The USS Brownson, a Fletcher-class destroyer, was built by Bethlehem Steel Co., Staten Island, New York, with a launch date of September 24, 1942. It was commissioned on February 3, 1943. In command was Lieutenant Commander J.B. Maher.
The Brownson was named after Rear Admiral Willard Herbert Brownson, a graduate of the Naval Academy in 1865. His career included service in the North Atlantic Squadron and the Pacific Fleet. His commands included the cruiser Detroit, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and during the Spanish-American War, commanding the Yankee. He also served as Superintendent of the Naval Academy. Willard Brownson was later appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet in October of 1906, retiring in July 1907.
Action in World War II
The Brownson operated as a convoy escort along the northeastern coast of the United States as well as in the North Atlantic from the time it was commissioned until June 11, 1943.
En route to California, June 18, 1943, the Brownson passed through the Panama Canal. It arrived for operations along the California coast in June 28. In July, it headed north to Alaskan waters, acting as a convoy escort and patrol. It was reassigned on November 29, 1943 and headed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then to the Southwest Pacific, lending support to Bismarck Archipelago operations off the northeastern coast of New Guinea.
On December 26, 1943 at about 2:42 p.m., the Brownson sustained hits by two bombs delivered by a Japanese dive bomber in Cape Gloucester, New Britain as it was screening the landings. It was hit near its number two stack, starboard of its centerline. Its main deck and deck plating were destroyed, as well as everything above deck. It soon began to list 10 to 15 degrees starboard, rapidly settling amidships, its bow and stern pitched skyward.
Life rafts were deployed to rescue the wounded; then at 2:50 p.m. the order was given to abandon ship, the center of the ship already completely under water. The recorded time of its sinking was 2:59 p.m. It had a loss of 108 crewmen; the survivors were rescued by the Daly and the Lamson.
For service in World War II, the Brownson was awarded one battle star.
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.