“Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James, Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?”
The USS Reuben James was a Clemson-class destroyer, built just after World War I in 1919. Clemson-class, also known as four stackers, were the most common destroyer ever built by the US Navy, with 156 built, until the Fletcher-class in World War II.
It was armed with 4, four-inch guns, and 12 torpedo tubes. It also carried depth charges for anti- submarine warfare. The USS Reuben James was commissioned on 24 September 1920.
The ship was named after Reuben James, a sailor who gained fame for stepping in front of Lieutenant Decatur during a battle in the Barbary Wars and taking a sword blow to the head that was intended for Decatur, who went on to gain great fame in the Navy. Interestingly, it appears in retrospect, that story might be in error and another man actually took the blow.
In 1921, she helped escort the remains of the Unknown Soldier of World War I from Europe back to the United States.
The Reuben James was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Heywood L. Edwards. A 1926 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Heywood had wrestled in the 1928 Summer Olympics, placing 4th in the light heavyweight division.
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, she was assigned to the Neutrality Patrol, escorting convoys sailing to Great Britain. They escorted as far as Iceland, whereupon, security was taken over by British ships.
23 October 1941, she was one of five destroyers escorting convoy HX 156 from Newfoundland. As they approached Iceland and the handoff, they were required to spend an extra day in order to insure the task was completed.
On 31 October 1941, Hallows Eve, the USS Reuben James was torpedoed by U-552, commanded by Erich Topp.
The torpedo hit the port bow, detonating the forward magazine, blasting the destroyer in two. Every officer was killed.
The ship went down quickly. Of 144 on board, there were 44 survivors.
Due to the fact that the United States was not at war, the sinking caused a large outcry. However, it was not until 7 December, over 5 weeks later, that the United States entered World War II.
Woody Guthrie wrote a song, The Sinking of the Reuben James.
“Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame? She flew the Stars and Stripes of the land of the free But tonight she’s in her grave at the bottom of the sea.” Woody Guthrie
But what if the Reuben James encounter with U-552 turns out to be something altogether different?
That is the premise of one of the missions in Hallows Eve (Time Patrol)