The USS General R. L. Howze (AP-134) was a General G. O. Squier-class transport ship for the American Navy during World War II. She was named in honor of U.S. Army general Robert Lee Howze. In 1946, she was reassigned to the U.S. Army and renamed USAT General R. L. Howze. On March 1, 1950, she became known as USNS General R. L. Howze (T-AP-134) because she was once again transferred, this time to the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS). She was subsequently sold for commercial use and underwent several name changes and had various owners.
Service in World War II
The General R. L. Howze (AP-134) was laid down in Richmond, California under a Maritime Commission contract. She was built by the Kaiser Co., Inc., Yard 3. She was launched May 23, 1943. After conversion into a transport in San Francisco, the Navy commissioned her on February 7, 1944. After her shakedown off the coast of San Diego, the transport loaded troops and supplies and deployed March 20 for New Guinea. The General R. L. Howze transported US troops to both Milne Bay and Lae to aid in the American military buildup in the Pacific’s southwest.
On May 2, 1944 she arrived back in San Francisco. The ship then journeyed to Guadalcanal, Eniwetok, Manus, and other Pacific islands as the Navy’s prevalent amphibious attacks swept towards Japan. She made eleven voyages to the Pacific combat areas, she transported troops and their supplies, and even on occasion she transported enemy Japanese prisoners of war. Following the Japanese surrender, on October 15, 1945 she returned to San Francisco. In November, the General R. L. Howze deployed to the Philippines to bring home American veterans.
On January 10, 1946 she left for a voyage to England, transporting German prisoners. After arriving in Liverpool, she transported the American troops from Le Harve to New York. In February 16, she made one last journey to France to transport more veterans back to the US. The ship was decommissioned in New York on April 1. In 1948 she was returned to the War Department as an Army Transport and renamed her USAT General R. L. Howze. She spent the next several years on humanitarian missions.
Action in Korea
On March 1, 1950 the transport was re-acquired by the Navy and joined Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS). For the following year, her duty was to primarily sail to and from Europe, with a civilian crew, for the International Refugee Organization. In mid-1951, she was transferred to the Pacific, and traveled between San Francisco and the Far East with troop replacements for the U.N. in Korea. However, in September 1954, the General R. L. Howze was diverted from her normal role to take part in Operation Passage to Freedom, bringing thousands of refugees from North to South Vietnam.
After the War
The General R. L. Howze deployed two more times to the Far East to aid in supporting America’s forces before returning to Seattle, Washington, on December 31, 1955, after which she was put in the reserve fleet. In 1968 she was sold to the Pacific Far East Lines Inc and renamed the SS Guam Bear. Over the next decade, she would be sold and renamed several more times. On January 2, 1981, she was sold to Pakistan for scrap. The General R. L. Howze received six battle stars for her service in the Korean War.
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.