Built beginning in 1950 and launched in 1952, the USS Wilkinson DD-930 was reclassified as a destroyer leader (DL-5) before her commission in 1954. Her first mission saw her taking Rear Admiral Arleigh Burk on an inspection tour through the Caribbean. After an Atlantic tour in 1955, the Wilkinson conducted training in the Gulf of Mexico before heading to Boston for an overhaul. She received the Battle Efficiency “E” for her performance in 1956.
Service in the Pacific and Caribbean
She was sent to join the Pacific Fleet in San Diego in 1956, and spent the next few years performing anti-submarine, air defense, and amphibious exercise duties there. In 1957, she visited the Aleutians and Bering Sea, and when she returned, her home port was changed to Long Beach. She sailed to the West Pacific for the first time in 1959 and would return once more before closing out the year in Long Beach for training and upkeep.
On her next deployment to the West Pacific in 1961, she visited the South China Sea during the Laotian crisis. After having her sonar system re-evaluated, the Wilkinson returned to the Atlantic Fleet to further test her sonar. While in Guantanamo for refresher training, the destroyer was called to assist the sinking Norwegian passenger freighter Viking Princess. She transferred the survivors to a Chinese merchant frigate, which brought them to Guantanamo Bay.
After further repairs and alterations, the Wilkinson sailed to Newport, where she remained for much of 1966. In May of the next year, she went to the World’s Fair Expo 67 in Montreal for United States Week. President Lyndon B. Johnson made a surprise visit to the fair during that time and the crew of the Wilkinson was able to serve as Presidential Honor Guard.
The Wilkinson served out the remainder of her duty in the Atlantic until military cutbacks forced her into decommission. She was sent to Boston Naval Shipyard on September 3, 1969, and was shortly thereafter sent to Philadelphia and placed in reserve. She was struck from the naval register in 1974, at which time she was sold to Luria Brothers and Company for scrap.
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.