By Xavier Jackson
Do you ever get sick of hearing about “the greatest generation”? For over 60 years now, it’s been all “they survived the Depression” this and “they defeated the Nazis” that and “they never looked stupid in hats.” Well, not everything the heroes of the 20th century did was pitch perfect. For example, the WWII destroyer USS William D. Porter was easily the stupidest ship ever launched. If ships were people, this one would be the kid who ate paste off a stick. And then almost killed the president by accident.
So when we say that this ship’s service played out in exactly the way it would if it had been a hastily scripted Adam Sandler comedy, we’re not exaggerating. We’re talking about a ship that …
#5. Wrecked a Friendly Ship Just Pulling Out of Port
The USS William D. Porter’s completely ridiculous career as a warship began with an important escort mission. What could go wrong? Well, they came fairly close to accidentally blowing up the president, so there’s that. But the problems started before they even left port.
The destroyer was specifically commissioned to serve as an escort for larger boats (destroyers are widely known to be the Navy’s Kevin Costners to other ships’ Whitney Houstons). So in November of 1943, the William D. Porter was, as its first mission, to escort the battleship USS Iowa across the Atlantic Ocean to an important summit in Iran. “Why would a battleship need to go to a political summit?” you’re probably asking. “It can’t even talk.” The answer is that the president of the United States, the secretary of state and the joint chiefs of staff were on the Iowa, and they had a secret appointment with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill.
#4. Nearly Blew Up the President’s Boat With a Depth Charge …
Twenty-four hours after the anchor-scrape incident, the Porter meekly took its place alongside the rest of the convoy, no doubt with her metaphorical head hanging and her shame glasses on. The journey across the Atlantic would take eight days, and the ships would pass through U-boat-infested waters during wartime, so it was critical that the boats keep up with training and maneuvers on the journey. For example, in a real-live battle situation, if a submarine got too close, it was the destroyer’s job to drop depth charges (just huge bombs that sink down and blow up next to the submerged sub). So, one of the drills that the Porter was tasked with was sending out fake depth charges for practice. You can tell where this train wreck is heading, can’t you?
Yes, the geniuses on the Willie Dee never got around to disarming their anti-submarine weapons. And on November 12, a live depth charge just fell off the deck. Fell. As in it kind of rolled off, into the ocean, within killing distance of the president of the United States. And it exploded. And that was when shit got real.
#3. … Then Accidentally Launched a Torpedo at the President’s Boat
So by this point, everyone on the mission was understandably a little skittish. So FDR himself takes the initiative of asking the crew of the Iowa to demonstrate that they could defend themselves if someone other than the idiots at the back of the convoy tried to attack them; specifically, to defend itself if the Iowa were under attack from the air. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he probably imagined the Porter was capable of flying, and he wanted to be ready.
The way this particular drill worked was that the Iowa would release balloons that served as targets for anti-aircraft guns. Fair enough. Until some of the balloons drifted over to the Porter and someone (Captain Walter) thought it was time for redemption. So he ordered his crew to fire on any balloons missed by the Iowa’s gunners. That part went fine. Then, feeling cocky, he ordered a practice firing of their torpedoes. And the practice target would be the Iowa.