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This Month in Naval History
Kankakee AO-39

A river in Indiana and Illinois that joins the Des Plaines River to form the Illinois River.

(AO-39: dp. 6,013; 1. 501'5"; b. 68'; dr. 30'9"; s. 17 k.; cpl. 261; a. 15", 4 3"; 8 40mm., 8 20mm.; cl. Kennebec; T. T2-A)

Kankakee (AO-39) was launched as SS Colina by Bethlehem Steel Co., Sparrows Point, Md., 24 January 1942; sponsored by Mrs. D. A. Little; acquired for the Navy 31 March through the Maritime Commission from her owner, Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., New York, N.Y.; and commissioned as Kankakee at Norfolk, Va., 4 May, Captain W. H. Mayes in command.

Departing Norfolk I June, Kankakee transported a cargo of fuel oil from Baton Rouge, La., to Coco Solo, C.Z., and arrived San Francisco via San Pedro 14 July for additional conversion. She cleared the Golden Gate 27 August and steamed to Noumea, New Caledonia, arriving 18 September to commence duty as a unit of SerRon 8. Sailing between New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, the Fijis, and Pearl Harbor, she spent the next 7 months refueling combat ships and convoys engaged in the bitter, protracted struggle for the Solomon Islands. She departed Noumea 18 April 1943 and arrived San Pedro 3 May for a 6-week overhaul before returning to the South Pacific 19 June.

Reaching Noumea 8 July, she resumed refueling, cargo, and passenger runs, serving the 3d Fleet between the New Hebrides and Solomon Islands. Sailing to the south of Guadalcanal 1 November, she refueled Admiral Sherman's fast carriers, Saratoga (CV-3) and Princeton (CV-23), 3 to 4 November in preparation for a supprise air strike against Japanese shipping at Rabaul on the 5th. From 21 February to 2 March 1944 she replenished destroyers to the east of New Ireland as they battered the Bismarck Barrier with bombardments on Kavieng and Rabaul. Captain Arleight A. Burke, Commander of the "Little Beavers" (DesRon 23) and later Chief of Naval Operations, commended Kankakee as the "most efficient tanker we have met." And while on a similar misssion 22 to 30 March, she refueled carriers of a task force as they sailed to launch destructive air strikes 30 March to 1 April against the enemy-held Palau, Yap, and Woleai Islands in the Western Carolines. Loaded with fuel oil and gasoline, she next refueled escort ships engaged in the Saipan landings. On 14 July she returned to San Diego for a short upkeep.

Kankakee departed the West Coast 24 August; she arrived Kossol Roads, Palaus, 10 October to serve as station tanker until 1 November when she shifted her base to Ulithi, Western Carolinas. From there she provided logistics support to ships that were hitting the enemy from the Philippines to the "home islands," forcing Japan's unconditional surrender. Throughout November and December 1944 and January 1945 she replenished Task Force 38. This Task Force struck the enemy devasting blows at Luzon, Formosa, the China Coast, and French Indochina. Departing Ulithi 8 February, she steamed northward and remained at sea until 3 March to refuel carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of the 5th Fleet engaged in the savage struggle for Iwo Jima and the supporting carrier air strikes on Tokyo. After renewing her cargo at Ulithi, she sailed 13 March to supply carriers, including Franklin (CV-13) and Langley (CVL-27) as they were conducting air strikes on Kyushu, the Inland Sea, and the Ryukyus. On 1 April, as landings on Okinawa progressed, Kankakee departed Southern Anchorage, Ulithi, for logistic support duty off Okinawa. Under the operational command of Rear Admiral D. B. Beary, Commander SerRon 6, she furnished fuel and supplies at sea to ships of the 5th Fleet. During much of the next 3 months she helped maintain their striking power and mobolity in the last great amphibious campaign of the war. Completing her Ryukyus duty 14 June, she resumed support 3 July for the 3d Fleet as Task Force 38 conducted devasting aerial and naval bombardments on the "home islands" from Hokkaido to the Inland Sea. Kankakee steamed southeast of Japan as offensive operations ceased 15 August; but she maintained logistic support until her return to Ulithi 5 September. After putting into Tokyo Bay 20 September, she proceeded to the United States, arriving San Pedro 18 November for overhaul.

Assigned to NOTS 28 February 1946, Kankakee departed San Pedro 13 March to serve as station tanker in Japan and China. For much of the next 5 years, she cruised the North Pacific Ocean from Alaska to the Philippines. During 1946 and 1947 she transported fuel oil from Bahrein Island in the Persian Gulf to Japan and the Philippines.

Now assigned to MSTS, she had an overhaul at Mare Island. Kankakee departed Seattle 2 February 1951 for duty with the 6th Fleet. She loaded aviation gasoline at Marcus Hook, Pa., and sailed 13 March to join Coral Sea (CVB-43) in the Mediterranean 2 April. Spending 4 months in support of the 6th Fleet she returned to San Pedro 7 September. She departed Wilmington, Calif., 23 December with a cargo of Korean-bound gasoline. Reaching Pusan 10 January 1952 after discharging her cargo, she returned via Sasebo, Japan, to San Francisco 2 February.

Kankakee departed San Francisco 1 April; after loading fuel oil at Houston, Tex., she sailed 19 April for the Mediterranean, arriving Oran, Algeria, 4 May to fuel 6th Fleet carriers. Completing this important duty 21 November, she transported aviation gasoline from Saint Rose, La., to the West Coast, arriving Wilmington 20 December. She conducted fueling operations along the Pacific coast and sailed from San Pedro 26 August 1953 for deployment with the 6th Fleet. From her departure at Beaumont, Tex., 12 September to her arrival at New York 31 May 1955 she conducted two, 7-month deployments to the Mediterranean in support of 6th Fleet peace-keeping operations. Placed in commission in reserve at Norfolk 17 August, she was towed to Baltimore 14 October, thence to Philadelphia 29 November. She decommissioned 30 November and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.

Kankakee recommissioned 20 December 1956, Comdr. G. R. Wells in command. Assigned to MSTS, she departed Philadelphia 26 December for 8 months of Atlantic fuelshuttle duty that carried her from the eastern seaboard and Venezeula to Newfoundland, Labrador, and the coast of western Europe. From 14 to 21 September 1957 she operated out of Portland, England, to support the NATO exercise "Strikeback." Following return to Norfolk I October, she sailed via New York for Port Arthur, Tex., arriving 4 November. She decommissioned the next day and entered the Maritime Defense Fleet Reserve.

Placed in reserve I February 1959, Kankakee was reinstated 1 September 1961 and recommissioned 29 November at New Orleans, Captain M. 0. Slater in command. Assigned to SerRon 4, she departed New Orleans 9 December, arriving Newport, R.I., 15 December. After a Caribbean cruise from 8 January to 8 March 1962, she operated along the Atlantic coast. On 21 October, 2 days after President Kennedy imposed a naval quarantine against the shipment of Russian offensive missiles into Cuba, Kankakee departed Newport to furnish logistic support for the powerful fleet swiftly assembled there. Before returning to Newport 5 December, she refueled 89 ships at sea, pointing out the self sufficiency and mobility of seapower.

Operating out of Newport, this versatile oiler engaged in a variety of missions between 25 February 1963 and 5 June 1964. During June 1963 she participated in joint U.S.-French convoy exercises, and in August she supported Atlantic ASW exercises. Kankakee deployed to the Mediterranean 3 July. While serving with the 6th Fleet, she refueled and serviced 269 ships and supplied them with more than 29 million gallons of fuel oil and aviation gasoline. During August she supported the Fleet's Cyprus patrol as the United States continued its role of world importance of keeping the peace in the Middle East. Her deployment completed, Kankakee returned to Newport 22 December.

Kankakee operated along the East Coast and in the Caribbean into 1967. One of the highlights of her service occurred in March 1965 when she acted as a recovery unit for NASA's Gemini 4 space flight. On this operation, besides her glamourous recovery duty, she refueled other ships of the recovery team. She continues to bring vital fuel to the ships of the Atlantic Fleet.

Kankakee received six battle stars for World War 11 service and one for Korean service.


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