The USS Buck DD-420, a Sims-class destroyer built by the Philadelphia Navy Yard, was launched on May 22, 1939, with a commission date of May 15, 1940. Her commander was Lt. Commander Horace C. Robinson and she was named for James Buck, a Civil War Medal of Honor winner.
Action in World War II
With shakedown complete, Buck was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet until reassignment to the Pacific Fleet in February, where she remained until June 1941. On July 1, she was assigned to Task Force (TF) 19. Heading for Argentia, Newfoundland, she joined the convoy assigned to carry the First Marine Brigade for deployment to Reykjavik, Iceland. The Marines landed on July 7, and then Buck was assigned escort duty between the United States and Iceland. During World War II, buck remained a convoy escort, calling on ports in Iceland, Newfoundland, the Caribbean, North Africa and Northern Ireland.
On August 22, 1942, while traveling to Nova Scotia in dense fog, British transport Atwatea collided with Buck, the impact breaking Buck’s Keel and slicing roughly two-thirds through her fantail. Her port propeller was damaged in the collision, while her starboard propeller was totally destroyed. There were seven fatalities in the collision. The crew made makeshift repairs, but after a few hours, the port propeller fell off, leaving Buck helpless. When the Ingraham came to assist, she collided with the oiler, Chemung AO-30, sustaining mortal damage. Survivors from Ingraham were rescued while the Chemung took Buck under tow.
The Cherokee AT-66 relieved Chemung, reaching Boston with the Buck in tow on August 26. Repairs were completed in November and Buck returned to Atlantic convoy duties. She continued in this capacity until June, 1943, then finding reassignment to patrol duty in the Mediterranean out of Tunisia and Algeria.
On July 8, 1943, Buck was assigned to the Western Naval Task Force, performing patrol duties during Operation “Husky,” which involved the invasion of Sicily on July 10. While escorting cargo ships from Sicily to Algeria on August 3, Buck spotted Italian Submarine Argento on reconnaissance off the Sicilian coast. She pursued, forcing Argento to surface and the crew to eventually abandon ship under heavy fire. 45 of the 49 Argento crew members were taken prisoner.
In September, during Operation “Avalanche” at Anzio, Italy, she patrolled the coast. On October 9, while off Salerno, Buck was ambushed by the German submarine U-616 and hit forward starboard by a torpedo. She sank in about four minutes. An underwater explosion killed some of the sailors, but 97 survivors were rescued by the Gleaves DD-423 and the British ship, the LCT-170.
For her service in World War II, Buck was awarded three battle stars.
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.