The USS Wainwright was named after Naval officers in the Wainwright family. Master Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright was born in 1821 and began his service in 1837. He died in 1863 while attacking Confederates in Galveston Harbor. His son Master Jonathan Wainwright, Jr. was born in 1849 and started service in 1867. He died in 1870 from wounds while investigating a pirate vessel. Commander Richard Wainwright, cousin to the elder Jonathan Wainwright, was born in 1817, started service in 1831, and died in 1862 from illness. His son Rear Admiral Richard Wainwright lived from 1849 to 1926. His time of service was from 1864 to 1911.
This Sims-class destroyer was built in Norfolk, Virginia in 1938 and was one of only twelve produced. The ship was launched in June 1939 and commissioned in April 1940. Following training, the destroyer joined Neutrality Patrol to prevent the war from spreading further into Europe and protected convoys of British soldiers to Basra in the Middle East.
Action in World War II
The Wainwright’s patrol duties on the East Coast of the United States resumed until March 1942 when the vessel protected British and American ships journeying to the Orkney Islands near the British Isles. During summer and fall 1942, the ship escorted convoys in the Atlantic before joining the invasion of the Moroccan coast and Casablanca.
After completing repairs and training in the United States, the destroyer protected convoys to North Africa. In July the ship protected transports from air and submarine attacks during the invasion of Sicily. In August, the vessel returned to North Africa before resuming convoy duty in September. In October she bombarded enemy stations in Naples.
In December, duties including convoy assignments and locating enemy submarines and ships near Algiers, Africa. The vessel then supported troops landing in Italy until February 1944 before returning to the United States for overhauling. The month of March began thirteen months of escort duties and training along the East Coast.
In the spring of 1945, the vessel performed exercises near Pearl Harbor before sailing to islands in the Pacific Ocean such as Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Guam. In August, she journeyed to Honshu, Japan for six weeks but returned to San Diego, California in December.
The USS Wainwright survived being a target of scheduled atomic blasts in July 1946 and was decommissioned in August 1946. Until July 1948, when the destroyer was taken out to sea and purposely sunk, the ship was inspected for results of the atomic tests.
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.