The naval vessel USS James C. Owens was named after Lt. James Owens, a pilot shot down at the battle of Midway on June 4, 1941. Lt. Owens was awarded the Navy Cross and Presidential Unit Citation posthumously for “extraordinary heroism in the face of overwhelming danger”. The destroyer named in his honor was built in 1944 by the Bethlehem Steel Co. in San Pedro, California. She was launched on October 1, 1944, and commissioned on February 17, 1945.
Action in World War II and Korea
The James C. Owens spent a few months as part of a cruiser-destroyer striking force in Leyte, conducting anti-shipping sweeps before becoming part of the Wakayama Occupation Group, supporting occupation landings and patrolling off the southern Japanese islands.
Following the war, the ship was based on the Atlantic coast conducting trainings and maneuvers until 1947 when she was deployed with the 6th fleet to support the US efforts in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1948, the James C. Owens became part of the United Nations’ effort to establish peace between Israel and Arab forces, patrolling the coast of Palestine and helping with the evacuation of the UN Mediation Team.
Later that year, the James C. Owens returned home and again operated along the Atlantic coast until being deployed in 1952 to help with patrols and blockades during the Korean conflict. On May 7, 1953, she was involved in shore battles with the enemy and was hit six times. The James C. Owens spent the remainder of her Korean duty patrolling coastal waters to prevent violations of the armistice. In 1954, she returned to America and operated out of Norfolk, Virginia, and Guantanamo Bay.
After the War
Between 1956 and 1960, the James C. Owens made five trips to the Mediterranean, patrolling the Suez Canal, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf areas. In 1960 she was deployed to the Caribbean Sea, looking for Cuban arms bound for Castro rebels. She spent the next few years in either the Caribbean or Mediterranean, and then returned to the Atlantic coast in 1965 where she became a recovery ship for the Gemini V space mission and, in 1966, the second Apollo space launch.
The USS James C. Owens had a successful career, not only in military service but also with opportunities for rescuing survivors from a hurricane, a burning cruise ship, and a sinking Greek ferry. For service during wartime, she received four battle stars: two during World War II and two during the Korean conflict. After a time in reserve, she was sold to Brazil on July 15, 1973.
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.