USS Van Valkenburgh DD-656
The USS Van Valkenburgh DD-656, a Fletcher-class destroyer, was named for Captain Franklin van Valkenburgh, who captained the battleship Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The ship was launched on December 19, 1943, but not commissioned until August 2, 1944, under the auspices of Commander Alexander B. Coxe, Jr.
Service in World War II and Korea
Even before her shakedown training, the Van Valkenburgh was called into action to protect a disabled tugboat and several barges loaded with explosives until help could arrive. This duty finished, she completed her training and escorted the USS Wilkes-Barre through the Panama Canal. Operating out of Pearl Harbor, she trained in Hawaiian waters through the rest of 1944 and departed for her first combat mission to Saipan in January of 1945.
After rehearsing at Saipan, the destroyer screened transports during the landings at Iwo Jima. She performed similar duties at Okinawa, and also guarded the LST-884 after the landing ship was hit by a kamikaze plane. For a few days, she remained in reserved 100 miles from the island, but returned to patrol the beaches. She remained in the area for 63 days, screening not only the landing ships but also the radar picket ships that were stationed off the coast.
On June 24, the Van Valkenburgh left Okinawa bound for the Philippines. Shortly thereafter, she joined a group to patrol part of the China coast, a duty that was relatively uneventful compared to the destroyer’s earlier activities. After the official cease fire, she continued to screen for carriers bringing in occupation troops. Before returning to the U.S., she ran two courier missions to Wakayama. Reaching Charleston, South Carolina, at the end of 1945, she was decommissioned in April of 1946.
When North Korea invaded its southern neighbor, the Van Valkenburgh was called back into commission, arriving in Japan on June 17, 1950. With Task Force 77, the ship bombarded the shore. Eventually, she would run through over 2,400 rounds of ammunition, once entering into a duel with a shore battery. After being relieved by the USS Tingey, the Van Valkenburgh visited many ports in the western Pacific before returning to Norfolk in 1953.
After the War
The destroyer was once again decommissioned in February 1954 and remained in Philadelphia until being loaned to the Turkish Navy in 1967. Here, she was renamed the TCG Izmir and served until 1973, when she was struck from the Navy list and formally sold to Turkey. The ship was broken up for scrap in 1987. For her service with the U.S. Navy, she earned three battle stars in World War II and one in Korea, as well as the Navy Unit Commendation for her part in the Okinawa campaign.
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.