Destroyer Tender Prairie Another Amazing War Workhorse
By James Donahue
While her career was not quite as outstanding as her sister ship Dixie, the
destroyer tender Prairie was a busy vessel, working behind the scenes and keeping the "tin cans" of the Second World War fueled,
armed and operating on the high seas.
Like the Dixie, the Prairie was a large ship at 530.6 feet. She carried a
complement of 1,698 sailors, and was a floating store and repair shop for the fighting ships she served.
Launched in December, 1938 at Camden, New Jersey, the Prairie was in Argentina,
tending to Allied ships when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and plunged America into the two great wars on Dec. 7, 1941.
While Argentina seemed somewhat off the beaten path for the European war
effort, that nation served as a terminus for the transatlantic convoy route, and a squadron of accompanying destroyer escorts
remained stationed there. Thus the Prairie began her war service in that southern South American part of the world.
And it was there that she suffered her first casualty of the war. On May
29, 1942, while towing the gunboat Spry, the gunboat took fire and the blaze spread to the tender, causing extensive damage.
She was forced to steam northward to Boston for repair.
After returning to Argentina, the Prairie was involved in a complete overhaul
of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Campbell after that vessel was rammed during an engagement with a German submarine.
It was not until the early months of 1944, during the Allied offensive of
Japanese held islands in the Pacific, that Prairie moved into the Pacific and joined the war effort in that theater. She steamed
to the Marshall Islands and participated in the operations there, then moved with the fleet to Eniwetok and finally Ulithi,
where she remained until the end of the war. When the Japanese surrendered, the Prairie was in Tokyo Bay with the other ships
of the American fleet to witness that event.
It was not until November 30, 1945 that the Prairie steamed home to San Francisco,
took on supplies, and then moved to destroyer force headquarters at San Diego. While there, in the spring of 1946, she became
the flagship for the ComDesPac admiral.
During the Korean conflict, Prairie again served the 7th Fleet, providing
repair, supplies and medical services. Then in 1956 the tender made an around-the-world cruise, and in 1958 steamed to Yokohama
for good-will ceremonies in which Yokahama and San Diego declared themselves sister cities. While moored there Prairie was
struck a glancing blow by a passing Japanese merchant ship that got too close.
After other public relations appearances, that included an Independence Day
festival in Taiwan and Pony Express exercises staged by SEATO forces, Prairie returned to Pearl Harbor in 1966 where she repaired
and serviced over 100 ships. While at Pearl Harbor, the tender also rescued survivors from the yacht Anobell and brought them
to San Diego.
The ship was decommissioned and struck from the Navy's register in March,
1993. But she remains afloat to this day as part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet operated by the Maritime Administration.