The USS Mertz (DD 691) was one of almost 200 Fletcher-class destroyers commissioned for World War II. It downed a number of enemy vessels and received ten battle stars for its service. The 376-foot vessel was named for Commander Albert Mertz, a Wisconsin native who served the Navy from 1873 until he retired in 1913. The Mertz was built in Maine by Bath Iron Works Corporation in May 1943. It was launched in November of that year under the leadership of Commander William S. Estabrook, Jr.
Action in World War II
The ship went through shakedown off Bermuda before arriving in Pearl Harbor on March 5, 1944. For two months she assumed duty as a convoy escort. Then, in mid-May, the Mertz prepared for the Marianas Islands campaign. The destroyer provided fire support and acted as picket station before returning to screening duty in late June.
Her next key assignment was preparing waters for Leyte landing forces and escorting the incoming craft. The Mertz helped the Allies win the Battle of Surigao Strait, part of the larger fight for Leyte Gulf. The ship then moved on to help occupy the Palau Islands in early September before returning to the Leyte front on September 23rd. The Mertz fought valiantly, splashing a Japanese A6M Zero fighter plane and helping the Allies establish the Leyte beachhead. The destroyer replenished her supplies in northern California and then escorted reinforcements back to Leyte.
The Mertz next moved to Manus to join a unit bound for the capturing of Mindoro. The convoy contended with both a typhoon and heavy air attacks, but she completed her mission and went on to support the invasion of the largest Philippine island, Luzon. The destroyer then supported aircraft as they struck near Tokyo, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. She helped sink two enemy submarines and downed two enemy planes. Then, as part of the Third Fleet, the Mertz cleared the coastline of Japan, moving from the Kuriles up through the Aleutians. The ship docked on Adak Island on August 14, the day that Japan surrendered.
After the War
The USS Mertz served briefly during peacetime as an occupying force in the waters north of Honshu and Hokkaido. The destroyer arrived in San Francisco in September 30. She was decommissioned in April of 1946. The ship remained in the Pacific Reserve Fleet until being scrapped in 1971.
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.