The USS Laffey enjoyed a short but glorious term of service as part of the Pacific Fleet in 1942. Honors she received include the Presidential Unit Citation and three battle stars. Her keel was laid at the Bethlehem shipyards on January 13, 1941. That October she was launched; Miss Eleanor G. Forgerty, the granddaughter of the ship’s namesake Seaman Bartlett Laffey, sponsored the destroyer. The Laffey received her commission March 13, 1942, Lt. Comdr. William E. Hank commanding.
Action in World War II
Before seeing battle, the Laffey was called upon to rescue the survivors of the USS Wasp and return them to Espiritu Santo. Her first action was in the Second Battle of Savo Island (known also as the Battle of Cape Esperance) on October 11. One hour after entering a single line formation, the battle commenced. She fought with Aoba throughout the night. Although the U.S. fleet took significant damage, the Japanese losses were much greater.
One month later on November11, the Laffey met with a group of escorts providing protection to transports sailing to Lunga Point. As the sailors were disembarking, they came under heavy air attack. Following this, the Laffey was placed with the van under the authority of Admiral Callaghan. At the beginning of the Battle of Guadalcanal, one cruiser, two battleships and 14 destroyers belonging to Japan appeared on the horizon. The Laffey battled a battleship off her port beam, and another off her stern along with two destroyers off her port bow.
Destruction at Guadalcanal
Although the Laffey had demolished the bridge of one of the battleships, it suddenly launched a barrage at the Laffey from 14-inch guns. She was swamped and was finally put out of action by a torpedo that hit her fantail. She sank immediately following an explosion which ripped the destroyer in half. This occurred as the abandon ship order was being given. Although the ship was lost, the Laffey took one cruiser and two destroyers with her, while severely crippling another battleship.
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.