The Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company began construction on the USS Merrick in Kearny, New Jersey, on October 19, 1944. Her name then was the M.C. Hull 219. She was eventually launched on January 28, 1945, and christened by Mrs. Francis N. Van Riper. On March 31, she was commissioned with Lieutenant-Commander Walter E. Reed in command.
Service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam
Her first port of service was Pearl Harbor, where she acted as a landing and cargo vessel for troops in the Marshalls and New Hebrides Islands. From there, she transported troops from Hawaii and the Philippines to Japan and returned carrying soldiers and war dogs to Norfolk, Virginia.
On October 1946, the Merrick sailed with another navy vessel as an escort to Port Hueneme, California, to take on cargo for the biggest American Antarctic expedition at the time, Operation Highjump. From there she and her group of Navy ships sailed for the Bay of Whales on January 15, 1946, where they built a base for Operation Highjump called Little America IV. The weather conditions there proved disastrous for the Merrick. In February, her rudder was broken by ice. She was towed by a Coast Guard icebreaker, Northwind WAGB 282, to Dunedin, New Zealand, and arrived there in tow on February 22.
The USS Merrick was repaired and was returned to California. Her voyage from New Zealand to San Francisco was as fraught with disaster as her encounter with the ice in the Bay of Whales. Finally, on June 25, she was retired to the National Defense Reserve Fleet. Her retirement ended when the Korean War happened. On January 19, 1952, she was put in active service and sent to Yokosuka, Japan, carrying men and supplies.
She returned to California without incident of any physical malfunction. She was then given a second mission as part of operation Big Switch in April 1954. Her mission was to transport over 7000 prisoners from Koje Do and Choju Do to Inchon. From there she prepared Army and Marine Corps soldiers for battle off the coasts of the Philippines and Iwo Jima.
Until 1963, the USS Merrick was part of the 7th Fleet operation of the coast of the western Pacific. When the Vietnam Crisis stepped up, she made her first entrance into the South China Sea and began a yearly vigil from the Pacific to the South China Sea. She served with the combined world powers that were trying to halt Communist expansion. Her service included troop lifts from Okinawa and the Philippines to South Vietnam. She participated in landings on the Saigon River Delta in 1966, which was the Navy’s first attempt to extend water combat for an island since its tries during the Civil War.
On January 1, 1969, the USS Merrick was reclassified as an LKA-97. Her fate since then remains unknown, but it is believed she was scrapped in 1980.
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 to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.