The USS Kilauea, later named the USS Mount Baker, was acquired by the Navy in 1940 while she was still under construction in Tampa and commissioned in May of 1941. Her main duty in World War II was transporting ammunition to bases and their troops, a dangerous mission that took her through multiple war zones.
Action in World War II and Korea
In 1941, the Kilauea began service out of Norfolk, sailing through the Caribbean and supporting a base in Newfoundland. She continued serving on the east coast until March 17, 1943, when she was renamed the USS Mount Baker to avoid confusion with another ship named Kilauea. Sent to the Mediterranean, the newly named ship brought supplies to Algeria, Tunisia, and Sicily. After this, she supplied bases in advance of the Normandy Invasion before heading through the Panama Canal for the Pacific Ocean and serving as a station ammunition ship at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands.
On June 3, 1945, the transport ship returned to San Francisco to be overhauled, but was able to bring soldiers in the Philippines their Christmas mail before the end of the year. She then sailed among the Pacific islands, picking up unused ammunition from the war to be returned to the United States. In 1947, she was decommissioned at San Diego and put into reserve.
When the Korean War necessitated the use of more ships, the Mount Baker was recommissioned in 1951. Early in 1952, she transported ammunition to the troops fighting the North Koreans. After returning to the U.S., she joined a cruiser-destroyer force for a post-war training operation that, at the time, was the largest of its kind. She continued combat duty, sailing from Japan to keep U.S. and U.N. forces supplied with ammunition, and then joined an operation with the 7th Fleet in March 1954.
Service in Vietnam and the Far East
Beginning in 1955, the Mount Baker made regular 8-month deployments to the Far East, broken up by periods of overhaul and training. In 1964, she brought munitions to 7th Fleet ships and aircraft fighting in Vietnamese waters. She continued to make runs to the Far East until at least 1969. Her fate since then is unknown, though she was awarded four battle stars for her service in the Korean War.
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.