The USS Colleton was laid down in 1945 by the Boston Naval Shipyard. However, with the conclusion of World War II, it was promptly sent to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. After an extensive overhaul twenty years later, the self-propelled Benewah-class barracks and hospital ship was ready to serve medical duty in Vietnam.
Service in the Vietnam War
The Colleton was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in January of 1967, and on February 6th, Lieutenant Commander F. R. Banbury led the USS Colleton from Norfolk, Virginia to Vung Tau in the Mekong Delta. The crew trained en route with the Pacific Fleet. The Colleton finally arrived in Vietnam just three days before the Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive began.
From late May until December of 1967, the Colleton accompanied troops during their landings and then move on to a pick-up point. It provided aeromedical evacuations and other support to the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF), a union of the 2nd Brigade, the 9th Infantry Division, and River Assault Flotilla One or Task Force 117. The Colleton worked in conjunction with other hospital ships, but it was the only ship to be expanded to provide more patient space. When the MRF required additional room for casualties, the Colleton was refit in Subic Bay, Philippines from December of 1967 to January of 1968. Sick bay facilities then covered two levels and were joined by a ramp; a hoist was available for transporting patients from small craft; and the ship also featured a two-table operating room, recovery rooms, a pharmacy, and a dental clinic. Its landing pad could accommodate all types of helicopters. The USS Colleton took in 890 casualties from late January 1968 until May 1968. It had a 900-bed capacity.
The ship’s numerous honors include seven battle stars, the Vietnam Service Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, two Presidential Unit Citations, two Navy Unit Commendations, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) Gallantry Cross with a palm adornment, a First Class RVN Civil Action Medal with palm, and an RVN Campaign Medal with a 1960s bar.
After the War
The USS Colleton was decommissioned in Bremerton in December of 1969. It was stricken from the military register in 1973 and sold for scrap in 1974.
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 in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.