June 22, 1942
Less than seven months after the U.S. entry in World War II, construction began on one of the U.S. Navy tugboats that would serve in that global military conflict. This vessel was USS Kiowa, which was named after a Native American tribe of the Great Plains. Kiowa was constructed by the Charleston Shipbuilding & Drydock Company at its shipyard in Charleston, South Carolina. In November 1942, Kiowa was launched at that shipyard. Hilda Howe Edwards, the daughter of retired Navy Captain A.G. Howe, was the new vessel’s sponsor.
Kiowa was officially commissioned into the Navy as a fleet tug in June 1943 with Lieutenant William O. Kuykendall in command. Starting that summer, this tugboat was stationed for several months off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. Her duties in that region included towing a wide range of military ships and floating equipment.
In March 1944, Kiowa was reassigned to New York City in preparation for new and even more significant wartime responsibilities. The vessel subsequently made her way across the Atlantic to England so that she could take part in an Allied campaign that was the largest amphibious operation of not only that war but all of world history.
This campaign involved the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, and Kiowa joined a fleet designated as Task Group 122.3 to help provide crucially needed support as Allied troops stormed those beaches in northern France. Along with transporting an array of firefighting and salvage equipment on that historic day, the crew of Kiowa played a major role in assisting to disabled ships and repairing landing craft. Kiowa continued to be of service to vessels off the coast of Normandy until July 25. She was subsequently awarded a battle star for her contributions to that large-scale Allied victory, which proved to be a critical turning point in the fight against Nazi Germany.
Kiowa returned to the United States that fall. For the remainder of the war, she operated along the Eastern Seaboard. Kiowa’s duties included assisting and towing disabled vessels and escorting merchant ships to the convoy lanes. Kiowa also served as a tanker, fueling numerous ships at sea.
Between 1946 and 1959, Kiowa served along an extensive stretch of the coast of North American between the Panama Canal Zone and Newfoundland. Her duties during this time included towing ship and engaging in salvage work.
In May 1959, Kiowa played pivotal part in the U.S. space program when she recovered the nose cone of a Jupiter AM -18 missile that NASA had fired 300 miles (482.8 kilometers) into space from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The missile cone contained two simian passengers, a rhesus macaque named Able and a squirrel monkey named Baker.
The missile’s nose cone splashed down in an area of the Caribbean Sea located about 40 miles (64.4 kilometers) north of Antigua. The crew of Kiowa successfully retrieved the nose cone and the spacefaring monkeys inside it at that site. Able and Baker were the first monkeys to survive a spaceflight. (Able, however, died only four days later from an adverse reaction to anesthesia during emergency surgery; Baker lived until 1984.)
In 1966, Kiowa participated in yet another high-stakes effort after a hydrogen bomb fell into the Mediterranean Sea when the U.S. Air Force B-52G Stratofortress that had been carrying it collided with a tanker aircraft up in the sky. Kiowa was one of 28 vessels that the Navy, in response to a request from the USAF for help, sent to the Mediterranean to conduct an intensive search for the missing bomb. Two-and-a-half months after the collision, that bomb was located by the Navy submersible DSV Alvin and retrieved from the bottom of the sea by the underwater vehicle CURV I.
Kiowa remained in active service in the U.S. Navy until 1972, when she was loaned to the Dominican Republic. After being stricken from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register seven years later, Kiowa continued to serve in the Dominican Navy under the name Macorix. She was decommissioned by the Dominican Navy and returned to the U.S. Navy in 1986. In 1994, the longtime vessel was sold for scrapping.