The first Reuben James (DD-245) was laid down on April 2, 1919, launched on October 4, 1919, and commissioned on September 24, 1920 with Commander Gordon W. Hines in command. She was a post-World War I four-stack Clemson-class destroyer with a crew of 101, capable of 35 knots, and a main armament of four 4-inch guns, a single 3-inch gun, and twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes. Assigned to the Atlantic fleet, Reuben James saw duty in the Mediterranean from 1921 to 1922. Based then at New York, she patrolled the Nicaraguan coast to prevent the delivery of weapons to revolutionaries in early 1926. DD-245 was decommissioned at Philadelphia on January 20, 1931. Recommissioned on March 9, 1932, the ship again operated in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, patrolling Cuban water during the Cuban revolution. She transferred to San Diego, California in 1934. Following maneuvers that evaluated aircraft carriers, Reuben James returned to the Atlantic Fleet in January 1939.
Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, she joined the Neutrality Patrol, and guarded the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches the American coast. In March 1941, Reuben James joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of war material to Great Britain. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, where they became responsibility of British escorts. Based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, she sailed from Argentia, Newfoundland, October 23, 1941, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX-156. While escorting that convoy at about 0525, October 31, 1941, Reuben James was torpedoed by German submarine U-552. The ship had postured herself between an ammunition ship in the convoy and the known position of a German U-boat wolfpack. She was hit forward by a torpedo and her entire bow was blown off when a magazine exploded. She floated for five minutes before going down. Of the crew, 44 survived, and 100 died. Reuben James was the first US Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II.
Woody Guthrie wrote "The Sinking of the Reuben James," set to the tune of the folk song "The Golden Vanitee," which he performed with Pete Seeger.
- Displacement: 1190 tons
- Length: 95.8 meters (314'5")
- Beam: 9.65 meters (31'8")
- Draft: 4.3 meters (14'1")
- Speed: 35 knots
- Complement: 144
- Armament: 4-4"/50, 1-3"/23, 12-21" torpedo tubes
The second Reuben James (DE-153) was laid down on September 7, 1942, launched on February 6, 1943, and commissioned on April 1, 1943, with Lieutenant Commander Frank D. Giambattista in command. She was a Buckley-class destroyer escort with a crew of 213, capable of 23.5 knots, and equiped with a main armament of two 5-inch guns, three 3-inch guns, and three 21-inch torpedo tubes. First based in Miami, Florida, she conducted anti-submarine patrols and provided training in convoy escort and anti-submarine warfare. In March, 1944, she shifted homeport from Miami to Norfolk, Virginia. In June 1944, she escorted a convoy from New York to Norfolk. Between July 13 and November 7, 1944, Reuben James successfully escorted two convoys to the Mediterranean, returning with westbound convoys. During the ship's first eastbound voyage, nine German bombers attacked its convoy off Algeria on August 1, 1944. Reuben James shot down one enemy bomber. Returning to Boston on November 7, 1944, she joined an anti-submarine group operation in the North Atlantic. Operating south of Newfoundland, Reuben James was present when the USS Buckley (DE-51) sank German submarine U-879 on April 19, 1945. Arriving at Houston, Texas on July 4, 1945 Reuben James completed conversion to a radar picket ship on November 25, 1945 and was subsequently employed in the Atlantic and the Caribbean while being stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. She was decommissioned on October 11, 1947.
The third Reuben James (FFG-57) was a Perry-class guided missile fast frigate. The crew totaled 160 enlisted, 17 chief petty officers and 20 officers. The contract to build her was awarded on March 22, 1982 to Todd Shipyard of San Pedro, California. Her keel was laid on November 19, 1983, she was launched on February 8, 1985, she was delivered to the Navy on March 3, 1986 and commissioned a few days later on March 22. She was faster than 30 knots and powered by two gas turbine engines. Armed with anti-air and anti-ship missiles, an automated three-inch gun, an anti-missile defense system, and two anti-submarine helicopters, Reuben James was tasked with hunting submarines as well as battle group escort and maritime interception.
- Homeport: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
- Overall Length: 453 ft
- Waterline Length: 408 ft
- Extreme Beam: 47 ft
- Waterline Beam: 47 ft
- Maximum Navigational Draft: 26 ft
- Draft Limit: 17 ft
- Light Displacement: 3199 tons
- Full Displacement: 4097 tons
- Dead Weight: 898 tons
- Hull Material: Steel hull, aluminum superstructure.
- Number of Propellers: 1
- Propulsion Type: Gas Turbines
- Accommodations: 19 Officers, 198 Enlisted