USS McKean DD/DDR-784

USS McKean (DD-784) was christened in honor of Commodore William Wister McKean, and is the second ship of the fleet to bear this name.

Commodore McKean was born in Huntington County, Pennsylvania, in 1800. He was the grandson of Thomas McKean, who was one of three delegates from the colony of Delaware and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas McKean was also a Governor of Delaware and a Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and is believed to be the namesake of McKean County in western Pennsylvania.

In 1814, young William McKean was appointed Midshipman in the Navy. During his long and varied naval career, he rendered valuable service suppressing piracy with Commodore David Porter’s Squadron in the West Indies, and was a Lieutenant on the DALE during the Mexican War. Commodore McKean was once the head of the Navy’s training school, then called Naval Asylum, and subsequently was a member of the board of three persons who selected the site of the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

In 1859, Commodore McKean was in command of the expedition which returned the first Japanese Embassy to this country back to Japan, aboard the flagship NIAGRA. On his return from Japan, he learned from a passing vessel of the outbreak of the Civil War and, gathering his crew, pledged them all to allegiance to the Union. During the Civil War, he was in charge of what developed into the Gulf Campaign, which was ultimately executed by his successor Admiral Farragut.

Commodore McKean died in 1865, three years after his appointment to Commodore. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Naval Board.


The ship’s French motto “J’AI BON ESPERANCE” translates as ” I have great expectations”


USS McKean (DD-784) is the second ship to bear the name of Commodore William Wister McKean whose naval career spanned the period of naval development from the War of 1812 to the Civil War. The first ship to bear the name McKean was a “Wickes” class four-stack destroyer (DD-90) which was commissioned on 25 February 1919. Laid up shortly after World War I, the first McKean was reclassified a fast transport (APD) and recommissioned on 2 August 1940. She saw service in both the Atlantic and the Pacific during World War II and participated in the New Georgia, Rendova, and Guadalcanal campaigns. On the night of 17 November 1943, she was attacked and sunk by Japanese torpedo planes off Bougainville. She went down with her guns blazing.

Today’s McKean, (DD-784), was laid down in Seattle at Todd Shipyard. She was commissioned on 9 June 1945 and participated in the occupation of Japan. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, she participated in the landings at Inchon and bombardment and blockade operations off Wonson, Songjin, and Chinjou. McKean discovered the first minefield of the war while on patrol off the Chinnanpo River. In 1952, she was converted to a Radar Picket Destroyer (DDR) and made numerous patrols and deployments to Far Eastern waters. In 1963, McKean underwent conversion under the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM Mark 1) program. She emerged from the conversion with the then latest in ASW systems.

McKean made numerous deployments following FRAM conversion and has the distinction of being the only conventional destroyer to keep up with a nuclear powered carrier during a high speed transit. McKean distinguished herself during the Vietnam conflict for delivering accurate and effective naval gunfire and the rescue of downed pilots while assigned as search and rescue (SAR) destroyer during Tonkin Gulf operations.

In July 1972, McKean assumed another mission, that of training Naval Reservists. McKean joined the reserve naval forces operating between California and Hawaii. In the late 1970s her home port was in Seattle, Washington. She thus enjoyed the added distinction of having been involved in this vital mission longer than any other active destroyer. With a manning approximately 65% of normal, McKean has continued to carry out all missions required of a modern destroyer and additionally contributes to national security by serving as an operational, seagoing classroom for nearly 100 Selected Reservists. Her continued readiness is a tribute to those officers and men, regular and reserve, who have manned her in the past. The same spirit, resourcefulness, and professionalism that enabled a shore spotter at My Trang, Vietnam to exclaim on his radio circuit “We are still here alive and the territory is ours, thanks to McKean” lives on today.

USS McKean was decommissioned in October 1981 at Seattle, WA. In 1982 the ship was given to the country of Turkey to be cannibalized for spare parts. She was sunk by a Harpoon missile in July 1987 and now lies at the bottom of Antalya Bay off the Mediterranean coast.

Most of this history is reproduced from Wayne Smith’s (1970-72, MM2) web site. Thank you, Wayne for allowing us to use your material.