The USS Thatcher was named for Henry K. Thatcher, who was a commodore in the US Navy during the American Civil War. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1866. The Thatcher was commissioned February 1943, and served with honor as a destroyer during World War II. She joined the US Pacific Fleet that summer, eventually arriving at Pearl Harbor.
Action in World War II
The Thatcher joined several sorties before that year ended, culminating with participation in Task Force 39, whose mission was to protect amphibious forces from enemy attack. In closing with the Japanese fleet, Destroyer Division 46, consisting of the Thatcher, Spence, Converse and Foote, took several hits but lost no ships while sinking the Japanese cruiser Sendai and the destroyer Hatsukaze.
However, the Thatcher was damaged in the battle and she returned to port in San Francisco for repair. She returned in March of 1944 and became part of an aircraft carrier group that made a number of important strikes in the Carolina Islands. The Thatcher busied herself escorting other carrier groups throughout the year, suffering a setback in May when her 3.5-inch gun accidentally fired into her starboard, killing five men and causing structural damage. Upon repair, she sailed for the Mariana Islands, where Thatcher helped sink two enemy ships.
On June 18, 1943, the Thatcher took part in a major battle with the Japanese fleet that was a complete victory for the Allies; indeed, historians sometimes call it the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” A small number of Japanese planes managed to attack the carrier group, but they caused no damage. Overall, the Japanese lost at least 300 airplanes in the attack.
Later that year, the Thatcher joined TG 38.3 for operations in the Philippine Islands. In December, the group’s carriers launched strikes against Luzon to support the landings on Mindoro. The Thatcher survived a typhoon during this time, then joined a supply group and served with it until January of 1945. On May 13, she took part in action near Okinawa in which she took a direct hit from a Japanese kamikaze. Fourteen crewmen were killed and 53 wounded in her worst damage of the war. After repairs, she endured another kamikaze attack; fortunately, she suffered only two men wounded.
After the War
After these two intense years of exemplary service, the USS Thatcher was decommissioned in November of 1945. She was struck from the naval register in December, but was not sold for scrap until 1948. The ship received 12 battle stars for her service in World War II.
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.