Sea Classics - Vol 21, Number 6 (June 1988)

"Unless men are willing to fight and die for great ideals, including love of country, ideals will vanish and the world will become one huge sty of materialism." So said the late President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a staunch believer in American seapower, and whose very words adorn the dedication plaque aboard the USS Brewton, a U.S. Navy warship named in honor of a man who did fight and die for great ideals.

Lieutenant (jg) John C. Brewton was a platoon officer of an elite Navy SEAL team. A highly principled man, he went to fight with his men against communist forces in South Vietnam. On 24 November 1969 he led his platoon in a fierce battle against an overwhelming number of enemy troops - and he was painfully wounded with back and arm injuries. Despite his wounds and suffering, he continued to direct his SEALS in action, refusing medical treatment until all of his men were safely repositioned. Then he was struck and wounded again, but still he refused to relent. He went on to attain a forward vantage point and from there directed helicopter attacks against the enemy.

When the action was over, Lt. (jg) Brewton was evacuated to a field hospital for critically-needed treatment. But his heart could not overcome the wounds of his broken body and he died on 11 January 1970.

For his heroic action he was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant - and awarded the Silver Star for "valiant leadership and courageous fighting spirit in the face of grave enemy opposition and serious personal injuries." Lt. Brewton also received the Bronze Star with one gold star and Combat "V"; the Purple Heart with one gold star; the Combat Action Ribbon; the Vietnam Service Ribbon with three bronze stars; and the National Defense Service Medal. In addition, he was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

There was yet another honor bestowed upon the dedicated SEAL: The U.S. Navy proceeded to name a new frigate after him - the USS Brewton (DE-1086) - in the tradition of naming ships after Americans of distinction.

Brewton was built by the Avondale Shipyards at Westwego, Louisiana. Her keel was laid on 2 October 1970 and she was launched on 24 July 1971. She was sponsored by Mrs. Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., the wife of the Chief of Naval Operations.

The 35th ship of the USS Knox class of Ocean Escorts, Brewton sailed under her own power for the first time on 11 April 1972 and went on to conduct two days of builder's trials. On 8-12 May the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey performed preliminary acceptance trials, whereupon the ship was conditionally accepted for service with the fleet. Avondale Shipyards then delivered her to the Navy at Long Beach Naval Shipyard in California on 18 June for final fitting out and commissioning preparations.

USS Brewton joined the U.S. fleet officially on 8 July 1972 at the Long Beach Naval Station. Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., the CNO, was the main speaker at an emotional ceremony. He spoke in a poignant manner and from the heart, for he had personally known Lt. Brewton. On hand to witness the event was Mrs. Zumwalt, the sponsor; family members Mr. and Mrs. H.E. Brewton, III; numerous Navy officers, including five from flag rank; and civilian dignitaries from the Long Beach community and Navy League. There was also a young woman on hand for the commissioning - Miss Cheryl Kurit. She had been engaged to marry Lt. Brewton. Her parents were present, too.

The insignia representing DE-1086 was based upon the Brewton family's coat of arms. The wolf, standing for swiftness and fighting spirit, was depicted along with a star symbolizing honor and achievement. The Navy included the Trident, symbol of seapower. The left side of the insignia was colored red for fortitude; the right side blue for loyalty, fidelity and truth. Silver chevrons were added to represent peace and nobility.

On 27 August 1972 Brewton began her shakedown cruise. She sailed from Long Beach to Seal Beach Naval Ammunition Station and loaded out with ammunition and antisubmarine ordnance. Then she underwent local ASW maneuvers with exercise torpedo and rocket launches, and upon completion proceded to San Deigo, California for degaussing and deperming.

On 12 September 1972 the frigate stood out of San Diego and conducted a week of gunnery and damage control exercises under the supervision of Fleet Training Group instructors. The training assist over, she reported to Carr Inlet, Washington to commence acoustical tests. Machinery and overall noise levels radiated by the ship were checked at different speeds and machinery combinations to determine the quietest means of steaming at sea. These tests were vital for enhancing ASW warfare capability, and for determining if equipment was working properly. After evaluation Brewton sailed to Vancouver, British Columbia for a 4-day port visit, and on 26 September set out for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Brewton arrived at Pearl Harbor on the first day of October, and after dockside preparations sailed for the Barking Sands underwater test range to conduct ASW weapons launches for the purpose of evaluating the accuracy of underwater weapons systems. On 6 October Brewton returned to Pearl Harbor for a 3-day liberty and upkeep period, then spent the next two weeks in training and a battle practice problem.

On 22 October 1972 Brewton stood out of Pearl Harbor and set course for Long Beach. Back in California, she took on the Board of Inspection and Survey and conducted at-sea and in-port phases of final contract trials.

On 7 November the frigate departed Long Beach and sailed for San Diego to serve as a training vessel for students of the Fleet antisubmarine school's ASW Air Controllers course. Ship, rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft exercises were coordinated upon a submerged target in the Southern California Operations area. The ASW course completed, Brewton reported back to Long Beach.

During the next week Rear Admiral Meyers, the Director of the Combat Systems Division of Naval Ordinance Systems Command, along with other senior ordnance experts and civilian industry representatives, sailed aboard Brewton as the "Naval Gunfire Development Committee." They were on hand to observe the operation of the ship's 5 in-54-caliber rapid-fire gun in an actual fleet environment and in a gunnery demonstration at the San Clemente Naval Gunfire Support Range.

In late November Brewton set out from Long Beach and proceeded to rendezvous with the carrier USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) to serve as an escort and plane guard during carrier qualifications for Naval aviators. On 3 December she was detached from Coral Sea and ordered to Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station to offload ammunition. She was then directed to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for post-shakedown availability which began on 11 December 1972.

Brewton returned to the fleet in the spring of 1973 and has been going strong ever since. Redesignated FF-1086, she is homeported in Pearl Harbor and often embarks upon cruises throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Highly effective in antisubmarine warfare, she is also capable in the roles of anti-surface warfare, antiaircraft warfare and naval gunfire support. She is equipped to operate LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose Systems) helicopters in support of its ASW missions.

Lt. John C. Brewton was a paragon of the U.S. Navy SEALS, and he embodied their motto: "Dedicated, Determined, Prepared." His valor in combat is an enduring inspiration to all Americans. Such men never die. Today his spirit remains with the fleet aboard the Man-O'-War that proudly bears his name.


Richard K. Schrader is a commercial pilot and Vietnam veteran with a long list of writing credentials to his credit. His latest book - AIRBORNE, published by Challenge Publications, traces the history of the elite airborne units of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Sea Classics is pleased to have him aboard as a new contributor. Mister Schrader presently lives in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.