The USS Hunterdon County, originally the LST-838, named for a county in New Jersey, was launched in the autumn of 1944 for service in World War II. Lt. Allen T. Larkins, Jr.,
served as her commander.
Action in World War II
One of many hard-working landing ships in the Pacific Fleet, the LST-838 sailed to Pearl Harbor to take on cargo and assault troops. Subsequently, she sailed to the Mariana Islands to unload, then took on units of the 130th Naval Construction Battalion for the invasion of the Japanese-held island of Okinawa. This island was one of the strongest fortified islands of those held by the Japanese, especially since it was the final barrier to a possible invasion of the Japanese homeland. Therefore, U.S. forces were well aware of the mighty effort it would take to break the hold on the island. To that end, the LST-838 anchored off the southern beaches of the island and helped the landing groups secure a beachhead.
During the initial day of the invasion, one of the Hunterdon County’s sister ships, the LST-884, was struck by a Japanese kamikaze. The LST-838 quickly came to the aid of the other landing ship and helped recover 79 survivors from the ship. She continued her duties off the coast of Okinawa as the invasion action and later mopping up procedures continued. She disembarked Seabees and equipment to the landed forces while still helping to fend off attacks from Japanese defense aircraft.
Once the Okinawa invasion ended, the LST-838 continued to transport men and war material to other islands in the Pacific that were strategic to the Allied war effort. After the total surrender of the Empire of Japan in the summer of 1945, the ship served as transport for occupation forces. Once that duty was complete, she steamed back to the U.S. and arrived in San Francisco in late fall of that year.
Service in Vietnam
In 1946, the LST-838 was decommissioned from the regular fleet, but continued to serve in the Pacific Reserve Fleet for the next twenty years. It was during this time she was officially named the USS Hunterdon County. After the U.S. was engaged in the Vietnam War, she was recommissioned, on September 10, 1966, to once again play a vital role in a war zone. Among her actions in Vietnam was her participation in Operation Game Warden, keeping South Vietnamese rivers free of the Viet Cong.
May 12, 1970 saw the USS Hunterdon County become the first United States Navy commissioned ship to enter Cambodia, as it refueled and rearmed helicopters U.S. Army and Navy, in addition to the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam. On March 29, 1969, the ship captured succeeded in capturing on the largest Viet Cong caches in the Delta. In August of that year, she also set the record for the furthest transit of the Bassac River by a U.S. commissioned vessel. Her classification then changed to Patrol Craft Tender USS Hunterdon County (AGP-838).
After the War
On August 1, 1974, she was transferred to Malaysia, where she was renamed the KD Sri Langkawi, and struck from the Naval Vessel Registry. Her fate since then is unknown. The USS Hunterdon County (LST-838) was recognized with a battle star for her exemplary service during World War II. However, it was her Vietnam War service that earned her the most recognition for wartime bravery, as she received seven battle stars, two Presidential Unit Citation awards and four awards of the Navy Unit Commendation.
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.