USS Wasmuth DD-338 (1920-1943)
The USS Wasmuth, named for United States Marine hero Henry Wasmuth, was launched in 1920. She was kept at Mare Island, California, and until 1922, she trained and calibrated equipment in several ports in California before being put out of commission. The Wasmuth was put in reserve for almost eight years during the 1920’s because the Navy did not have the money to properly operate the entire fleet. In March of 1930, she was put back into service. Even after being activated, she was in the rotating reserves in Rotating Reserves Squadron 10. When she was active, she operated as a destroyer performing training exercises.
Action in World War II
In April 1940, the Navy reclassified the Wasmuth and several other ships of her class. She was converted to a high-speed minesweeper. She was fitted with her new equipment at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and remained there before setting out for the United States in June 1941. She returned to Hawaii in July and continued operating as a minesweeper in the waters around the islands.
The threat from the Japanese increased with every day. The Navy held the ships to a strict training schedule to be prepared in case of attack. The Wasmuth was present on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor by surprise just before 8 o’clock in the morning. Because of all the training, the crew of the Wasmuth had the ship ready to return fire and get underway in less than three minutes. The gunners aboard shot 6,000 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition at Japanese planes, firing at one whenever it entered range. They were able to down one plane while hitting many others. The Wasmuth was put on guard at the mouth of the harbor to detect Japanese submarines and keep them from entering.
Destruction in Alaska
The Wasmuth operated around Hawaii into spring of 1942. During the summer, she escorted a convoy to San Francisco and back to Pearl Harbor. In December 1942, she was traveling in a heavy Alaskan storm when two depth charges were jostled loose and damaged the ship. Another ship, a tanker called Ramapo, came along side and rescued everyone aboard the sinking Wasmuth. It took three and one half hours to save all 134 men and two passengers. The Wasmuth went down on December 29. She received one battle star for her actions at Pearl Harbor.
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.