USS Little DD-803 (1944-1945)
The USS Little (DD-803) was built by Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Company in Seattle, Washington. She was launched on May 22, 1944 and commissioned on August 19 under the command of Commander Madison Hall, with 16 officers and 309 crewmembers. This was the second vessel named after Captain George Little.
Action in World War II
The Little participated in training exercises on the West Coast and then was sent to Pearl Harbor in November of 1944, escorting a convoy of eight supply ships. To safeguard the heavy ships, the Little led the convoy in a zigzag pattern so the trip took 12 days. She underwent gunnery training, fighter director exercises, and damage control drills along with the destroyer USS Van Valkenburgh. Once she had trained in Pearl Harbor, she departed for Eniwetok, Marshall Islands. The ship’s Captain let the crew enjoy a beach party while they were anchored there on February 3.
Two days later the ship headed for Saipan and anchored there on February 10. The crew was allowed to go ashore, although they were warned to stay within secure areas to avoid Japanese sniper fire from the hills. Afterwards she joined other ships to prepare for the invasion of Iwo Jima. The bombardment of Iwo Jima began on February 19 with the Little providing cover for ground troops until March 14 when she left for the campaign in Okinawa. Seven thousand Americans and 20,000 Japanese troops died during the 36 days of fighting at Iwo Jima.
For the Okinawa invasion, the Little was involved in the diversionary landing across from the actual assault location at the beginning of April. She stayed in the waters there to safeguard transports for troops landing on the beaches until April 19. She was then assigned picket radar duty while fending off enemy attacks.
Destruction at Okinawa
In May, the Little was paired with the USS Aaron Ward (DM-34) to perform picket duty. They were attacked in the early evening with the Ward taking the first hit. Then the Little was hit by four kamikaze planes. After extensive damage she sank at 19:55. The Little was awarded two battle stars for her service to the nation during World War II.
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.