The USS Walker (DD-517) was launched on August 31, 1942, by Bath Iron Works Corporation in Bath, Maine; she was sponsored by Miss Sarah C. Walker and commissioned on April 3, 1943, with Commander O. F. Gregor in command.
Action in World War II
During her first tour of service, the ship sailed the Atlantic, assigned to escort duty in the Caribbean along with training exercises in preparation for Pacific combat duty. During the tour, the Walker rescued 43 survivors of a Nazi U-boat that had been damaged by Navy air units off the coast of Cuba. The Walker also escorted the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, from San Juan, Puerto Rico on to Casablanca for the Moscow Conference of October 1943.
The Walker, traveling through the Panama Canal, joined the forces already engaging the enemy at Tarawa. With a month of operations at Tarawa, the destroyer proceeded to the Marshall Islands from January 29 to February 8, 1944. She was involved in the invasion of Kwajalein and played a vital role in the heavy cruiser bombardment unit, engaging the enemy at Wotje and Taroa.
From March to June 1944, the Walker operated in the South Pacific, performing escorts for troops and transports from the Guadalcanal to Bougainville. Within the Marianas operation, the destroyer was involved with the invasion of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam under the guidance of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. She also acted as an escort for a carrier unit with air support for amphibious forces in Guam.
In March 1945, the Walker joined Task Force 58 for airstrikes against the islands of Kyushu and Honshu. The next month, while on duty near Okinawa, the destroyer was nearly torpedoed by Japanese planes. One plane passed so close that the Walker’s gun captain reported seeing the frightened expression on his face. She was also bombarded at Honshu, but was able to enter Tokyo after the war had ended.
After the War
The USS Walker was converted into an escort destroyer during a 1950 overhaul, and briefly assisted the United Nations Blockading Force in the Korean War. For much of the remainder of the decade, she performed anti-submarine duties for the Republic of Korea’s Navy and the Japanese Self-Defense Force. She deployed several times to Vietnam, largely providing escort and gunfire support for operations there.
After a post-war trip to Australia and New Zealand, the USS Walker was decommissioned and struck from the Naval register on July 2, 1969. She was then sold to Italy, where she served as the Fante until being scrapped in 1977. For her service in the U.S. Navy, the Walker earned six battle stars for World War II, two for Korea, and three for Vietnam.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially during World War II, naval destroyers also posed 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.