National Steel and Shipbuilding Company who constructed the previous trio of YELLOWSTONE Class destroyer tenders laid the keel for Destroyer Tender (AD 44) in August, 1980. Decks and frames would grow out of the keel which would contain hundreds of compartments, including more than 50 specialized shops.

Larry French, NASSCO President, VADM Lee Baggett, Jr., Commander Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, G. E. Anderson, NASSCO Welding Foreman, and CAPT Stuart Platt, Deputy Commander Directorate, Naval Sea Systems, participated in the keel laying ceremony.


Christening & Launching

The pomp and circumstance accompanying the quick splash of a ship launching has been going on since the time of the Vikings. England’s George III gets credit for introducing champagne and the feminine touch to the ship’s coming-out party. Despite the hoopla, launchings are serious business.

Planning and execution of the event is an exacting task. The ship’s sponsor, CDR Frances Hammond Claytor, her husband, former Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense, CDR W. Graham Claytor, Jr., and their daughter, Murray Claytor, were the featured guests along with Captain McNicholas, the ship’s first Commanding Officer at the 6 February 1982 ceremony.

“Because the spirit of the sponsor is said to enter the ship at christening and remain with her forever, the sponsor holds a special place in the hearts of the crew who sail the ship she christens.”

— USS Shenandoah (AD 44) Commissioning Book.

~ Ship’s Sponsor ~

A native of Roanoke, Virginia, CDR Frances Hammond Claytor attended St. Catherine’s School in Richmond and Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She graduated from Radcliffe College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology.

When World War II began, CDR Claytor enlisted in the first WAVE midshipmen class at Smith College. She was commissioned Ensign, USNR, in December 1942 and was assigned to the Eastern Sea Frontier in New York City. She was a Commander, USNR, when she went on inactive duty in 1946.

In 1948, Frances Hammond married CDR W. Graham Claytor, Jr. Since their marriage, they lived out their years in Washington D.C. They have a daughter, Dr. F. Murray Claytor, M.D., and a son, W. Graham Claytor III, who is an assistant trainmaster with Southern Railway in Macon, Georgia.

~ Ship’s Maid of Honor ~

Murray Claytor, daughter of Frances and Graham Claytor, was born in Roanoke, VA. She graduated from St. Catherine’s School in Richmond in 1967 and received a Bachelor of Arts degree four years later from Goucher College, Towson, Maryland.

Following graduation, Miss Claytor completed pre-medical courses at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. She is currently a graduate at Georgetown University preparing to enter medical school.


Captain Thomas M. McNicholas, Jr. was appointed and pronounced Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) of PCU SHENANDOAH (AD 44) during the Ship’s Launching ceremony. He received nearly a dozen images of the ship during her construction from NASSCO officials. Many of which he was unable to use for publication — until now, that is.

Captain provided the images to be scanned and posted on TheToughTender below:

BUILDER’S TRIALS — April, 1983

Builder’s trials were conducted in April, 1983. During these trials, the builders and a few Navy observers took SHENANDOAH to sea to test the ship’s capabilities. NASSCO representatives looked closely for any discrepancies so they could be corrected upon return from the trials.


Acceptance trials were conducted in late June, 1983. This time, Navy personnel were onboard to witness the demonstration of all systems. For example, we conducted a four-hour full power run.

Then, in a maneuver known as “crashback” where the ship’s power is switched from full ahead to full astern, it took over five minutes to stop the ship.

The rudder was also tested through its full range at full power ahead.

Another test was the water wash-down system that uses sea water to protect the ship from nuclear fallout.

(AD 44)’s PCO Captain Thomas M. McNicholas, Jr. and other U.S. Navy personnel inspected 900 compartments aboard the ship, and on 26 July 1983, the contractor NASSCO delivered the ship to the U.S. Navy and limited outfitting began.

NASSCO representatives turn over the final paperwork to Captain T. M. McNicholas, Jr., and the USS Shenandoah (AD 44) joins the fleet.