The USS Walke was laid down on May 31, 1938 by the Boston Naval Shipyard. She was a Sims class destroyer with 2,211 tons of displacement. After being launched on October 20, 1939, she was commissioned and assigned to a post in the Atlantic Ocean on April 27, 1940.
After her shakedown and training period, the Walke loaded torpedoes from the Naval Torpedo Base at Newport and then headed for her home port of Norfolk, Virginia. After getting to Norfolk on June 27, she took on some marines as well as an officer, and then proceeded to transport them to the USS Wichita. She then sailed for Guantanamo.
The Walke, accompanied by the destroyer Wainwright, steamed for Rio de Janeiro on July 19. There, she offloaded her crew passengers and then conducted a few “flag waving” tours. These tours were designed to improve American presence in the area and hopefully quell the unrest that was currently brewing in South America. On the flag waving trip, the Walke visited numerous ports, including Santos, Bahia, and Buenos Aires.
Action in World War II
After the eruption of World War II, the Walke began active service. She at first conducted a patrol mission in the Caribbean, joined by the USS O’Brien. Later, the two ships sailed to Fort de France, Martinique, and patrolled the waters surrounding the port. After remaining there for several weeks, the Walke sailed back to Guantanamo Bay on December 19, 1940, for overhaul. She then participated in several exercises in the area, followed by a re-assignment to Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1941, the Walke was assigned to Task Force 17, which attacked the Marshall and Gilbert Islands in January. She then served in the ASW screen for the carrier USS Yorktown while the Task Force attacked the islands of Jaluit, Makin, and Mili. These were the first attacks conducted on Japanese soil, and were hailed by the commander of the Pacific forces as being especially well executed.
Destruction at Guadalcanal
The Walke was also present at the Battle of Guadalcanal. In a group with the USS Washington and South Dakota, the Walke engaged enemies on November 15, 1942. After opening fire at the Japanese ships, she was hit by Japanese shells, and then struck by a torpedo on the starboard side. She sank quickly, and only 151 survivors were recovered. The ship was awarded three battle stars.
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.