A 1630-ton Gleaves class destroyer, the USS Aaron Ward was constructed and assembled in New Jersey and was commissioned in 1942. It received its name from a past Commanding Admiral, Rear Admiral Aaron Ward, USN (1851-1918). Rear Admiral Ward served in the U.S. Navy from 1867 to 1913.
Action in World War II
After starting out in the western Atlantic, she was assigned to escort duty in the Pacific in May of 1942. Ships she escorted included the USS Long Island aircraft carrier, as well as aging battleships that were sent from the United States western coastline towards the hostilities at Midway.
Heading for the South Pacific in midsummer of 1942, she became involved in the campaign to hold the Guadalcanal as she was assigned to escort logistics shipping and warships. While in this area of the South Pacific, she was in the vicinity of a battle that took down the USS Wasp and damaged a cruiser, the USS Chester, which was the victim of a Japanese torpedo.
The USS Aaron Ward then took up position around the hostile island battlefront for several months in the fall of 1942. During that assignment, she fought off air attacks and shelled many enemy targets ashore. On November 11-12, the USS Aaron Ward escorted a convoy of transports to Guadalcanal, protecting the ships from air attacks. On the night of November 12, along with a group of cruisers and destroyers, she helped both intercept and drive off a Japanese naval force of superior strength. Although the destroyer was hit several times and crippled, the ship managed to avoid being sunk the following morning, when she was fired on and missed by the Japanese battleship, Hiei.
She received repair and overhaul at Pearl Harbor, returning to the South Pacific battle zone shortly after Japanese forces left the Guadacanal in February, 1943. On April 7, she received notice of a massive Japanese air attack and retreated to open waters to fight off the raid. However, she was hit by a dive bomber and began taking on water in her machinery spaces, eventually sinking near the Tulagi shore.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially during World War II, naval destroyers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.