The USS Southerland was named for Rear Admiral W. H. H. Southerland. The ship was commissioned on December 22, 1944. Commander R. C. Williams led the ship through shakedown and prepared her for the final raids of World War II.
Action in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam
The Southerland joined Task Force 38 for July 1945 raids on the Japanese home islands. From then until the Japanese surrender, the destroyer screened carriers and carried out bombardments of Honshu and Kamaishi. She covered for troop landings at Yokosuka and Huttu Saki and was the first warship to enter Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony. The ship then patrolled the western Pacific until February of 1949.
The Southerland was designated DDR-743 in March of 1949. When the Korean Conflict escalated in mid-1950, the ship moved from Hawaii to Okinawa. She then took up bombardment and patrol duties along the coast of Korea. She was critical to the landings and battle on Wolmi-do and in Inchon. However, she was damaged by enemy fire and retreated in September.
After undergoing repairs, the Southerland screened for Task Force 77 on the Korean coast and worked as an escort and screener off Japan. In June of 1951, the destroyer shifted her focus to inland targets. The crew engaged in heavy battle on July 10 and suffered four direct hits. However, the ship remained seaworthy with quick repairs and continued patrolling until August. After being further repaired in San Diego, she resumed service as a truce line patrol unit. She also aided flood survivors in Ceylon in December of 1958.
The Southerland received new equipment and was redesignated DD-743 in early 1964. During the first of four Vietnamese tours, the ship screened pilots in the South China Sea. She also provided gunfire support in attacks on Viet Cong communications points. During a second tour, she operated near the Mekong Delta, and during her third tour of duty, she performed exercises and took on rescue operations in the Tonkin Gulf. The Southerland next served as a School Ship before joining the 7th Fleet for a final tour of Vietnam. The ship assumed escort duties and provided fire support until returning home to San Diego in late 1970.
After the War
The USS Southerland was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register in 1981. The destroyer earned one battle star during World War II service, eight during the Korean War, and ten for tours off Vietnam. She was sunk as a target on August 2, 1997.
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.