The New York Shipbuilding Corp. began construction on the USS Leary in 1918. This naval vessel was named after Clarence Frederick Leary, who served as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. The ship was commissioned on December 5th of 1919 and sailed out of Boston for Guantanamo in January 1920 before joining a Battle Fleet in the Pacific Ocean in January of 1921. There, she completed a number of large maneuvers in Peru, after which she returned to the Caribbean.
In June of 1922, the Leary was taken out of commission and placed in reserve in Philadelphia. She was reactivated into service eight years later, and on May 1st of 1930, joined the Atlantic Fleet, with Newport, Rhode Island, as her home port. Leary would make regular annual trips to the Caribbean, while also participating in maneuvers with the Pacific Fleet off of the West Coast every other year. Following 1935, the majority of her time was spent training cruises for reserve service. This regular schedule was interrupted by the eruption of war in Europe.
Action in World War II
In September of 1939, the Leary was placed on a continuous antisubmarine patrol off of the coast of New England. In September of 1941, she began a number of escort missions to Iceland as her defensive duties became more widespread. In November of that year, the Leary was the first American ship that made radar contact with a U-boat, and following February of 1942, she would spend the next year escorting convoys to a number of ports in Iceland. Leary ended this service and departed for Boston on February 7th, 1943, in order to begin a new service.
She left Boston on March 1st for the Naval Base in Guantanamo to participate in antisubmarine exercises prior to resuming her escort duty. During this time, she guarded four convoys to Trinidad from March to June of that year, and returned to New York on June 25th. Leary would continue her service with transatlantic escorts to guard supplies traveling from the United States to the Mediterranean. Beginning on July 7th, she sailed to Aruba, Dutch West Indies, and to Algiers, returning to New York in August.
Destruction in the Atlantic
In late November, she left the East Coast for a hunter-killer operation. In December, Leary was surrounded by a pack of German submarines, where she was sunk by three torpedoes. Ninety seven crew members were lost, and Leary received a battle star for her service.
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.