The USS Clarke County was built as a Navy LST-542-class tank landing ship by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company in Seneca, Illinois. Its construction was completed on October 21, 1943, with its first launch on March 4, 1944. Mrs. Celia Counter Finch sponsored this ship, which was commissioned on March 25, 1944, with Lieutenant Ledbetter as its first commander.
Service in World War II
The Clarke County carried amphibious vehicles, supplies, and troops during World War II and was able to launch them offshore without docking. This ability made her very useful during her assignment to the European Theatre of Operations. Participating in the invasion of France in August and September 1944, the USS Clarke successfully delivered troop-laden amphibious vehicles such as tanks and jeeps without ever landing on shore. Its use as a landing ship tank (LST) was aptly suited for the Allies’ operations in D-Day type maneuvers. Its active service in the Commander, Amphibious Force, and U.S. Atlantic Fleet continued throughout the war. Still in service on July 1, 1955, she was renamed the USS Clarke County. This designation was to honor five United States counties with the name of Clarke–in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, and Virginia. She remains the only U.S. Naval ship to bear that name. During her World War II voyages, she received one battle star. Her initial period of service, from 1944 to 1955, concluded with her being decommissioned on November 23, 1955.
Service in the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War prompted the recommissioning of the Clarke County by the Navy on July 28, 1966. She served proudly in this conflict from 1967 to 1970, utilizing her unique capacities to provide landing support. In November 1967, while performing maneuvers off the coast of South Vietnam, she suffered disabling damage. The repair efforts of fleet tugs and of rescue and salvage ships made her seaworthy again on December 1, 1967, when she reentered the water for active duty. During her heroic service in the Vietnam War, she earned two Meritorious Unit Commendations as well as six campaign stars.
At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the USS Clarke County was sold to Indonesia. Placed in that country’s Navy, she continued to serve under the name of the KRI Teluk Saleh.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, some auxiliary vessels also posed 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 to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.