The USS Lea (DD-118) was a Wickes-class destroyer built by William Cramp & Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, launched on April 29, 1918, and commissioned on October 2, 1918. Her commander was Lt. Commander W. A. Lee.
Between the Wars
In 1919 Lea served with DesRon 19 in the Atlantic, and then in 1920 she was assigned to the Pacific Fleet serving off the west coast. On June 22, 1922, she was decommissioned at San Diego. She was recommissioned on May 1, 1930, serving until April 7, 1937, and then was decommissioned again.
On September 30, 1939 she was recommissioned, with Lt. Commander F. W. Slaven as her commanding officer. She was assigned to the east coast as part of the neutrality patrol and patrolled the western Atlantic in the months prior to America entering World War II. She was assigned to guard troop transport ships en route for the July 8, 1941 occupation of Iceland.
Action in World War II
The Lea was assigned as a convoy escort during the first two years of the war, covering areas of the North Atlantic, the east coast and the Caribbean. She faced hazards not only from treacherous weather, but German U-boats were also active in the area. During her tour she was able to provide rescue to personnel on stricken vessels and engage in successful attacks on enemy submarines in numerous skirmishes. In February 1942, she performed her first rescue, aiding survivors from the Soviet merchantman Dvinoles, which had been in a collision and abandoned. On the 24th of February, the Lea and other escorts from her patrol battled U-boats after they sank four merchantmen from their convoy.
On April 22, 1943, the Lea was assigned to a hunter-killer group which took up positions around the aircraft carrier Bogue in a protective formation. Aircraft from Bogue were the first to execute an assault on a wolfpack preparing for a full scale attack on their convoy. They executed six attacks to protect the convoy and were so successful that they were given the Presidential Unit Citation; the Lea was recognized as well.
During convoy duty on December 31, 1943, five days away from New York, a merchant ship rammed the Lea, disabling her. She was towed to Bermuda, then on to Boston, repairs completed on June 28, 1944. She departed Newport to serve as a target ship, and then was reassigned to Florida for target duty from January-June 1945. The Lea was decommissioned in Philadelphia July 20, 1945, and on August 13, 1945, was struck from the Naval Vessel Register. She received three battle stars.
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.