USS Johnston DD-557 (1943-1944)
The Johnston (DD-557) was constructed by the Seattle Tacoma Shipbuilding company. The ship was placed in the hands of the charismatic commander Ernest E. Evans who made a powerful speech to the company aboard stating that he intended the Johnston’s destiny to lie in battle and any crew member that wouldn’t support that should leave.
Action in World War II
After bombarding beaches at Kwajalein, Eniwetok, and Kapinga-marangi, she was present for the mission to overtake Guam and was joined by the USS Pennsylvania to attack the island. The Johnston was proficient at eliminating the enemy’s cover. She was also there to support military convoys arriving to supply the troops.
On October 23rd, 1944, the American fleet had located several Japanese vessels heading into battle. The Japanese ships were able to destroy the Southern Force and were continuing on. The dominant Japanese destroyer Center Force had been damaged and was sailing in for repairs. Another American ship in the area commanded by Admiral Halsey had left to engage a Japanese fleet in the area of Cape Engano. This left the Johnston and her small group of vessels to keep watch.
The Japanese destroyer the Center Force headed straight for the Johnston intending to terminate American troops located in Leyte. A United States pilot spotted the enemy and reported the oncoming vessel. The Johnston was heavily outnumbered but with Commander Evans in charge she began the fight of her life. The ship outmaneuvered enemy fire and waited until she was in range to return fire causing damage to the enemy. The Johnston continued firing and was able to sail into a smoke screen away from the Japanese. The ship had been damaged by the enemy causing her to lose power. Luckily a storm rolled in and the Johnston was able to gain time for repairs.
Destruction at Samar
Early that morning the Johnston was ordered to attack using her torpedoes but they had all been fired during the earlier battle. This didn’t stop Commander Evans from supporting the fleet with the Johnston’s firing capability and he sent her back in to battle against the Kongo-class.
The Johnston suffered several hits causing the great ship extreme damage. She was surrounded by the enemy fleet who continued to attack her. At 9:45 the captain told his crew to abandon ship and she sunk at 10:10 a.m. Out of 327 crew members, only 141 survived. Commander Evans was not among them, and was posthumously award the Congressional Medal of Honor. The USS Johnston was awarded the Presidential Unit citation and six battle stars for her contributions in World War II.
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.