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Art Leatherwood
USS Houston
USS Houston (CL-81) off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, 1944. Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
William W. Behrens
William W. Behrens, Captain of the USS Houston (CL-81). Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

HOUSTON. The USS Houston, a light cruiser of the Cleveland class built at the Norfolk Navy Yard, was the third United States naval vessel to be so named. She was originally launched as the USS Vicksburg on June 19, 1943, and was renamed Houston after the heavy cruiser USS Houston had been sunk in the western Pacific in February 1942. The citizens of Houston, through the purchase of war bonds, subscribed sufficient funds for the construction of the new Houston as well as for a light aircraft carrier, the USS San Jacinto. The city also enlisted 1,000 Houston volunteers who served in a variety of naval assignments.

USS Houston
Damage to the USS Houston (CL-81) after being hit by a torpedo, 1944. Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
USS Houston
USS Houston (CL-81) torpedoed while under tow, 1944. Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
USS Houston
Painting, Ordeal of the USS Houston, by Jack Fellows. Courtesy of the National World War II Museum. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The ship was commissioned on December 20, 1943, at the Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia, under the command of Capt. William W. Behrens. After a shakedown cruise she left Boston on April 16, 1944, bound for the Pacific, where she joined Task Force 58. She escorted carriers during strikes against the Marianas and the Bonins during the invasion of Saipan. She screened carriers through the summer and fall of 1944, when attacks were made against Rota, Guam, Tinian, Balau (the Palau Islands), and the Ryukyus Islands. She participated in the battle of the Philippine Sea and supported the landings on Peleliu. On October 14, as a member of Task Force 38, the Houston was struck by a torpedo amidships near the keel. The ship was so badly damaged that she was dead in the water 1,400 miles and two weeks from help. Longitudinals and amidship decks buckled. She was still under attack and was in great danger of breaking up. Unnecessary personnel were removed to other ships, damage-control teams stemmed the flooding, and the Houston was taken under tow by the USS Boston. The Newport News Shipyard Journal reported, "Never in the history of the sea has a ship been saved and strengthened when the decks and longitudinals amidships were buckling." On October 16 tow was passed to the fleet tug USS Pawnee.Funeral services for some of the dead were being conducted when the Japanese, following the broad oil slick left by the wounded Houston, attacked again. A second torpedo struck the Houston in the stern. The buckling amidships increased after this second hit, and an additional 300 men were transferred to accompanying destroyers. The remaining 48 officers and 146 enlisted men kept the ship afloat until, two weeks later, she reached the safety of an advanced anchorage. For seven weeks she was tied up to the repair ship Hector, then towed another 1,000 miles to a drydock at Manus, in the Admiralty Islands. After five weeks, she was ready for a 12,000-mile trip, under her own power, to the New York Navy Yard, where she arrived in March 1945. In October she was placed under the command of Capt. Howard E. Orem and was on duty with the Atlantic Fleet. The Houston was decommissioned in 1947 and, after an unsuccessful attempt by the city of Houston to save her for display in a county park, was scrapped in 1959.

A fourth USS Houston, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was launched on March 21, 1981, by Barbara Bush, wife of George H. W. Bush, who was then vice president. The submarine was commissioned on September 25, 1982, at the Norfolk Navy Yard by Senator John G. Tower.


Houston Chronicle, September 26, 1982, March 17, 1983. Newport News Shipyard Bulletin, September 1945.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Art Leatherwood, "HOUSTON," accessed July 11, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qth03.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 1, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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