The USS McKee was a Fletcher-class destroyer that won 11 battle stars. Built in Orange, Texas, for service in World War II, the vessel was 376 feet long and weighed 2,050 tons. She was one of four naval ships named for Lieutenant Hugh W. McKee, who died while serving in Korea in 1871. A cousin of the war hero, Mrs. Richard A. Asbury, sponsored the vessel in his honor.
Action in World War II
The 376-foot McKee was commissioned in March of 1943. She traveled from Texas to Guantanamo Bay and Pearl Harbor for shakedown and then moved on to the Pacific war zone. The destroyer was immediately assigned to escort convoys and screen air carriers for the invasion of Bougainville, an atoll in the Solomon Islands. There she shot down multiple enemy aircraft.
In mid-November, the McKee took part in Task Force 53’s assault on Tarawa, the largest island in the Gilbert Islands group. In January and early February, the ship screened for landings in the Marshall Islands. She then returned south to help bombard New Ireland Island, New Guinea, and lend support to the amphibious landing at Hollandia. The ship kept moving, next supporting the invasion of Guam and then covering for landings on Morotai Island and Leyte.
The McKee’snext task was to escort Task Force 58 to its strike on Iwo Jima and Japan’s home islands. The destroyer was seriously threatened by kamikazes off Okinawa in April 1945 but managed to fend off the enemy. She then took part in raids throughout the summer. June was an especially difficult month as a typhoon tossed the destroyer.
After the War
The McKee left the western Pacific in September 1945 just as Japan was moving toward a formal surrender. The ship steamed from the war front to Charleston, South Carolina, and arrived in October 1945. She was decommissioned in February of the next year. Although the USS McKee became part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, the destroyer never again saw active service. She was removed from the naval register in 1970 and sold for scrap in 1974.
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.