The US naval warship the Willard Keith was named for Capt. Willard W. Keith Jr. (1924-1942), who was posthumously awarded a Navy Cross for exemplary devotion to his mission during a mayhem-intensive assault on a Japanese stronghold on Guadalcanal Island the 3rd of November, 1942. Capt. Keith negotiated the obtrusive jungle terrain by launching foot offensives with bayonets and hand grenades against the Japanese who were unreachable by mortars and short range weapons. Keith’s plan was ultimately successful but fatal: he was killed by a bullet to the head.
Immediately following training, the Willard Keith joined the battle fleet in Hawaiian waters outside Pearl Harbor that set sail for Okinawa and then the East China Sea. Japanese forces had been largely engaged beforehand so the Willard Keith experienced limited battle from April–June 1945 apart from downing three Japanese planes in the Okinawan sea, including a Japanese torpedo plane that released a dud warhead before its dispatch. For service in the Second World War, the Willard Keith earned two battle stars.
After post-mission arrival in San Diego, California before Christmas 1945, the Willard Keith next joined fellow battleships the North Carolina and the Washington for escort to shore bombardment routines, and then the aircraft carrier the Philippines Ea, also in an escort capacity. Following more maneuvers that included a stop at Guanatanamo Bay, Cuba, the Willard Keith was stationed in inactive status for a time at the Naval Shipyard at Charleston, South Carolina before the 1950 fleet buildup and recommencements stemming from the start of the Korean War.
In the years up to the fall of 1963, the Willard Keith engaged in trainings, rescues, goodwill and escort duties, and acted as a plane guard and amphibious shoreline support for marine exercises. From fall 1957 to fall 1963, the Willard Keith also ran cruises and was involved in quarantine measures enacted during 1962’s Cuban missile crisis. In 1959, the Willard Keith escorted the HMS Brittania at the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway—the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, was aboard the Brittania at the time.
The Willard Keith’s final stretch in the US Navy was as a NRT or Naval Reserve Training vessel, as which it served for nine years beginning in October 1963. Afterward, the Willard Keith was no longer deemed up to US fleet standards and her status was downgraded to inactive for subsequent decommission and transfer, the former of which took place on the first of July, 1972. The Willard Keith was renamed the Caldes after its acquisition by the Colombian Navy, for which it served barely under five years before disposal in 1977.
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.