The USS Witek (DD-848) was built by the Bath Iron Works in Maine on July 16, 1945, and launched the following year under the sponsorship of Mrs. Nora Witek. The destroyer was commissioned at the Boston Naval Shipyard on April 23, 1946, under the stewardship of Comdr. Nels C. Johnson.
Service in the Atlantic
The Witek’s first mission landed her in Cuban waters, where she headed to Guantanamo Bay on June 1 for a shakedown training and returned to Boston on July 6 for post-shakedown operations. With the development of the new antisubmarine warfare systems, she received her EDD-848 designation and reached her new home port at New London on December 7, 1946.
For the next 20 years, the Witek operated mainly from the eastern seaboard of the United States, covering areas from Narragansett Bay to the Virginia capes to Key West. During special missions to the Caribbean, she landed at numerous places like Nassau, Guantanamo Bay, St. Croix, Bridgetown and Boston. One west coast operation saw the ship operating from the coast of San Diego where she tested the sound gear previously installed in the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen during World War II. The test was carried out by the Naval Electronics Laboratory, after which the decision was made to replace her second twin 5-inch gun mount (mount 52) with a wide array of former German electronics equipment. This equipment was eventually removed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the autumn of 1950 and replaced with a trainable Mk. 15 “hedgehog” mount.
During the late October 1954, the Witek was dispatched to assist a local fire department at the British Colony at Nassau, Bahamas. When a serious fire threatened to ravage the city, 140 men from the ship sprang into action and after two grueling hours, they succeeded in preventing an extremely serious disaster. While visiting at La Guaira in January 1948, most of her underway time off was spent at the eastern seaboard and in the western Atlantic to participate in experimental exercises with other units of the Operational Development Force based at New London. Occasionally, she conducted drills with carrier task forces for ASW maneuvers.
The USS Witek remained in active service until August 19, 1968, when she was formally decommissioned. On September 17, she was removed from the Navy List and stored at Norfolk until being sunk as a target in July of the next year.
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.