USS Mathews AKA-96 (1945-1968)
The USS Mathews AKA-96, an attack cargo ship of the Andromeda class also known as the USS Mathews, was named for Mathews County, Virginia. She was laid down on September 15, 1944, by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company under Maritime Commission contract, and launched on December 22. She was acquired by the Navy on March 3, 1945, and commissioned on March 15 with Commander C.A. Thorwall in charge.
Service in World War II and Korea
The Mathews left Norfolk on April 8 with little more than a month’s training and headed for the Pacific with passengers and military cargo. She made a short stop in Hawaii for additional training, and then sailed onward to Ulithi and Eniwetok. With equipment and Army passengers aboard, the attack cargo ship journeyed to Okinawa, which had been recently retaken by Allied forces. From Ulithi, the Mathews carried cargo to Guan and Guadalcanal, and received notice of Japan’s surrender on the way.
As the Mathews left the Philippines from Guam, she began transporting occupation troops to Korea. Taking on a shipload of returning veterans, she sailed to the U.S. from Korea, arriving at Norfolk on December 23. The Mathews stayed on the east coast until October 2, 1946, when she journeyed to San Francisco for deactivation. She was decommissioned on April 4, 1947, and transferred to Maritime Commission at Suisun Bay.
In 1951 the Navy reacquired the Mathews and on February 16, 1952, the ship was recommissioned and reported to duty with Pacific Fleets’ Amphibious Force. The Mathews journeyed to the Pribilof Islands following training at Long Beach. On July 1st, she returned for a resupply assignment with cargo containing seal products. A year later on July 1, 1953, the Mathews sailed for Korea and ferried prisoners of war, mostly Chinese, from Koje-do onto Inchon.
For the remainder of the 1950s, the Mathews participated in amphibious training exercises in the Pacific. When Thailand was threatened by Laotian communists in 1962, the ship brought soldiers and supplies from Okinawa to Bangkok. She was next called into duty in the Caribbean, but shortly thereafter returned to the West Pacific, resuming tactical and engineering operations.
In 1968, the USS Mathews put in at San Diego and was taken out of commission. Her name was struck from the Navy list at the end of the year, and she was subsequently sold for scrap.
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.