The USS Aaron Ward was built at San Pedro, California in December 1943. Named after Rear Admiral Aaron Ward, who lived from 1851 to 1918 and served in the United States Navy from 1867 to 1913, this 2,200 ton naval vessel was originally constructed and launched as a destroyer vessel (DD-773) of the Allen M. Sumner class in May 1944. However, it was commissioned to serve as a destroyer minelayer of the Robert H. Smith class in October 1944.
Action in World War II
In February 1945, this naval vessel joined World War II in the Pacific Ocean. In March of the same year, the ship and its crew fought in the invasion of Okinawa. The duties of the ship after the invasion included escorting larger vessels and engaging in mine sweeping operations to detect, destroy, remove, or disarm explosive mines. This vessel also patrolled specific areas and performed radar picket duties to protect particular areas from afar by utilizing early warning radar equipment.
During this time, the ship and its crew fought off numerous Japanese airplane attacks. On May 3, 1945, while stationed at a radar picket station just west of Okinawa, the USS Aaron Ward was attacked multiple times by Japanese Kamikaze suicide airplanes with a mission to destroy as many warships as possible. Although many of these planes were successfully shot down by the ship, many more inflicted serious damage to the ship itself as the suicide planes struck the vessel at high rates of speed. The badly damaged vessel was towed to safety on May 4, and the crew was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for keeping their ship operational despite its severe damage.
After the war
Temporary repairs were made in August 1945 which enabled the ship to set a course for the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal to its destination of New York. The services of this naval vessel were no longer needed at this time because World War II was almost over. Therefore, permanent repairs were not performed on the ship. The USS Aaron Ward was decommissioned in September 1945 and sold for scrap metal in July 1946.
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.