are no ships which have delivered more devastating blows to the enemy than those of this squadron. Your heroic conduct and magnificent ability will make your families and your country proud of you. May God continue to bless you.”

On 20 January 1944, Commander J. B. Colwell, USN, relieved Lieutenant Commander E. H. McDowell, USN, as commanding officer of Converse. Lieutenant Commander McDowell, formerly the executive officer, had previously relieved Commander D. C. E. Hamburger as the ship’s skipper.

The entire month was devoted to intensive preparations for the operations against New Ireland and New Britain. On 30 January, Converse returned to her happy hunting grounds and rejoined the squadron at Purvis Bay. Her first assignment in the new operation was conducting anti-shipping sweeps around Green Island and Cape St. George, basing at Hathorn Sound and Blanche Harbor, Treasury Island. On 5 February she bombarded the supply and bivouac area of Buka and destroyed a number of barges; and on 10 February bombarded supply areas at Tairaka and Teopasino, Bougainville.

On 13 February, Converse, with other ships of the squadron, set out for one of the most daring missions of the war—an anti-shipping strike of the Rabaul–Kavieng–Truk route, culminating in a dawn bombardment of Kavieng Harbor. The sweep was negative in its result but the bombardment was answered with extremely heavy and accurate counter battery fire. Luck was along, however, and although all ships received many straddles none were seriously damaged. In the retirement, a short harassing bombardment resulted in the probable destruction of a radar station, several supply dumps, and extensive damage to wharf areas and one large ship which was left with decks awash. During the 103-hour period from 1900, 14 February, to 0200, 19 February, Converse was at battle stations for 67 hours.

After entering port for fuel and ammunition, the squadron made a second anti-shipping sweep and bombardment of Kavieng; and had the additional task of sneaking a sweep south of Kavieng during the bombardment, then churning to the west coast of New Ireland and through St. George’s Channel.

During the preliminary sweep, the ships discovered and sent a 5,000-ton Jap merchantman to the bottom. Arriving at Kavieng, Converse and Spence of Destroyer Division 46 carried out the shore bombardment while the three ships of Division 45 conducted the sweep to the south. Many hits were observed in the town as well as the numerous gasoline and ammunition fires in the harbor area.

When the intensive return fire appeared to get the destroyers’ range, we deemed it necessary to retire at high speed, using evasive courses and stack smoke as cover. This attack seemed to add insult to the injury previously inflicted on the enemy in a spot which was once the proud rendezvous of the fleet.

The next trip found Destroyer Squadron 23 covering landings on Green Island and making additional anti-shipping sweeps throughout the area—our last action in the Solomon Islands.


On 27 March 1944, Converse left the Solomons and joined fast-stepping Task Force 58, then on its way to Palau and Yap for carrier strikes and bombardments. At Palau, Converse participated in the shore bombardment and picked from the water a lone Jap who was transferred to USS Lexington. His partner declined to be rescued and returned to the wreck before it was destroyed by gunfire.

While operating with Task Force 58, we also participated in the carrier raid on Hollandia, New Guinea, during 21–23 April; the carrier raid on Truk, 29–30 April; the bombardment of Ponape, 1 May; the carrier strike on Saipan, 11–12 June; the carrier raid on the Bonins, 14–16 June; the air battles west of Saipan, 19 June; raids on Saipan, Pagan and Guam, 20–25 June; the bombardment of Rota and Guam, 27 June; and the bombardment of Guam, 30 June and 1 July 1944. On the Bonin raid, Converse fished five more Japanese prisoners-of-war from a raft.

On 3 August 1944, while anchored at Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, the long-awaited orders came directing Converse to the Navy Yard, Hunters Point. With training in the Hawaiian area added in after the overhaul period, it was three months before we received our next combat assignment.

On 27 September 1944, Lieutenant Commander E. H. McDowell, USN, relieved Commander Colwell, USN, as commanding officer of Converse.

Beginning on 3 November 1944, DD 509 screened carrier forces covering convoy routes to Leyte, Philippine Islands, and then, after a short tender availability at Manus, she steamed to San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf. From there, on 19 December, Converse escorted the first resupply echelon to Mindoro Islands in the Philippines. This group was attacked by Jap suicide planes in the Sulu Sea, destroying two LSTs loaded with men and materiel.

In the gathering darkness of the 21st of December, Converse rescued 266 survivors of LST 749. These men were strung out across-wind over a large area in a rough sea, and we were was extremely fortunate in being able to rescue them all. In addition, while engaged in the rescue operation, we chalked up our sixth plane, shooting it down with the main battery. During this attack, the ship’s need to maneuver rapidly resulted in crewmember William Davis TM3/c being left adrift without a life jacket. Fortunately, he was able to swim to the sinking LST, from which Stanly later rescued him.

The next mission took Converse to Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, with the San Fabian Attack Force. On D-day and the day following (9–10 January 1945) the squadron provided fire support on the San Fabian beaches and adjacent areas. This resulted in the destruction of a group of enemy-laden trucks, a train and station, and the silencing of several batteries.


Next, the squadron was assigned to Task Unit 78.3.5, conducting fire support for the recapture of Corregidor. This was a large scale operation in miniature, and coordination between ships, shore, support aircraft and motor torpedo boats was almost perfect. The entire target area of less than one half of one square mile was under our constant fire for nearly two weeks. During this time, in addition to 40- and 20-millimeter fire, Converse placed over 2,200 rounds of 5-inch/38 caliber shells on various targets while lying to or anchored 600 to 1,500 yards from the beach.

Thousands of Japs had holed up in the deep caves of the huge rock. The cost of routing the enemy out of the rock would have been heavy in human life had it not been for the technique of close coordination between shore parties and ships, illustrated by the action of Converse. We stood in as close to the cliffs as possible to send a steady stream of destructive fire at the hidden Japs. At times, a whole section of the coast was clouded from view by flying rocks and rubble, as our 5-inch shells tore into the side of Malinta Hill. When visibility cleared and the fleeing enemy could be seen escaping from a cave, our 40-millimeters went into action. Once a lookout reported two Japs peering through the opening of a cave. In a few moments the opening was closed and the Japs were entombed.

So close to the shore was the ship that one enemy machine gun crew attempted to spray the deck. The bullets fell short or flew overhead and the disclosed position of the gun was swiftly placed under effective counter-fire.

Once Converse was heavily shaken by the detonation of six mines, land controlled and set off several hundred yards from the ship’s port quarter, but except for some broken dishes in the galley the destroyer suffered no damage.

While at Corregidor, Converse destroyed an estimated 40 to 50 fortified caves and pill-boxes, two barges, 19 suicide boats, two concrete blockhouses, two machine gun nests, several mortars, and 250–300 enemy troops. In addition she sealed the entrance to Malinta Tunnel, in which were enemy troops estimated at 500 to 1,500 in number.


The end of February 1945 found Converse having a well-deserved tender overhaul at Subic Bay, in preparation for the next offensive in the Visayans.

After the 1st of March, Converse participated in two operations—one of the bloodless invasion of the Visayan area, where the ship’s crew enjoyed the best liberty of the war with many a banquet and ball given for them by liberated Filipinos; and the other the bitter, bloody fighting in the destroyer picket line off Okinawa.

The invasion of Panay and Negros took place without incident, as far as the naval forces were involved, beginning 18 March 1945, and by 1 April things had progressed far enough that only one ship was to be left in the area. Converse, with Commander Destroyer Division 46 as Senior Officer Present Afloat, was assigned this duty; the purpose for which was developing Iloilo as a staging center for the projected invasion of Japan.

This fifth largest city of the Philippines had been relatively unscarred by the fighting and the men of Converse vied with their brothers in khaki on the beach for the affections of the Filipinos; old and young, guerrilla and collaborator, mistiza maiden and street urchin alike—all absorbed in the prospect of a “C” ration, a skivvy shirt, or a bit of silk from a parachute.

However, during these days there was a fierce struggle going on farther to the north, first at Iwo Jima and then at Okinawa—and Converse was drawn to it as to a magnet. After a short period of upkeep at Leyte, the destroyer headed north for Okinawa, arriving with the rest of the squadron on 16 May.

Within five days Converse had shot down her first Kamikaze and had gone to the aid of two stricken ships. One of these, the destroyer escort USS Chase, had been abandoned after progressive flooding had caused a sharp list. Placing a salvage party on the escort vessel, Converse took her in tow and put into Kerama Retto where pumping and repair facilities were available, thus saving the ship.

Throughout the fighting on the Okinawa picket line, Converse went unscathed and though one of the ships of the squadron was sunk and two tragically hit, as were scores of others around her, DD 509’s luck held. She repelled air attacks in great numbers, the climax coming on the night of 20–21 June 1945 and the morning following, when she was attacked by about 40 planes. Perfect support by the combat air patrol brought down about half of these and the intense fire of her main batteries held off the rest, so that only one Jap ever came within reach of the destroyer’s 20-millimeter weapons.

However, with all her fighting, Converse never got to Japan proper, though she earned the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Pacific, for her activities in occupied Japanese waters during the period of 2–11 September 1945.

After her return to the United States, by directive dated January 1947, USS Converse was placed out of commission, in reserve, attached to the US Atlantic Reserve Fleet with her berthing area at Charleston, South Carolina.

Source: “Thanks for the Memories,” Converse Yearbook 1981, edited by Sam Pompei.