The USS Wadleigh DD 689 saw U.S. Naval service not only during World War II but also during the Korean War. A Fletcher-class destroyer named in honor of Rear Admiral George H. Wadleigh, she was constructed by the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine and launched in the summer of 1943, sponsored by the Rear Admiral’s daughter, Clara Wadleigh. Upon her commission at the Boston Navy Yard that October, Lieutenant Commander Walter C. Winn was in command.
Action in World War II
After completing shakedown in the West Indies, the Wadleigh joined with Halsey Powell, Iowa and Marshall in the mid-Atlantic to escort the battleship carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt back to the U.S. from the Cairo Conference. Her next assignment took her through the Panama Canal on her way to Pearl Harbor at the start of 1944. During the campaign to take over the Marshall Islands in mid-March, the Wadleigh was instrumental in helping to clear the way for the Marine forces deployed to take Ebon Island.
After further training exercises in Hawaii, the Wadleigh joined the task group preparing for the invasion of Saipan. With aid from the Melvin, the Wadleigh helped to explode and sink the Japanese submarine RO-114 off the island of Tinian. The Wadleigh managed to survive days of heavy fire during the battle for Saipan and was helpful in shooting down enemy snipers. During a minesweeping excursion north of the Palaus Islands, the Wadleigh lost 3 crew members and had injuries to more than a dozen others when an unswept mine exploded, flooding her three engineering compartments. Temporary repairs enabled Wadleigh to return to Pearl Harbor and then onto Mare Island Navy Yard for extensive repairs.
After being rebuilt from the keel up, the Wadleigh returned to Pearl Harbor to join her former unit, Destroyer Squadron 54. After screening aircraft carriers around a series of Japanese Islands, the Wadleigh transported several Naval dignitaries including Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air John Sullivan to Iwo Jima. Anchored near the Missouri on September 2nd, she witnessed the official Japanese surrender. She finally left Japanese waters in October and returned to the United States for inactivation and was placed in reserved in January of 1947 in the Pacific Fleet San Diego division.
Action in the Korean War
The Wadleigh was reactivated by October of 1951 for the Korean War with Commander R.H. Pauli in command. By 1954, she assisted in monitoring the Armistice Agreement by patrolling waters on the east coast of Korea. Additional deployments included cruises in the Mediterranean, assisting with Project Mercury and exercises with the Royal Navy in European waters. The ship was decommissioned and placed in reserve in June of 1962, transferred to Chile the following year and renamed Blanco Encalada. By 1982, she was decommissioned and stricken from the Registry of Naval Vessels and sunk off the waters of southern Chile during training exercises.
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.