The Herbert J. Thomas, a Gearing class destroyer named for Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas, was launched by Bath Iron Works on March 25, 1945, and commissioned on May 29 with Commander Robert T.S. Keith in command. After her sea trials she joined the Western Pacific fleet for the occupation of Japan and Korea. She served with the 7th Fleet out of Japan during 1946, and then returned to the east coast and the Caribbean where she performed operations between February 1947 and May 1950. She also deployed with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and served as a Naval Academy practice ship.
Action in Korea and Vietnam
When hostilities broke out in Korea, the Herbert J. Thomas rejoined the Pacific Fleet and became part of Task Force 77. The destroyer assisted with the blockade of Korea’s east coast and provided diversionary fire for a British commando team tasked with destroying railroad tunnels. While patrolling with planes from the carrier Valley Forge, the Herbert J. Thomas encountered an enemy fighter raid. The Valley Forge’s fighters shot down a Soviet twin-engined bomber and the Herbert J Thomas captured its pilot, who later died.
After a brief return to San Diego, the Thomas joined Task Force 77 in 1952 to provide antiaircraft support to carriers in the area. On tours in 1953 and 1954, her duties again included carrier support, shore bombardment, and blockade patrol. She was deployed to the Far East four more times between June 1955 and March 1958. She participated in the 49-state flag raising in Sitka, Alaska in August 1959.
After several more deployments to the Far East, the Herbert J. Thomas underwent a massive overhaul where she received an Antisubmarine Rocket system and a new superstructure. She sailed for Vietnam in 1966, where she assisted in operations against shore targets. The destroyer conducted shore bombardments during the Tet counter-offensive in 1968 while supporting the II and III corps. She provided fire support for three weeks before returning to San Diego for overhaul. During 1969, the Herbert J. Thomas performed positive identification and radar advisory zone (PIRAZ) as well as shore bombardment duty in the Gulf of Tonkin before returning to San Diego.
After the War
She served as a NROTC training ship in 1970 until she failed a service inspection and was decommissioned on December 4, 1970. In 1974, the USS Herbert J, Thomas was transferred to the Taiwanese Navy where she served as the Han Yang until August 16, 1999, when she was sunk to become an artificial reef.
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.