The USS Whidbey (AG-141) was a fixture from the World War II era, transferred from the Army to the Navy in 1947. Known originally as the USAT FS-395, the Whidbey served as an inter-island freighter and cargo vessel for the U.S. Army. Laid down by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp on January 1945 at Decatur, Alabama, the ship was consequently inspected and adopted by the U.S. Navy two years later on February 22, 1947.
Service in the Pacific
After the transfer, the USAT FS-395 was given the name Whidbey and classified as a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-141. Under service of the Navy, the Whidbey was assigned to support the needs of the Pacific Ocean Trust Territory created as a result of the war. The Whidbey carried a plethora of items, from passengers and provisions, to mail throughout the islands in the territories, often returning to Guam laden with resources such as coconut meat and other native items.
During her first year of duty, around Christmas of 1947, the Whidbey was caught up in a ferocious storm on her way to Guam and the situation proved nearly fatal for the ship. Quickly, the crew rushed to shut down the port main engine, battling a fire in the bilge and eventually succeeding in putting it out. Heavy seas stripped the ship of one of its lifeboats and the ship suffered partial engine damage. The ship suddenly ran aground on a reef and the crew prepared to abandon ship; however, it appeared the ship was on an even keel and not about to flounder in the ocean
After being salvaged, the ship’s charter changed to that of a humanitarian one. In an effort to look into the health and welfare of the residents within the two and one-half million square miles of the Trust Territory, the Navy embarked on an ambitious survey of the isles in 1948. The Whidbey became, in effect, a floating mini-hospital.
As the Korean War broke out, the Whidbey’s role changed yet again. She converted from a medical survey vessel to a Fleet epidemiological disease control ship – in essence, a modern floating laboratory, complete with state of the art equipment and trained technicians able to skillfully analyze the minutest organisms. Her medical duties took her to Island of Taiwan, where she remained until mid 1952, giving aid as “ambassadors of good will and health” to the Chinese navy. The Whidbey remained in the Far East until deactivation.
Decommissioned November 15, 1954, she was struck from the Navy list on May 1, 1959, and sold to Albert Heller on May 31, 1960. Eventually The USS Whidbey was eventually struck from the Naval register in 1969 and sold for scrap.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, some auxiliary vessels 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.