The USS Kemper County (LST-854) was a 1,500 ton LST-542 class tank landing ship. She was built at Seneca, Illinois, and commissioned December 14, 1944. The ship was named after Kemper county Mississippi.
Service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam
Following shakedown off the coast of Florida, the LST-854 steamed to the Pacific. Making stops on the West Coast and Hawaii, she arrived at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands on April 1, 1945. Eleven days later, carrying an Army Aviation Engineer Battalion, she sailed to Okinawa. Reaching the island, she unloaded her cargo amidst heavy Japanese air attacks. The ship returned to Ulithi in May and spent the balance of the war ferrying equipment and troops around the Philippines and Okinawa. When the fighting stopped in August, she remained in the Far East, operating with occupation forces until November.
The LST-854 underwent overhaul at Seattle before returning to the Far East in June 1946. For the next three years, she hauled troops and cargo among the Marianas and Chinese ports. Back at Puget Sound Navy Yard in the summer of 1949, she was decommissioned on October 21. A little over one year later the ship was recommissioned for duty in Korea, departing San Diego in March 1951 and arriving in the war zone three months later.
From June to December she sailed between Japan and the Korean peninsula transporting U.N. troops and cargo, and moving prisoners of war. In January 1952 she helped land troops at Inchon and carried refugees along the coast. The LST-854 left the war zone in February for overhaul at San Diego. Completing that, she returned to the Far East. After the truce, the ship underwent overhaul and conducted exercises off the West Coast. During the six years from 1954 to 1960, the LST-854 deployed to the Far East four times, joining in 7th Fleet operations. On July 1, 1955 the ship was renamed the USS Kemper County.
In October 1965 she deployed in support of the escalating fighting in Vietnam, arriving at Da Nang on November 12. The ship operated along the South Vietnamese coast and the rivers of the Mekong delta for the rest of the year. On March 3, 1966, coming upon the crippled tanker SS Paloma, she shelled Communist positions while helping fight the fire on the burning ship.
The Kemper County was decommissioned on May 28, 1969. In 1975 she was transferred to the government of Barbados and later sold to Panama, where she served as El Gato Blanco for an unspecified number of years. While serving in the U.S. Navy, the Kemper County was awarded one Battle Star in World War II and five in Korea.
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.