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The Navy's destroyers get a lot of the dirty work and seldom get much glory. But honors rained down on one destroyer last week. She received a Presidential unit citation and her skipper, handsome, ruddy Commander Donald J. MacDonald had a seventh medal pinned upon his chest. It made him the most decorated U.S. naval officer of this war.
U.S. destroyers, the "tin can fleet," are generally named after naval heroes. MacDonald's can, the O'Bannon, is named after a marine. The marine was Lieut. Presley N. O'Bannon, a whooping, crop-haired Irishman from Kentucky, who in 1805 led the Marines (seven of them) to the "shores of Tripoli." O'Bannon and a motley crew of Greeks, Arabs and Egyptians marched across the Libyan desert to attack the Barbary pirates in their stronghold at Derna. After considerable derring-do, O'Bannon breached the ramparts, raised the Stars and Stripes.*
The destroyer O'Bannon was to live up to this tradition. She first poked her sharp nose into the South Pacific in the summer of 1942.
The U.S. Navy then was fighting a desperate holding war. Most of the O'Bannon's crew were green hands. MacDonald, who was graduated from the Academy in 1931, was only 34. Her wardroom was filled with fresh-faced reservists. They had scarcely got their sea legs under them before they were under fire.
They went into action in August during the Guadalcanal attack. It was the beginning of a long and violent campaign. Up & down the lush green coasts and pale, flat waters of the Solomons, the 2,100-ton O'Bannon and her sisters steamed with bones in their teeth and a swift hard punch for Japanese ships great or small.
She and the other lean, thin-skinned cans, manned by youngsters fresh from colleges and high schools, screened the big ships, fought submarines, covered landings, popped Jap planes out of the coppery skies, blasted shore installations with their 5-in. rifles.
There was plenty of dirty work to do. On Nov. 12-13, when a U.S. force sank a Jap battleship, five cruisers, five destroyers and eight transports, the O'Bannon scored hits on a battleship and a cruiser which far outweighed and outranged her. For six months of almost continuous naval warfare she was in the thick of the campaign which did not end until Guadalcanal was secured.
Lucky and Valiant. Around South Pacific bars, MacDonald's O'Bannon became a legend. In June 1943, Admiral Halsey began the drive to knock the Japs out of the rest of the Solomons. The O'Bannon was in the thick of that campaign. She was with the outnumbered cruiser task force which plowed into the dark hole of Kula Gulf to intercept and destroy nine to eleven Jap cruisers and destroyers. That was the night the great cruiser Helena was lost (TIME, Nov. 1).
A few days later the O'Bannon was one of a small force which steamed boldly up to Jap-held Vella Lavella to rescue Helena survivors who were hiding there in the jungles. Two months later off the same shore, she and her sister the Chevalier and the smaller Selfridge met and engaged a force of nine Jap ships, sank three of them and put the rest to rout. The Chevalier, torpedoed, sank. The lucky and valiant O'Bannon survived to win her Presidential citation.