USS Willard Keith (DD-775)/ ARC
5 March 1944
29 August 1944
27 December 1944
1 July 1972
1 July 1972
To Colombia, renamed Caldas (DD-02), served until
376 ft 6 in (114.8 m)
41 ft 2 in (12.5 m)
15 ft 8 in (4.8 m)
60,000 shp (45 MW);
34 knots (63 km/h)
6500 nmi. (12,000 km)
@ 15 kt
6 × 5 in./38 guns (12 cm),
12 × 40mm AA guns,
11 × 20mm AA guns,
10 × 21 in. torpedo tubes,
6 × depth charge projectors,
2 × depth charge tracks
Per Angusta Ad Augusta, Latin for "By Narrow Paths to High Places"
USS Willard Keith (DD-775), an Allen M. Sumner-class
destroyer, is currently the only completed ship of the
United States Navy ever named for Willard
Keith, a USMC captain who died in combat during
the campaign for Guadalcanal. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions. Willard Keith (DD-775)
was laid down on 5 March 1944
at San Pedro, California, by the Bethlehem Steel Co.; launched on
29 August 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Willard W.
Keith, the mother of Capt. Keith; and commissioned two days after Christmas of 1944,
Comdr. Lewis L. Snyder in command.
It is notable that the Navy had two contracts for other destoyer escorts that were
to be named USS Willard Keith however they were both cancelled before they were
completed. The contract for the construction of Willard Keith (DE-754)—a Cannon-class
destroyer escort whose keel had been laid down on 14 September 1943 at San Pedro,
Calif., by the Western Pipe and Steel Co.—was cancelled on 2 October 1943.
The contract for the construction of Willard Keith (DE-314)—an Smarts-class
destroyer escort laid down on 22 January 1944 at Vallejo, Calif., by the Mare Island
Navy Yard—was cancelled on 13 March 1944.
World War II
After shakedown training out of San Diego, California, Willard Keith operated temporarily
out of the Pre-commissioning Training Center at San Francisco, California, as training
ship for engineering personnel. During that time, she made weekly trips from San
Francisco to San Clemente Island and back.
It is rumored that, during one of these runs from San Clemente to San Francisco,
the Willard Kieth encountered, depth-charged, and supposedly destroyed a sonar contact
of unknown origin or nationality. The matter was allegedly suppressed by the ship's
officers, save the eyewitness accounts of some crew members. However, no documentation
or physical proof of this alleged encounter has been discovered. A few remaining
crew of the Willard Keith have formed a non-profit organization (The Marine War
Memorial Association of Half Moon Bay, CA) with the mission of finding and memorializing
this alleged sunken wreck. 
Completing that tour of training duty in mid-April 1945, Willard Keith sailed for
the Western Pacific (WestPac) on 16 April, heading for Pearl Harbor in company with
Atlanta (CL-104) and Tillman (DD-641). After onward routing to the forward area,
Willard Keith arrived at Okinawa on 29 May. Assigned screening and radar picket
duties for the remainder of the Okinawan campaign, Willard Keith destroyed two Japanese
planes during her tour. Her closest brush with the enemy came on the final day of
the campaign when a Japanese torpedo plane winged in low and unobserved and launched
her "fish." Fortunately, the warhead proved a dud and only left a dent in Willard
After her baptism of fire, Willard Keith then joined a cruiser-destroyer task force
on 24 June for anti-shipping sweeps into the East China Sea. Due to the losses inflicted
upon the once-large Japanese merchant marine, however, the pickings were slim. Willard
Keith spent the remainder of the war engaged in such largely fruitless operations
and, with the coming of the Japanese surrender, drew screening duties with the initial
occupying forces in the erstwhile enemy's home waters. That autumn, the destroyer
visited the Japanese ports of Wakayama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, and Tokyo, on occasion
performing courier service between ports, carrying men and mail.
Chosen as the flagship for Commodore John T. Bottom, Jr., Commander, Task Flotilla
1 and area commander, Willard Keith wore the commodore's burgee pennant while remaining
at Nagoya from the last part of October until early December. On 5 December, Commodore
Bottom's burgee came down, and Willard Keith put to sea to rendezvous with her sisterships
in Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 66. She then sailed east, reaching the west coast
in time to spend Christmas at San Diego, California
Subsequently, Willard Keith proceeded down the west coast; transited the Panama
Canal; crossed the Gulf of Mexico and then proceeded around the tip of Florida,
bound for New York City. After voyage repairs at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn,
N.Y., the destroyer stood out of the yard on the last day of January and proceeded
up the eastern seaboard to Newport, Rhode Island. She engaged in gunnery exercises
out of that port and, upon conclusion of that first phase of her peacetime training
program, returned to New York. She made five more short round trips between New
York and Newport until 12 July, when she set out for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After operations in the British West Indies area, Willard Keith returned to Norfolk,
Virginia, from whence she escorted the veteran battleships Washington (BB-56) and
North Carolina (BB-55) to Culebra, Puerto Rico, for shore bombardment exercises.
The destroyer then returned to Norfolk as part of the screen for the battlewagons,
before she drew another escort assignment, this time with the aircraft carrier Philippine
Sea (CV-47). Conducting exercises and maneuvers en route, the carrier and her consorts
reached Guantanamo Bay for training before returning northward and putting into
Christmas and New Year's holidays came and went before the destroyer operated locally
between Pensacola and Key West. During her time in those waters, she deviated from
her routine once, when she sailed to Mobile, Alabama, on 13 February 1947 to serve
as one of the Navy's official representatives to the yearly Mardi Gras festivities.
For the remainder of the spring months, Willard Keith cruised routinely between
Newport and Key West, carrying out training duties off the eastern seaboard.
Arriving at Norfolk on 20 June 1947, Willard Keith was assigned to the Atlantic
Reserve Fleet a short time later. "Mothballed" at Charleston, South Carolina Naval
Shipyard, the destroyer remained inactive until the Fleet buildup brought about
by the Korean War in 1950.
Recommissioned on 23 October 1950, Willard Keith was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet.
After her activation was completed on 27 November, the ship departed Charleston,
shaping course for Norfolk, Virginia. Subsequently pushing on to Guantanamo Bay,
planeguarding for the Fleet carrier Intrepid (CV-11) en route, Willard Keith reached
her destination on 13 January 1951 to commence her shakedown soon thereafter.
Completing that training phase on 22 February 1951, Willard Keith stopped briefly
at Culebra for gunnery exercises before proceeding on to Norfolk and upkeep. After
a three-month overhaul, the destroyer returned to the Guantanamo region for further
refresher training. She then returned to Norfolk for a tender upkeep.
On 3 September 1951, Willard Keith departed the east coast, bound for the Mediterranean
and duty with the 6th Fleet. Relieving Dennis J. Buckley (DD-808) as a unit of that
force on the 22nd of the month, Willard Keith spent the next six months in the "Med,"
making operational visits to such ports as Gibraltar; Naples and Trieste, Italy;
Augusta Bay, Sicily; Istanbul, Turkey; Leros, Greece; and Suda Bay, Crete.
From November of 1951 to February of 1952, Willard Keith operated in company with
John W. Weeks (DD-701) as a unit of the Northern European Force under the overall
command of Rear Admiral W. F. Boone. During that period of time, the destroyer visited
Plymouth, England; Copenhagen and Bornholm, Denmark; Bremerhaven, Germany; Bordeaux,
France; and Londonderry, Northern Ireland. While operating out of the last-named
port, she conducted exercises jointly with British destroyers.
While in northern European waters, Willard Keith performed rescue and escort duties
for a week, assisting the crippled SS Flying Enterprise before that ship broke apart
and sank in heavy seas. That incident gained the United States Navy international
attention at the time. The owners of the lost ship, the Isbrandtsen Lines, later
presented a plaque to Willard Keith in appreciation for her assistance rendered
to their vessel.
Completing her duty in European waters early in February 1952, Willard Keith shaped
course for home, reaching Norfolk on 6 February for leave and upkeep. Once the needed
voyage repairs had been accomplished and both officers and men refreshed after their
deployment overseas, the destroyer headed north, departing Norfolk on 21 April 1952.
She was bound for Argentia, Newfoundland, with a party of observers from the United
States Naval Underwater Sound School embarked on board. From 21 April to 12 May,
the destroyer then conducted antisubmarine warfare (ASW) drills for the benefit
of the observers.
Upon the ship's return to Norfolk, all hands began to make preparations for a scheduled
midshipmen's cruise. In early June, the ship sailed to Annapolis, Maryland, and
embarked 72 officers-to-be, taking them to Norfolk. Subsequently, Willard Keith
sailed to European waters and then to Guantanamo Bay. Ports visited during the midshipmen's
cruise included Torquay, England, and Le Havre, France.
Returning to Norfolk via Guantanamo, Willard Keith disembarked her passengers and
resumed her routine of training. She conducted two weeks of hunter/killer training
in company with the escort carrier Block Island (CVE-106), a task group under the
command of Rear Admiral D. V. Gallery. Willard Keith put back into Norfolk at the
end of November and spent the remainder of the year there.
She departed her home port nine days into the new year, though, setting sail for
Pensacola, Florida, assigned as plane guard for the light carrier Monterey (CVL-26).
En route, however, an urgent message from Commandant, 6th Naval District, directed
the ship to proceed to a rendezvous with an LST which had a Marine sergeant on board
who was stricken with appendicitis. Willard Keith complied and transported the man
to Charleston, South Carolina, where he received medical attention. The ship received
a special commendation from the Commandant of the 6th Naval District for her fine
work in helping to save the man.
Ultimately completing her assigned duties in company with Monterey, Willard Keith
returned to Norfolk to prepare for a scheduled three and one-half month overhaul.
After repairs and alterations at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard from 11 February
to 27 May, Willard Keith conducted refresher training out of Guantanamo Bay after
first stopping at Norfolk en route. Returning to her home port on 4 August, the
destroyer subsequently sailed for the Far East on 25 September in company with the
other ships of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 221.
The division reached Yokosuka, Japan, on 10 November 1953, via Bermuda, Gibraltar,
Naples, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, and Manila. Willard Keith and her sisterships
operated with Naval Forces, Far East, under the overall command of Rear Admiral
Robert P. Briscoe. Operating with the hunter/killer group for the initial part of
her time in the Far East, the destroyer served with part of the United Nations Blockading
and Escort Group. In company with James C. Owens (DD-776), Willard Keith performed
plane guard services for two weeks with the Australian aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney,
as that ship conducted flight operations. During the course of the tour, Willard
Keith visited the ports of Sasebo and Yokosuka, Japan; Inchon, Korea; and Buckner
Completing her WestPac tour in March 1954, Willard Keith and her squadron mates
returned to the United States via Midway; Hawaii; San Francisco; Long Beach; the
Panama Canal; Havana, Cuba; and Key West, Florida, returning to Norfolk on 1 May
and thus completing the ship's circumnavigation of the globe. For the remainder
of the year 1954, Willard Keith operated from Labrador to the Caribbean, taking
part in antisubmarine warfare (ASW) exercises and amphibious exercises interspersed
with routine upkeep periods in port.
After spending Christmas, 1954, in her home port, Willard Keith departed Norfolk
five days into the new year, 1955, bound for the Mediterranean. She paid goodwill
calls at the ports of Algiers, Naples, Genoa, and the Azores in the course of her
extended deployment, before she returned to Norfolk on 15 March. Then, after a brief
upkeep period, Willard Keith offloaded stores and ammunition and shifted to the
Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a four-month overhaul. Emerging from the shipyard on
8 August, the destroyer conducted refresher training out of the familiar waters
of Guantanamo Bay before conducting gunfire support exercises with the rest of her
division at Culebra. Returning northward that autumn, she conducted amphibious warfare
gunfire support exercises as a fire support unit during Marine Corps amphibious
landing exercises off the coast of North Carolina.
For the next seven years, Willard Keith remained with DesRon 22, operating from
the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. She participated in a variety
of goodwill missions, midshipmen cruises, and the usual training assignments in
gunnery, ASW, and the like. She also participated in the "quarantine" operations
in the autumn of 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. One of the more pleasant
highlights of that period occurred during the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway
in 1959—during which time Willard Keith escorted the Royal Yacht Britannia,
the latter having Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on board.
On 1 October 1963, Willard Keith began a new phase of her career. Reporting to DesRon
34 for duty, the warship soon commenced operating as a Naval Reserve training (NRT)
ship. For the next nine years, Willard Keith operated in that capacity, accomplishing
reserve training with monthly drill weekend cruises for the reservists permanently
assigned to the ship's reserve crew and undertaking two-week active duty training
cruises for reservists getting their annual active sea duty training. She ranged
from the eastern seaboard to Guantanamo Bay as an NRT destroyer, providing the platform
for training necessary to maintain a skilled pool of reservists ready for any eventuality.
Ultimately considered to have capabilities that were not up to modern Fleet standards,
Willard Keith was chosen for inactivation and transfer. Decommissioned on 1 July
1972 at Norfolk, Virginia, Willard Keith was transferred to the Navy of the Republic
of Colombia. Simultaneously stricken from the Navy list, the destroyer was renamed
Caldas (DD-02). She served the Colombian Navy until disposed of in 1977.
Willard Keith (DD-775) earned two battle stars
for her World War II service.