USS Ward DD-139 (APD-16)
The USS Ward was named to honor Commander James H. Ward, the first naval officer to be killed in the Civil War. The Wickes-class destroyer served in both World Wars and sank after a kamikaze attack in late 1944.
Service in World War I
To meet the World War I demand, the USS Ward was assembled in record time – just 17 days – at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California. The Wickes-class destroyer, was commissioned in July of 1918 and soon steamed to the Atlantic to serve as a transatlantic escort for Curtiss NCs or “Nancy boats.” The Ward was reclassified from Destroyer 139 to DD-139 in 1920 and was decommissioned for the first time in 1921.
Service in World War II
At the onset of war in Europe in early 1941, the Ward was re-commissioned and sent to Pearl Harbor. It operated in Hawaiian waters for a year. The Ward became the first ship to fire during the Pacific War when it sank a Japanese submarine off Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The Ward returned to the west coast in 1942 for conversion to a high-speed (35 knots/hour) transporter. It was re-designated APD-16 and moved to the Solomon Islands. The destroyer served mainly as a screener and transporter but also engaged in battle against Japanese air attacks and assisted with amphibious landings for a number of assaults.
The USS Ward moved to help recover the Philippine Islands as the Pacific War moved closer to the Japanese mainland. In November and December of 1944, the destroyer landed troops for the Leyte invasion and escorted a number of ships to the Leyte Gulf. On the morning of December 7, the Ward was patrolling near Leyte when kamikazes attacked. One Japanese pilot brought the ship to a standstill by crashing into its hull and igniting enormous fires. The crew abandoned ship and the USS O’Brien sank the vessel to keep it from reaching enemy hands.
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.