The USS Stewart was named for Rear Admiral Charles Stewart, a Philadelphia native born in 1778. Stewart served in the “Quasi War” against France beginning in 1798; he was put in command of schooner by 1800. He led ships through the Mediterranean and across the Pacific and received Congressional recognition for his meritorious service. The USS Stewart was the second military vessel named in his honor.
Between the Wars
Laid down in September 1919, the Wickes-class destroyer was commissioned a year later with Lieutenant S. G. Lamb in command. She took up operations with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet for a year before joining the Atlantic Destroyer Squadron in October of 1921. She participated in fleet exercises in the Caribbean and then moved to Chefoo, China to begin 23 years of service with the Asiatic Fleet. Until 1924, the Stewart conducted trainings from bases in Chefoo, Tsingtao, and Manila. It also made frequent stops at Chinese ports en route. This routine was briefly interrupted by the ship’s provision of earthquake relief in Tokyo in August of 1923.
From 1924 until 1928, Stewart responded to unrest in China. The destroyer transported marines to the mainland in January of 1925 and spent the next few years supplementing gunboat patrols along the Yangtze and the Chinese coast. She continued operations in the area and was present when warring increased between China and Japan in 1937. The Stewart assumed patrol of Chinese ports and the Philippines before being overhauled in April of 1940.
Action in World War II
The destroyer next guarded planes traveling between the Philippines and Guam and made a final tour of the Yellow Sea. She moved to the Dutch East Indies with much of the Atlantic Fleet in November of 1941 as international tensions increased and acted as convoy escort through January of 1942. The ship at last joined the USS Marblehead to intercept Japanese forces at the mouth of Macassar Strait, but when the Marblehead was damaged by Japanese fighters, the Stewart retreated and pulled her sister ship to safety in Java.
The Stewart herself became badly damaged during the night of February 19. Engaged in battle off Bali, the ship lost her torpedo racks and was shot below the water line. She returned to safety the next morning, but could not be repaired while drydocked at Surabaya. The ship was struck from the Naval Register on March 25. She was awarded two battle stars for World War II service.
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.