The USS Smith was classified as a 1480-ton Mahan destroyer. This naval vessel was constructed at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California. She was named in honor of Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, an Executive Officer of the USS Congress. Lieutenant Smith was killed in combat during the 1862 Battle with CSS Virginia. In September of 1936 the ship bearing his name was commissioned. For the remainder of the 1930’s, the Smith served with the U.S. Fleet.
Action in World War II
In December of 1941 the Pacific War broke out. The Smith was put into operation in the western area of the Pacific, spending most of her time on escort duty. In October of 1942 the Smith went to the South Pacific in an attempt to hold Guadalcanal in battle. She was hit by a Japanese torpedo bomber during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, causing massive damage to the vessel. Sixty crewmen died in this event. However, she was able to continue on in battle.
In June, the Smith was assigned to the Seventh Fleet to perform action in offensive operations that were taking place on the northern coast of New Guinea. At Finschhafen, Huon Gulf and Lae, she used guns to overtake the Japanese in August and September of 1943. The Smith was present for the sinking of a fellow destroyer, the USS Henley, on October 3.
In late 1943 and early 1944, the Smith supported landings at Arawe and Cape Gloucester, New Britain, as well as the Admiralty Islands. Throughout much of 1944, she performed training, patrol, and escort duties, evading attack by Japanese suicide planes. On July 1, 1945, while shelling Balikpapan, the Smith was hit by Japanese artillery, taking only slight damage.
After the War
After the Pacific War, one of the duties of the Smith was to transport Allied prisoners of war from Japan to Okinawa. She then had to sail back to California. Her last station was in Pearl Harbor in late 1945. The Naval vessel was decommissioned in late June 1946. In February 1947 her name was stricken from the Navy list and she was sold in August.
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.