History Notes: the USS Cacapon
(Berkeley Springs, WV) — Did you know the U.S. Navy had a warship christened USS Cacapon that served in World War II, the Korean War and in Vietnam?
Here is the ship’s story:
World War II Service
The USS Cacapon, designated AO-52 by the U.S. Navy, was a 7470-ton Cimarron-class fleet oiler launched on June 12, 1943, from the Bethlehem Sparrows Point Shipyard near Baltimore, Maryland.
The ship was acquired and then commissioned the same day by the Navy on September 21, 1943. The USS Cacapon’s dangerous and primary mission was to supply petroleum products to combat ships.
Its capacity was 146,000 barrels, carried a crew complement of 314 and was protected by 8 anti-aircraft guns and two large caliber machine guns. It was 543 feet in length.
On October 22, 1943, the USS Cacapon sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Pearl Harbor, arriving on November 12. For the duration of the war, she supplied fuel to warships of the 3rd, 5th and 7th fleets operating in the Pacific Theater. The ship participated in fleet operations in the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea, and the Philippines and was at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
It helped fuel the 3rd Fleet in its final push, bombarding and conducting air attacks, on the Japanese home islands in July 1945. The Japanese finally surrendered on September 2, 1945, bringing World War II to a close. The USS Cacapon triumphantly entered Tokyo Bay on September 20, 1945. The ship and crew received four battle stars for its service during the war.
Between wars, USS Cacapon supported the Navy’s Operation High-jump in 1946-47, a mission to establish a research center in Antarctica.
Korea and Vietnam
During the 1950-53 Korean War, the USS Cacapon completed four tours of duty carrying fuel and supplies to the 7th Fleet. On her first tour, the ship and crew received the Navy Unit Commendation for supporting the amphibious landing at Inchon, September 15, 1950. During its four tours of Korea, the ship was awarded nine more battle stars.
After the war, the ship conducted six more tours of duty with the 7th Fleet in the Pacific and in 1958 replenished ships participating in the nuclear bomb tests at the Bikini and Eniwetok atolls. The USS Cacapon continued to support the 7the Fleet during air operations over Vietnam from 1965 to the early 1970s.
Murder mystery aboard ship
The USS Cacapon was the site of a bizarre murder mystery that went unsolved for 30 years. In 1968, $8,600 was found missing from the ship’s safe. Ensign Andrew Muns was also found to be missing and accused by the Navy of the theft and deserting the ship with the stolen money. After repeated requests by the Muns family, a cold case investigation was finally opened by NCIS in 1998.
The investigation eventually led to Michael LeBrun who confessed to strangling Ensign Muns after Muns discovered LeBrun had taken the money. LeBrun told investigators he disposed of the body by dumping it into one of the ships fuel tanks. The body was never recovered. Ensign Andrew Muns, after 30 years of being labeled a dishonorable deserter, was finally given an honorable and ceremonial burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
The USS Cacapon was decommissioned in August 1973 and removed from the Navy list of ships. After thirty years of continuous and meritorious service, her final inglorious disposition was to be sold for scrap to a company in Portland, Oregon.
Memorabilia from the USS Cacapon, donated by Pamela Thames (daughter of one of the ship’s captains) is on display at the Cacapon Resort State Park Nature Center.