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Pottsville Republican/Evening Herald

Destroyer named after Shenandoah Medal of Honor winner
In 35 years, USS Damato served from WWII through Cuban missile crisis
Community Edition Editor

Seven months after accepting a Congressional Medal of Honor in Shenandoah awarded posthumously to her son, Frances Damato assumed another sad duty. She traveled to New York harbor to christen a destroyer named in honor of Marine Cpl. Anthony P. Damato.

The USS Damato DD 871 in Naval records was a 2,400-ton ship built by the Bethlehem Steel Corp. at Staten Island, N.Y., and launched Nov. 20, 1945, just 21 months after Damato jumped on a Japanese grenade thrown into a foxhole on a Pacific atoll, sacrificing his life to save two comrades. ``Colorful Navy flags lined the ship from bow to stern,'' according to an account of the launching outlined in a history of the ship. ``A huge crowd waited in hushed silence.'' Frances Damato sent a gold-enmeshed Champagne bottle into the bow of the new ship, smashing the bottle into fragments. As the destroyer slid into the water, ``Mrs. Damato's lips seemed to move in prayer a prayer that the Damato war ship would never know a war,'' according to the account. No one knew the heartbreak of war better than she. Tony's heroic deed came three months after her oldest son, Capt. Neil J. Damato, a bombardier aboard the Flying Fortress ``Liberty Ship,'' was reported missing in action after a bombing mission over Germany. His body was never recovered. One of the brothers' sisters, Mary, said the family closely followed the missions of the destroyer, which they used to call, ``our ship.''

Reuning USS Damato crew members once visited the family homestead at Penn and Vine streets, bringing copies of the ship's history that also contained an account of Damato's heroic action in the Pacific. During its 35 years as a commissioned ship, the USS Damato designed for anti-submarine warfare and convoy protection steamed throughout the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. In 1961, it was sent to intercept the freighter SS Santa Maria, which had been seized by Portuguese insurgents in an act that gained worldwide attention. The Damato ``was instrumental in having the freighter returned to its rightful owners,'' its historians wrote. The Damato also participated in the 1962 blockade of Cuba when President Kennedy faced down Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the tense Cuban missile crisis.

During 1967 the Damato saw its first wartime action in a seven-month deployment to Vietnam. It was fired on nine times during the tour and hit twice by enemy shore batteries, but no one aboard was injured. Following a deployment to the Mediterranean in 1969, the Damato was placed on a reduced operating status until 1970, when it was redeployed to the Mediterranean for operations with the Sixth Fleet. The ship underwent an overhaul in 1972 and then participated in operations along the eastern Atlantic seaboard, including fleet exercises and training exercises.

It's overall length was 390 feet, six inches. It could cruise at up to 35 knots and had six five-inch 38-caliber dual purpose guns, 10 21-inch quintuple torpedo tubes and 40mm anti-aircraft batteries. During its Navy commission the ship was awarded a Battle Efficiency Plaque for its participation in 1952 Atlantic Fleet ``Convex II'' exercise, and three times received the Navy Service Occupation Medal. In 1980, the Damato was decomissioned in a ceremony at Newport News, Va., attended by two of Cpl. Damato's brothers, Morris and Harry, and several past commanders of Shenandoah's Anthony P. Damato American Legion ``Medal of Honor'' Post 792. Later, the ship was sold to Pakistan.

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