USS Willis A. Lee DD-929

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The Shipbuilding Division of the Bethlehem Steel Co built the USS Willis A. Lee (DD-929) on November 1, 1949, at Quincy, Massachusetts. On February 1951, she was reclassified as a destroyer leader DL-4 and was launched on January 26, 1952, following a sponsorship from Mrs. Fitzhugh L. Palmer. She was later commissioned at the Boston Naval Shipyard on October 5, 1954, under the leadership of Comdr. F. H. Schneider.

Service in the Atlantic

She began her career with the U.S. Atlantic Fleet at Newport, Rhode Island. In July 1955, she was deployed for the first time to the Mediterranean alongside the 6th Fleet and returned to the east coast to participate in air defense exercises when the mission concluded.  Later that year, she was reclassified a frigate and she sailed southward to the Dominican Republic to represent the US in American Day festivities. In November 1956, she participated in antisubmarine warfare exercises and later helped a troubled fishing vessel Agda to extinguish an oil fire.

In the autumn of 1957, the Willis A. Lee became a part of a large combined NATO fleet that conducted intensive antisubmarine warfare exercises and air defense exercises in the North Atlantic and crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time on September 20. The summer of 1960 saw the Willis A. Lee conducting a midshipmen’s training cruise and participating in numerous fleet drills.  After a short trip to Charleston in August, she participated in Operation “Sword Thrust” with a contingent of 60 other warships to carry out simulated attacks on the European continent.

She later underwent an extensive overhaul at the Boston Naval Shipyard as part of the fleet rehabilitation and modernization program, which equipped her with a helicopter hangar, a topside antisubmarine torpedo armament and a bow-mounted sonar dome. Her first mission after emerging from the shipyard was a rescue mission to save the crew at Texas Tower 2 in Massachusetts during Hurricane Esther. She spent the remaining part of her career in the area of sonar development and testing, save for an extended deployment to the Mediterranean in 1966 and 1967.

After Service

The USS Willis A. Lee was decommissioned in December 1969 and removed from the Navy List on May 15, 1972.  The next year, she was sold for scrap to the Union Minerals and Alloys corporation.

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.


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