The USS General LeRoy Eltinge was named after Brigadier General LeRoy Eltinge who was awarded a Silver Star for his service in the Philippines, as well as the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in World War I. The ship was built in 1944 by Kaiser Shipbuilding Co. in Richmond, California, and commissioned on February 21, 1945.
Service in World War II
The General LeRoy Eltinge was first sent to Calcutta, India, carrying 3100 troops in April. In May, she set off with more soldiers for Tinian and Guam, then continued on to Pearl Harbor to pick up more troops bound for San Francisco. She spent the next six months on “Magic Carpet” duty, picking soldiers up in Marseilles, France, and Karachi, India, to take them home to the United States.
The next mission for General LeRoy Eltinge was to take replacement troops to the Canal Zone, then pick up soldiers in Shanghai, the Philippines, and Korea and return them to Seattle. In May 1946, General LeRoy Eltinge returned to New York where she was decommissioned and returned to the Maritime Commission.
Work with the United Nations
In July 1950, the ship was brought back to participate in refugee operations as well as troop transports with Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS). During the next year, she moved soldiers from San Francisco to Korea and Japan. In October 1951, she made two trips to Bremer-haven, Germany, to help with the International Refugee Program. For the next few years the ship made several trips for the United Nations such as moving Dutch, Ethiopian, and Greek troops to Korea.
She was put to work in 1956 helping with the refugee relief program after the Hungarian Revolution and brought thousands of refugees from Bremerhaven to the United States. During the next few years, she sailed to Turkey and Thailand for the United Nations, took troops back to France and Germany from Lebanon, and helped with the rescue of survivors when two ships collided off the coast of Spain in 1960. When violence erupted in the Belgian Congo later that year, the General LeRoy Eltinge helped with the United Nations’ peace mission by taking a load of famine-relief supplies to the Congo Republic in February 1961, then went on to India to pick up troops for the UN mission.
Final Years of Service
The General LeRoy Eltinge returned to New York in May and was put on reduced operational status. She was put back into service in 1965 and transported 2497 soldiers to Southeast Asia and continued moving men and supplies from San Francisco to Vietnam during 1966. In January 1967, she was put on ready reserve status before being sold in 1968 for commercial use. Rebuilt as a container ship and renamed the SS Robert E. Lee, she continued to sail the seas until she was scrapped in 1980.
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.