The Drexler received a battle star for its brief but valiant service in World War II. The ship was sponsored by the mother of Henry Clay Drexler, a Naval Academy graduate who died in an explosion aboard the USS Trenton while attempting to save his crew. Drexler’s heroic efforts led to his receiving a posthumous Medal of Honor and Navy Cross.
The Sumner-class USS Drexler was launched by Bath Iron Works of Maine in early September, 1944. On November 14th of that year, Commander R. L. Wilson led the ship from Norfolk, Virginia to Trinidad as an escort for the Bon Homme Richard. The Drexler then cruised on to San Diego, California on February 10, 1945. For two weeks, the crew trained for shore bombardments and anti-aircraft operations it would undertake in Okinawa, Japan.
Action in World War II
On February 23, the ship sailed for Ulithi, the Caroline Islands atoll that served as a staging area for the planned invasion of Okinawa. En route, it served as an escort for aircraft carriers bound for Ulithi and for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
On March 27, the USS Drexler cruised to Okinawa, bound for duty as a radar picket station. A crew of 357 men was on board. On March 28, three kamikazes attacked the Drexler and the Lowry, another Sumner-class destroyer. The first airplane was deflected by the combined efforts of Allied aircraft and the destroyer’s own gunfire, but the second suicide pilot severely damaged the ship. The collision was not head-on, for the pilot aimed for the Lowry. Nonetheless, it managed to cut power to the main section of the Drexler and to ignite its fuel. As the ship flamed, a third suicide pilot moved in for the final attack.
As a result of an explosion triggered by the third kamikaze, the USS Drexler rolled onto its starboard side and quickly sank. It was underwater within 49 seconds. On the U.S. side, 158 servicemen were killed and 52 were injured. The commanding officer was among those wounded. Smaller ships on patrol rescued the survivors.
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.